FRANCISCAN FRIARS Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

www.franciscan.org

January 31, 2020

A very Franciscan dog

There’s less stress, more joy, since Sisi came to school

BY TONI CASHNELLI

It’s 8:30 on Friday morning, and Sisi has a lot of work to do.

Job No. 1: Sniff out the treats hidden in a rubber Kong ball under a desk in the Guidance Office.

Job No. 2 is to give and get love, all day long. This makes Sisi, a 14-month-old Australian Labradoodle, the most popular staff member at Roger Bacon High School in St. Bernard, Ohio. It’s a role she was born and trained to play.

The school’s first Therapy/Comfort dog, Sisi is smart, intuitive, and unflappable. Noise does not faze her and crowds will not distract her from her mission: to reduce the level of stress in everyone she meets.

By being her affectionate self, “She brings out the best in people,” says Guidance Director Pam Rosfeld, who shares her office with Sisi. “If a kid is upset and doesn’t even know why they’re upset, they sit on the floor and start focusing on her and petting her. When they see her, they’re just happier. Whatever was bothering them melts away. It’s almost magical. She’s brilliant. She’s gifted” – and really, really cute.

Led through the school by friar Mark Hudak, one of her six trained “handlers”, Sisi will do walkabouts in classes where exams are scheduled, lending a gentle, calming presence that says to kids, “You’ve got this.” She responds to the command, “Sisi: Snuggle,” by gently placing her paws on a student’s lap.

She has an Instagram account, attends sporting events, rode in the Homecoming Parade, and is the face of a line of t-shirts at Roger Bacon’s Spirit Shop. Sisi is more than a therapy dog, says Pam. “She’s a goodwill ambassador for the school.”

On a typical day, she works her magic on dozens of people who walk away smiling. That includes Principal Steve Schad, a former Marine who is by no means a pushover. Stopping by the Guidance Office where she spends most of her time, he greets her with outstretched arms and a hearty, “Hello, Beautiful!” Her tail starts swishing like a cheerleader’s pom-pom.

“When I feel stressed,” he says, “I’ll sing in the hall, I’ll talk to my kids and I’ll go back and play with Sisi. For me personally it helps. For the faculty it helps. It’s very hard not to feel good when you see her.”

In the moment

That feeling is shared by about 500 other people at Bacon. “She’s good for our stress level back here, I can tell you that,” says Pam.

“I love Sisi,” says Solomon Tentman, a freshman guidance counselor. “She helps make this place be a little more joyful. She has a really good presence and does a really good job of being there for the kids. Helping them calm down is her specialty. Their faces light up when they see her in the hallway; they forget they had a problem.”

Sometimes, Pam says, “You just need a moment to breathe. There’s a laundry list of things kids are doing: jobs; sports; activities. Students have so many stressors in their lives today. A lot of it comes from this,” she says, holding up her smartphone. “These kids aren’t growing up the way we did. They never disconnect from their phones to live in the present moment. One of Sisi’s assets is, when they’re with her they take a break from that.” Like every dog, “Sisi lives in the moment. They hug her and play with her. Sisi can do things we can’t.”

Today, as usual, she’s on call in the office. A teen preparing to attend her first March for Life in Washington, D.C., has some last-minute jitters. After a few minutes with Sisi, she is calm and collected, ready to roll. Sophomore Ben Obringer, tussling with Sisi over toys on the floor, says she helps him focus on studies. “I’ve always liked dogs, and they always calm me down. I get all my work done so I get to spend 10 minutes with Sisi. When she sees me,” he says, “it’s playtime.”

As bells signal the end of a class, Pam leads Sisi into the hall where kids rush to their next subject. Amid the chaos, they stop and sweep a hand over the dog’s head or stoop to ruffle her soft, curly coat. It’s a ritual they’ve practiced since last April, when Sisi, then a gregarious 5-month-old puppy, stepped out of a van with her trainer and into their hearts.

Finding a match

It was Pam who encouraged the school to apply for a therapy dog. “After the school shooting at Sandy Hook [in 2012], we started hearing more about dogs being brought into schools to help students” who were dealing with stress and grief. “Therapy dogs were going to colleges and nursing homes and hospitals, and there was a news program I saw in May of 2018 that Badin High School in Hamilton [Ohio] had gotten one. That planted the idea in my head. We are a Franciscan school. We have a lot of animal lovers.”

