Summer of service and hope
This summer, three temporary professed friars from the Province of St. John the Baptist left St. Joseph Interprovincial Friary in Chicago for three very different ministerial assignments. Br. Raphael Ozoude served at the friars’ missions in Jamaica; Br. Joshua Richter served at St. Mary of the Angels Parish in New Orleans; and Br. Matt Ryan served in New York City at ministries coordinated by friars at Holy Name Province. You will see from their stories that each embraced the charism of St. Francis during these summer ministries.
Br. Raphael Ozoude, OFM: Negril, Jamaica
Br. Raphael was slightly uncomfortable when he was asked to lead worship sessions on the spot for in-home visits. It was all so new to him. In Jamaica, all the worship starts with singing, followed by a short reflection and then communion distribution.
“I grew more comfortable with it the more I did it,” he says. “I was able to be immersed in it instead of worrying if I was doing it right.”
Twice weekly he got to experience and practice preaching, which he really enjoyed and for which he received very positive feedback. He was quick to point out that preaching in Jamaica is different, because a typical service is much longer. He also learned that he needs to slow down, because as he gets excited preaching, he has a tendency to talk too fast.
When I asked Br. Raphael what he learned about Jamaica, he said that sadly many of the children grow up without even knowing their fathers. “Mothers get pregnant and drop out of school and end up living in very unstable situations,” he explains. “They have no guidance. I did not know it was this bad before I came here.”
Br. Raphael mentioned that the Jamaican people really appreciate the friars. “They are grateful for the food we bring them,” he says. “They stop you on the street to receive blessings and many of them are not even Catholic.”
Br. Raphael loved every minute of being in Jamaica, saying that there was a shining light in every place he went. “There are challenges for sure,” he says, “especially with trying to educate the children and give them a sound values-based education, but thankfully, with Fr. Jim and Fr. Colin and so many others who care, there is some hope for a way out of the poverty”.
Br. Joshua Richter, OFM: St. Mary of the Angels Parish in New Orleans
As we spoke, Br. Joshua was helping with plans for the 96th anniversary celebration of Franciscan friars serving at St. Mary of the Angels Parish in New Orleans held on August 1.
Br. Joshua’s time in New Orleans included quite a bit of pastoral work, such as setting up and cleaning up for Mass, decorating, maintaining the property, working with the parish council, and shadowing Fr. Joe Hund, OFM, Pastor of St. Mary of the Angels. He also spent time meeting with grieving families and helping them plan funerals for their loved ones.
When meeting many of the parishioners, Br. Joshua was touched by all the stories of Hurricane Katrina—even 16 years later. Everything seemed to be referred to as pre- or post-Katrina. He talked with people who lost everything and learned that some are still rebuilding.
“One of the things I was struck by was just how impactful the friars’ presence has been in the neighborhood,” he says. “When the neighborhood was starting the cleanup, St. Mary of the Angels was one of the first places people wanted to clean up so they could have a meeting place—a place of worship. Katrina actually brought the people closer.”
He participated in a lot of collaborative efforts. One of those was a “peace walk” encouraged by the Diocese of New Orleans. Parishioners started off at the church and walked the neighborhood together and prayed for peace. Br. Joshua also worked with Catholic Charities, where he helped with ESL (English as a second language) classes ranging from beginner to advanced for immigrants.
Br. Joshua seemed to take in everything he could. He hurried out after our conversation to join parishioners in distributing food to seniors in the area, another collaborative effort through Catholic Charities.
Br. Matt Ryan, OFM: 31st Street in New York City with the friars of Holy Name Province
Br. Matt arrived in the Big Apple in June 2021, just as places started opening back up due to Covid-19. The friars of Holy Name Province were very welcoming, and he immediately felt like part of the community.
Br. Matt served in a variety of ministries. Two days a week, he worked at St. Francis for the Poor, one of three residences created by the Holy Name friars to provide humane and dignified homes for people dealing with serious mental illness and homelessness. If not for this sanctuary, many of the tenants would be on the streets and struggling with mental health issues. Br. Matt interviewed some of the tenants and is writing stories showcasing their lives, which will be featured on a website currently being created.
“There needs to be more places like this,” he says. “This place could serve as a model for how people should be treated. This is a safe place, the retention rate is high, and it is a voluntary program.”
Br. Matt also helped distribute food to the homeless at the Breadline. He shared that their work is enhanced because of people like a butcher he met from New Jersey who has been providing the homeless with meat and cheese bagel sandwiches regularly for 12 years. There was also plenty of faith sharing with the community and greeting folks at Masses.
Br. Matt enjoyed his work, but he was also troubled by the extensive needs of the poor. “The work we do is important because we do it with love as part of our mission,” he says. “We can be overwhelmed by the need. We have to keep a balance and do what is ours to do and strive to be examples to our brothers and to reach others by contributing to the common good.”
Posted in: Vocations