Principal Schad was immediately on board, “very much in favor of it,” Pam says. “Then I talked to the folks at Hamilton Badin over the summer. We saw what kinds of things a dog can do. I wanted us to be one of the first ones to apply for a dog – not the last. We decided to use the same playbook as Badin,” and work with Ultimate Canine, a Westfield, Ind., trainer of family pets, service and therapy dogs for individuals, schools, police departments and military veterans. “I wanted one that was hypoallergenic and would not shed. Other than that, we didn’t know what we would get. You get put into a queue for when they have a dog.”  It took months to find the right match for Bacon.

In February of 2019, Pam got the call from Ultimate Canine. “We have your dog,” they said, a puppy so friendly she was earmarked for school service at the age of 8 weeks. While she trained, “They sent me pictures of this little Labradoodle,” which, by cosmic coincidence, was Franciscan brown with a white stripe – the school colors. “We had a naming contest right away.” When votes were counted, the name the kids chose over Franny, Sparta, Joy, Clare, and Angel was “Sisi”, in honor of Francis of Assisi.

Pam then assembled the village of people it would take to make things work, a team of on-staff handlers who could master a series of commands and take the dog overnight when her chief handler needed a break. The biggest issue was finding a home. Who would look after Sisi, bring her to school, manage her vet visits and grooming appointments?

No. 1 handler

Brandon Spaeth, Assistant Athletic Coach and life-long dog lover, volunteered to be her primary handler. “When the guidance counselor brought it up, she said they would have a hard time finding people to take care of the dog,” says 26-year-old Brandon, who had just bought a house and had plenty of room. “I said I would absolutely take her.” They bonded big-time, with Brandon taking her home each day and bringing her along to sporting events. Now when he drops her off at the Guidance Office, Sisi looks after him wistfully, like a toddler left at preschool for the first time, watching out the window as he walks to work at the Fogarty Center next door. She then patrols the office for dog treats before settling down to await her fans.

“Brandon has been the critical piece” in the project, Pam says. “He brought his skills he uses as an athletic director to secure sponsorships” for Sisi. The Animal Care Center in Forest Park provides free medical care and grooming. The Pet One store at Findlay Market delivers dog food every month, free of charge. The school purchased Sisi with general funds, but “She costs us nothing on a day-to-day basis.”

In November, when the school celebrated her first birthday with cake and a party, attendees donated pet food, toys and office supplies for Pets in Need, a veterinary clinic for low-income families. Pam sees more of that happening in the future, with Sisi as a fund-raising focus for animal welfare.

As popular as she is, “We don’t force her on anybody,” Steve says. “We know we have some kids who are afraid of dogs or who have a history with dogs that is not positive.” When the word went out about Sisi – kind of like a birth announcement – parents were asked if they minded having a dog at school. Not a single one complained.

Sisi, fetch!

Asked how Sisi deals with all the attention, Brandon responds, “Spoiled rotten.”  The worst Pam and her colleagues will say is, “She’s stingy with her kisses.”

After lunch, friar Mark takes Sisi to the Information Technology Center for a lively game of catch, much to the delight of students hunkered down over their iPads. “She’s like a child who needs to burn off energy,” he says. Back in the Guidance Office, Sisi plays hide-and-seek with three students and her favorite crinkle toys. “See ya, Sisi!” they wave on the way out when a bell summons them to class. “She’s still a baby,” says Pam, as the dog plops down for a well-earned nap. “She needs her rest.”

An errand brings Julie Vehorn, Director of Academics, to the Guidance Office, so she settles on the floor for a few minutes with the dog.  “She’s wonderful, just a ball of love. Having us interact with Sisi is a way for all of us to see each other as people. Interacting and playing with the dog is one way to get to see people in a different light.”

And what better place for a dog than a Franciscan school?  “A lot of people have the concept of St. Francis and the bird bath,” Julie says, and that’s it. “But there’s so much more: an understanding of how Francis celebrated so many elements of God’s creation as being valuable – air, water, animals, the ground we walk on. And all these elements are from God and have to be taken care of.”

As Pam says of Sisi, “I think her impact is subtle but pervasive. You never know what impact the ripple effect will have when a kid walks by and has an encounter with her and then goes to the next class” – the pay-it-forward power of kindness.

If a student arrives at school in a bad frame of mind and pets a dog, “Just maybe we can change the direction of their day,” says Principal Steve. “We want to make the students feel wanted and valued, and Sisi does that. Counselors have seen kids come in who are having a bad day or a high level of tension. Just having Sisi sit next to them in a chair will immediately cut the tension.”

The “wanted and valued” part is especially important at Bacon, a sponsored ministry of the friars. “What does it mean to be Franciscan? It means everybody and everything has value,” Steve says. “St. Francis saw value in all people,” as does Sisi.

“I like to think he’s looking down on us once in a while. And I like to think that if he’s looking down at Roger Bacon, he would see Sisi and what she does, and he would smile.”

Help for students in need

It’s worth noting during Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 26-Feb. 1: As educators help students deal with depression, isolation and loss of self-esteem, three innovative high schools in Southwest Ohio have turned to man’s best friend for help – and they’re all Catholic:

  • Last spring Roger Bacon High School in St. Bernard welcomed Sisi, an Australian Labradoodle, as a Therapy/Comfort Dog. For more information, contact Pam Rosfeld at: PRosfeld@rogerbacon.org;
  • Cincinnati’s St. Xavier High School recently introduced golden retriever Evan as a Facility Dog for Therapy to support students’ health and wellness; learn more at: www.stxavier.org;
  • At Badin High School in Hamilton, Rudy the Labradoodle has been on the job as a Therapy Dog since 2018. shelterme.tv/news Funding for training was provided by the Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation of Newtown, Ct., named for a 6-year-old who lost her life in the Sandy Hook School shooting in 2012. The foundation says Charlotte loved animals and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian.

What we’ve lost – and gained

BY MARK SOEHNER, OFM

Meeting in California: John Barker, Vince Delorenzo, Bill Farris, Joshua Richter, Mark Soehner, Page Polk, Bob Bruno, Dan AndersonWe have been experiencing a lot of letting go of brothers and friends through death recently.  Over the past two months four friars have died:  Joachim Lux, Bill Ollendick, Valentine Young, and Bruno Kremp. Pianist Susan Quirk, our friend who had accompanied many Provincial professions, funerals and major events at St. Anthony, passed away as well. And as we move through the process of Revitalization and Restructuring, it is coming more firmly into our collective consciousness that we are losing our Province as we once knew it. There is sadness for most of us with this slow realization.

In each one of these funerals, we have used the phrase, “Life is Changed, not Ended” in the Preface for their Masses.  After a few months of sabbatical in 2008, I came to this realization for my own life, as I left my beloved parish of St. Aloysius and moved to become a formator for Chicago.  The phrase really impacted me, at 50 years of age, as I sat contemplating an artwork in the chapel of Sangre de Cristo called, “Mourning Angel”, in which the Latin phrase, “Vita mutator, non tollitur” is prominent.  Life is changed, not ended.  One phase of my life was ending—a time of intense action, prominence among the poor of inner-city Detroit, a parish that I had helped to “father”.  In its place came a slowing down, a “stripping”, if you will, of my own self-importance.  And a birth of a deeper faith in God’s generosity.

PHOTO BY
MARK SOEHNER, OFM
At the novitiate, “They live surrounded by beauty.”
This week, the Provincial Council has traveled to our novitiate in Santa Barbara, Calif.  While we have dealt with many issues of letting go and revitalizing, it would be hard not to see the power of revitalization that comes from these new brothers, our novices, who are eager to become “troubadours of the Lord” as Franciscans.  These nine men each have caught the experience of being loved by God enough to let go of careers, promising loves, a stable home to join us on the road.  They want to proclaim God’s Kingdom where the poor are cherished, the environment protected, a new way of freedom that they have learned here to be given away.  The pace of things is really slow at the novitiate.  They live surrounded by beauty and a pretty steady temperature.  They purposefully slow down the Office to almost taste each word.  And they have daily shared times of contemplation.  There’s little shuffling around during that time, just a going deep into God.

For me, this is very hopeful, but yes, changed.  As we let go of deeply treasured brothers and friends, we are also gaining new energy in new brothers.  While the memories that we have of our beloved departed stay with us, God will develop a new future that we cannot yet imagine in those coming to our way of life.  God’s generosity cannot be matched.  God will never be outdone.  We take our cue from the Blessed Mother:  she surrendered, not passively, but bravely, to the angel’s invitation.  And it changed mourning into joy for all ages to come.

Symbols of undying faith

BY PAT McCLOSKEY, OFM

PHOTOS BY PAT McCLOSKEY, OFMAlgirdas, second from right, and his guests experience “the drama of the cross”.In an earlier article, I described my November 2019 trip to Lithuania to help the friars there celebrate the 30th anniversary of their resumption of public ministry once the Berlin Wall opened up.

After the main festivities were over, Provincial Algirdas Malakauskas drove five of us (two Tuscan friars, a Ukrainian friar, one from Australia and me) from Klaipeda to Vilnius to catch our return flights. That trip included a short visit to Algis’ mother along the way and then a very inspiring visit to Siauliai, home of the “Hill of Crosses” for almost 200 years.

Lithuania came under Russian control in 1795 with the third partition of Poland, with which Lithuania was then united. During the failed revolutions in 1831 and 1863-‘64, many Lithuanians did not receive proper burial. The “Hill of Crosses” began on the site of an old fort as a way to remember those who had died in these revolutions.

During the Soviet occupation of Lithuania (1944-90), the site was bulldozed three times, but the number of crosses, crucifixes and statues kept growing to perhaps 200,000 today. Crosses up to 9.8 feet can now be erected without a special permit. This is a place of national pilgrimage; a busload of people from Taiwan came during our visit.

When Pope John Paul II visited here and celebrated Mass on Sept. 7, 1993, he said: “The drama of the cross has been lived by many of your compatriots. For them Christ crucified has represented an inestimable source of spiritual strength in a moment of deportation or condemnation to death. It has been for this entire nation and for the Church a providential sign of blessing, a sign of reconciliation among people. It has given sense and meaning to sufferings, illness, to sorrow. Today as in the past, the cross continues to follow human life.”

The Hill of Crosses on the site of an old fort.There is a special bond between this shrine and the OFM Province of the Stigmata of St. Francis (Florence). In 1994 as an act of thanksgiving for his previous visit, the pope sent several Tuscan friars to deliver his gift, a large crucifix that stands at the entrance to the hill. In the chapel of the adjacent friary, there are art glass windows representing this shrine and the one at La Verna.

During our lunch at the nearby friary, I sat across from Fr. Severin Holocher, a member of that community. When he found out that I belong to St. John the Baptist Province, he asked if I knew Tom Speier, whom he remembered fondly. Severin had made Tom’s spiritual direction program about 30 years ago on Mill Road. Shortly after returning to Germany, his provincial asked if he would go to Lithuania to learn the language and assist in the initial formation of its friars. He has been there for 26 years, helping first in Vilnius and now at this shrine. When I later told Tom about this, he remembered Severin very well and very warmly.

After lunch we resumed our trip to Vilnius, where Philip (Australia) and Emanuel (Ukraine) caught their flights. In late afternoon, Algirdas led us through old Vilnius, where we saw the cathedral, the Polish church that housed the original Divine Mercy painting, the new Divine Mercy shrine, a Russian Orthodox double monastery (men and women), and several other churches. We also saw the very popular Gate of Dawn chapel with its image of Our Lady of Mercy, located at the top of the gate’s arch.

We stayed at the provincial headquarters in Vilnius and caught our flights the following day.

Lithuanian hospitality is second to none!

New life on Christmas Eve

BY TONI CASHNELLI

Mary Jane Ollendick at the funeral.When he walked in and saw a baptism, “I thought I was in the wrong church,” said a friar attending the funeral reception for Bill Ollendick, OFM. But no, by some quirk of fate, St. Clement Church was serving dual purposes on Dec. 24, with the entry reserved for a young man’s baptism and the rest of the church given over to the funeral visitation for friar Bill.

It was something to see. Just inside church, a St. Clement second-grader in a white suit with a gold tie was surrounded by family gathered for his baptism. At the opposite end of the church, the 91-year-old mother of Bill, a friar who had died unexpectedly the week before, was greeting mourners next to her son’s casket.

Talk about the circle of life.

Both groups were surrounded by red and white poinsettias and miniature Christmas trees that reinforced a festive theme. “There’s new life and new life,” presider Mark Soehner said, referring to the baptized boy and the friar whose life had ended so suddenly. It added to the FILE PHOTOSBill’s official portrait; above, as a  young brother.poignancy of Bill’s story, captured nearby in a display of memorabilia. In a photo frame engraved with the words, “Dreams Do Come True” were four photos, two showing 9-year-old Bill playing priest with his family, two from his ordination at the age of 51.

Dream deferred

For 32 years Bill was a Franciscan brother, serving as a cook, a teacher, and working in pastoral ministry in Louisiana, Arizona, New Mexico, and Ohio. Still drawn to the priesthood, he then entered a lay pastoral ministry program in 1992 and eventually completed the M.Div. program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. In well-ordered albums at the funeral were dozens of photos of Bill and his beaming parents on the day of ordination, June 23, 2001. He spent eight years as an associate in four parishes before the joyful day in 2009 when he was installed as pastor of Transfiguration in Southfield, Mich.

The realization of his dream was short-lived. Five years later Bill could barely move, debilitated by a rare, cancerous tumor on his spine. After surgery and the subsequent long and excruciating recovery, he could stand upright and walk with a cane – but would never be the same. His last official ministry as Parochial Administrator at Holy Name Parish in Cincinnati lasted only three years before his health declined in 2017 and he officially retired. Admitted to the hospital with chest pains in December, Bill died just days later of heart failure. For his mother, Mary Jane, this was a blow no parent should have to endure.

“It’s hard,” she said of the loss of her son. “When I saw him at the hospital, he seemed in good health. But when God wants him, he wants him.”

Silver lining

Top, Mom gets a hug; above, Bill on a work crew in
Shiprock, Ariz., 1982
Looking out over the church, Mark welcomed Mary Jane, her remaining children (Marian, Ralph, Robbie and Paul), and Bill’s many nieces and nephews. On such a sad day, he said, there is reason to celebrate, and reason to rejoice. Like the young man who had just been baptized, “Bill is in a new life.”

The first reading, “For everything there is a season” from Ecclesiastes, was familiar and comforting. The Gospel given by homilist Bill Farris was from Matthew: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened.” Everyone who remembered Bill Ollendick’s physical struggles knew how sadly appropriate it was.

Bill Farris, who succeeded Bill Ollendick as pastor of Transfiguration, talked about the coming of Christmas, just one day away. “As this Advent season closes, we measure what’s left in hours and minutes. Yet as Christmas dominates, we must also make room for another mystery – the Paschal mystery. We turn to the flesh that suffered and died that we might live.”

The setting might seem odd, he said, a casket surrounded by poinsettias. “Many of us were planning to spend this time preparing to celebrate.” He looked to the Paschal candle, which speaks of the world Jesus knew. “It was a cold, uncomfortable world” into which the Savior was born, “not in great fanfare, but simply, humbly, quietly.”

Today, he said, “We celebrate the passage of Bill to our Lord,” who has a welcome for us as well. “We celebrate the great commitment Bill had. His body had been burdened and weary.”

He kept going

Top, Bill in 2012“; above, Dreams Do Come True”When Bill Farris came to Transfiguration, he found a basement full of Christmas decorations amassed by his predecessor. “He had this energy behind Christmas that meant so much to him. He had the whole friary decorated to the hilt.” What’s more, “The longer I was there [in Southfield] the more I appreciated how in his midlife years he took on studies for a priestly path.” The ministry at Transfiguration was no less challenging.

Bill Ollendick arrived two years after the parish was created by the merger of four communities. This was “not a smoothly functioning parish at all,” said Bill Farris. “It was deeply, deeply frustrating to Bill.” At the same time, “He was beginning to lose his health and energy to a tumor on his spine. Parishioners said it was difficult for them to see him struggle down the aisle on his walker.” But in accepting his frailty, “He developed an empathy for others who knew what it meant to suffer. He shared a generous willingness to share the time he was given for his ministry. He also cared for Br. Luke Simon,” an aging friar “who was weakening week by week.” Even after an auto accident that would have discouraged others, “Bill kept going.”

He made the most of his relatively brief time as a priest. “Celebrating the loving generosity of Bill adds something, deepening the beauty of this time,” Bill Farris said. Now, “He shares a gentle yoke and final rest with Jesus.”

After Communion, Mark consoled the family, still rocked by the suddenness of their loss. “We know it’s a hard time,” he said. Because Bill loved this season, “He wanted to be home for Christmas. And now he is.”

  • Michael Perry extended his thanks from Rome.Back in Rome after recovery and rehab following his bicycle accident, Minister Michael Perry posted a note of thanks this week on the Order’s website at: Minister-general. “I am now walking with a cane, which is only temporary,” he says. “It is my hope that soon I will be able to walk without any assistance, and, eventually, to get back to riding a bicycle.”
  • On Thursday, Feb. 13, Xavier University in Cincinnati will screen Revolution of the Heart: The Dorothy Day Story, a documentary financed in part by a grant from St. John the Baptist Province. The Cincinnati premiere will be introduced by the filmmaker, Martin Doblemeier, producer/director of more than 30 documentaries focused on religion, faith and spirituality. Co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, journalist and social activist Dorothy Day, who died in 1980, championed the poor, the hungry and the homeless.  Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon is the voice of Dorothy Day in the 57-minute film, which will air on PBS in March. The free Cincinnati screening is at 6:30 p.m. in the theater at the Kennedy Auditorium, Conaton Learning Commons, 412 Dana Ave. at St. Francis Xavier Way.
  • Prince Charles met with Holy Land Christian leaders in Bethlehem.Last Friday the city of Bethlehem welcomed Prince Charles of England, who visited the Basilica of the Nativity. The future king was accompanied by the Custos of the Holy Land, Francesco Patton, OFM, to the Grotto of the Nativity and the Manger where the Virgin Mary laid Jesus. Read more at: Prince-Charles
  • Reminder: The registration deadline for the Senior Friendly Friars’ Retreat, March 11-13 at St. Clement Friary in Cincinnati, is March 1.

 

 

 

Send comments or questions to: sjbfco@franciscan.org

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FRANCISCAN FRIARS Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

Meeting in California: John Barker, Vince Delorenzo, Bill Farris, Joshua Richter, Mark Soehner, Page Polk, Bob Bruno, Dan AndersonWe have been experiencing a lot of letting go of brothers and friends through death recently.  Over the past two months four friars have died:  Joachim Lux, Bill Ollendick, Valentine Young, and Bruno Kremp. Pianist Susan Quirk, our friend who had accompanied many Provincial professions, funerals and major events at St. Anthony, passed away as well. And as we move through the process of Revitalization and Restructuring, it is coming more firmly into our collective consciousness that we are losing our Province as we once knew it. There is sadness for most of us with this slow realization.

Mary Jane Ollendick at the funeral.When he walked in and saw a baptism, “I thought I was in the wrong church,” said a friar attending the funeral reception for Bill Ollendick, OFM. But no, by some quirk of fate, St. Clement Church was serving dual purposes on Dec. 24, with the entry reserved for a young man’s baptism and the rest of the church given over to the funeral visitation for friar Bill.

  • Michael Perry extended his thanks from Rome.Back in Rome after recovery and rehab following his bicycle accident, Minister Michael Perry posted a note of thanks this week on the Order’s website at: Minister-general. “I am now walking with a cane, which is only temporary,” he says. “It is my hope that soon I will be able to walk without any assistance, and, eventually, to get back to riding a bicycle.”
FRANCISCAN FRIARS Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

Mary Jane Ollendick at the funeral.When he walked in and saw a baptism, “I thought I was in the wrong church,” said a friar attending the funeral reception for Bill Ollendick, OFM. But no, by some quirk of fate, St. Clement Church was serving dual purposes on Dec. 24, with the entry reserved for a young man’s baptism and the rest of the church given over to the funeral visitation for friar Bill.

FRANCISCAN FRIARS
Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist