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

March 21, 2019

Planning a future for the Shrine



Friar Clifford Hennings was 21 years old when he first saw the National Shrine of St. Anthony.

He remembers it as though it were yesterday.

“It was a ‘Come and See’ weekend,” he says, “my first visit to Ohio,” when Vocation Director Don Miller drove him in from the airport. “The chapel was hidden from view,” up a steep driveway off winding Colerain Avenue in Mt. Airy.  Perched on the hill was a classically handsome brick building encircled by vast lawns and stately trees.

That weekend Clifford walked the sweeping grounds around the Shrine and friary, praying as he paused among the statues. From the beginning, “It almost had a nostalgic, comforting feel, like a place I had been before. The surroundings had an impact on me even before I knew the friars.”

Twelve years later he has returned in the newly created position of Director of Shrine Ministry. It’s a role he is struggling to define in a place that, since the 1880s, has welcomed hundreds of friars in formation and thousands of pilgrims who are passionately devoted to St. Anthony. No longer a novitiate or a postulancy, it now houses a community of friars and welcomes worshippers on Sundays. “There’s not much ministry here,” says Clifford.

That, he hopes, is going to change. “I have plans,” he says, then amends that to, “Some are plans, and some are dreams.”

What’s going on?

For Clifford, who is also part-time Associate Pastor at St. Monica-St. George, this is a delicate dance. He is constrained by time, by lack of manpower, by perceptions about what the Shrine has always been. “What keeps the place going is the status quo.”

But in the changing world of friar unification and possible closings and divestitures, the status quo may not be enough. That makes Clifford both a promoter and a protector, motivated partly by “fear of losing this place.” And the Shrine’s quietly impressive reputation won’t save it.

What will? “We have to be able to say something is going on here,” he says. “How can we improve things? How can we get more people here”  – and make it more of a center for spirituality?

After he moved to St. Anthony Friary, “It took a while for them to figure out what I was trying to do.” When Clifford outlined his plans, a former guardian said, “Shrine ministry? What is Shrine ministry? What does that mean?”

In Clifford’s opinion, there is much to build upon. “Thousands of people send prayer requests here” in the name of St. Anthony – preacher, teacher, finder of that which is lost. More than 4,600 prayers were beamed to a monitor in the friary last month. “So many come to St. Anthony Day,” with local devotees joined by six or seven busloads of exuberant pilgrims each year.


Clifford would like to stoke and channel that enthusiasm. “Last year was the first year I’ve done St. Anthony Day, and there was no liturgical plan.” The logical question is, “How do we make this liturgy a worthwhile concern?”

One of his early projects was an Advent Speakers’ Series mounted last fall to attract visitors. The follow-up is a three-part series of Lenten reflections that starts March 27 with a presentation by Provincial Minister Mark Soehner (see Page 2).

When Clifford lived here as a postulant, “The grounds were particularly inviting. I would often sit and watch the deer in the field behind the Vocation Office.” Since “people who have been coming here for years or for the first time appreciate the grounds, what can we do to capitalize on that? People see it but they don’t engage with it. Nothing entices you to use it.”

For starters, “I would like for the field to be transformed into something a little bit more,” perhaps by adding native plants and a walking path. “This spring I want to do something simple. It would not be hard to put Stations of the Cross in the woods.”

The Shrine is a hidden treasure – especially at night. “Another practical thing would be to get a sign that lights up, with a spotlight on it” to guide drivers from Colerain Avenue into the complex.

A sign of hope

Clifford would love to do a First Friday Mass. “I’d like to have a Healing Mass at some point. And some sort of informative presentation on the life of St. Anthony.” For now, “When I’m planning things, I don’t schedule too much. We just don’t have the people” to pull it off.  “I still work at the parish.” Here, “I’m only one person, part-time,” with no staff. Fellow friars at St. Anthony are semi-retired or busy from dawn to dusk. As for his own limitations, “I’m an idea person. The money side is not my strong suit.”

To spread the word about the speakers’ series among Shrine regulars, “I put together a simple little newsletter” with a reflection on one side and “Opportunities this Lent” on the other. “I’ll do that seasonally with major announcements.”

A sign of Clifford’s hope is the declarative sentence on the back of the newsletter:

“More events to come!”

It shows what one person can do. He can get something started.

(Contact Clifford at:


Lent with the friars

Our Journey of Mercy Reflection Series at St. Anthony Shrine is Wednesdays from 7-8 p.m. and will feature:

Mark Soehner, OFMMarch 27 – “The Spirituality of Pilgrimage” with Mark Soehner: “Franciscan friars really popularized the Stations of the Cross,” Clifford Hennings says. This will be a spiritual reflection on “why we do it and what it means.” Mark will also talk about the friars’ walking pilgrimage through Virginia in 2009, “so people can look on Lent as their pilgrimage as well.”

 Al Hirt, OFMApril 3 – “St. Francis and Our Common Story ofÊ Mercy” with Al Hirt: Al will be “putting the story of St. Francis in the context of our own stories” from the perspective of God’s mercy.

April 10 – “Reconciliation: A Sacrament of Hope” with Clifford Hennings: Clifford plans to look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation “as one of hope” in the belief that we can be forgiven.

(Clifford previews the series at:

Each Friday during Lent there will be Stations of the Cross at 5 p.m., Adoration at 7:15-8:15 p.m. and Night Prayer at 8:15 p.m.

Season over, it’s time to play


Basketball buddies celebrated their season.It takes stamina to get through the winter basketball season, the longest scheduled league at Friars Club in Cincinnati. This year’s season, November into March, saw 240 boys and girls in Grades 2 through 8 honing their skills.

Two nights a week, the children and their coaches came together for practice sessions, culminating in basketball games on Saturday. It is amazing to see the dedication and commitment the children and coaches had.

Family Fun Night is “a time to celebrate the winter basketball season with kids, coaches, family and friends,” says Parrish Ozias, program director at Friars Club and organizer of the event. This year’s event on March 6 included plenty of fun for all of them.

PHOTOS BY SCOTT OBRECHT, OFMParents and kids alike were able to let loose and enjoy themselves on Family Fun Night.The line was always long for the Obstacle Course, an almost court-length maze of tunnels, slides and walls to climb. Kids competed to see who was the fastest as they raced each other through this indoor, air-filled mountain of physical challenges. Bubble Soccer is not for the faint-of-heart. Crawling into the center of a huge inflated plastic ball, getting shoulder-strapped in and then rolling around after “getting bumped” makes for some fun-filled moments and lots of laughs.

Wheelchair Basketball, a hit with the kids last summer, returned to Friars thanks to Jake Counts and Ian Smith from the Skool Aid program. This was more than fun for children and adults who participated in these rolling basketball games. They learned about the challenges people with disabilities face and meet head-on in everyday life. The games grew exciting as the teams raced their wheelchairs up and down the courts.

The Video Truck is always popular at Family Fun Night. Kids love their video games! One side of the truck is lined with seats and controls; the other side is a wall of video screens. Groups of children rotated in and out throughout the evening.

And where would Friars Club be without basketball? There were basketballs flying everywhere in the court where kids were shooting baskets. All four courts were filled with the shouts and laughter of kids, coaches, parents and friends.

(Scott Obrecht is The Friar at Friars Club.)


An advocate for your health

PHOTO BY TONI CASHNELLIMichelle Viacava checks a blood pressure at St. Francis Seraph Friary.As a province nurse, I thought it would be helpful if I gave you an overview of what I do and how I can help you.

My job is to coordinate and implement the health and supportive care plan of each Friar who has a health care need.  I wish to assure a continuum of quality care as a health care advocate to all the Friars.   This could be through organizing doctor visits or presurgical visits, attending doctor visits with a Friar, and helping with in-home care.  I believe prevention is the best medicine, and catching things early on can save your life.  So, although some of you may not like going to the doctor or are afraid of what they may say, getting checkups and inquiring about any concern is the “apple” that keeps the doctor away.

I also want to promote preventative care through the monthly column in the newsletter and by encouraging regular doctor visits with the primary physician, dentist, eye doctor, and dermatologist. I am sensitive to the needs of and knowledgeable about the normal aging process and any other medical issue Friars may be facing. I am here to help you get the early and necessary care that is needed: When you take care of yourself, then you can also take care of those around you.  Caring about one another is of great comfort to everyone.

My main office is at St. Clement Friary, where I am on Thursdays. I am at St. Francis Seraph Friary on Tuesdays, and St. John the Baptist in the morning and St. Anthony in the afternoon on Wednesdays. The podiatrist comes every nine weeks, and yoga is provided twice a month at St. Clement Friary.  I am available by phone, which is listed in the Personnel Directory if anyone wishes to contact me with questions or concerns.

I also check vital signs and fill medication packets for those who need assistance with their medicines.  I will attend doctor visits for those who would like to have an advocate at their side or need someone to explain anything discussed at the visit.  Please feel free to inquire about any health concerns. I wish you all a healthy 2019.

Michelle Viacava, RN

Province Nurse

Next stop: Oldenburg. Sr. Daria is leaving the Communications Office.Hail and farewell: After 4½ years in the Communications Office, Sr. Daria Mitchell, OSF, is moving on to an “active retirement” at the motherhouse in Oldenburg, Ind. “I have truly enjoyed my work here,” she says, “supporting Toni Cashnelli in her ministry, and providing small services for the friars as they had need.” The province and staff will celebrate Daria and her contributions at a going-away lunch on March 27 at St. Francis Seraph Friary. Her last day in the office is March 29. While Daria is not looking forward to cleaning and packing, she says that “going home to Oldenburg is a gift, after 54 years of service in education and the past few years in communication. I will carry all of you with me in my heart and prayers, and I ask that you keep me in your prayers as I begin a new phase of life. Thank you for making my life these past years so rich and meaningful.” You can wish her well at:

  • Frank’s photos in the April issue of St. Anthony Messenger Check out the April issue of St. Anthony Messenger magazine for six pages of Frank Jasper’s photos from the multicultural Stations of the Cross promoted each year by Mission San Luis Rey in Southern California. Frank also wrote the story that accompanies the dramatic Good Friday photos from the procession.
  • A timely message from Jim Bok in Negril, Jamaica: “Just reminding you that we have remained on EST and so are now 1 hour behind you—like on Central Time.  Great for March Madness!  Peace!”
  • This is what the cake looked like after Pastor Carl Langenderfer’s March 19 birthday celebration at Holy Family in Oldenburg, Ind. “The Parish Council baked a cake with 75 candles on it,” Carl writes in the bulletin, “and I was able to blow them all out with one breath!  What a windy fellow!” (His words, not ours.)


PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMThe first response was to pray to St. Anthony.Did you ever lose something?  It’s easy to misplace a set of keys, an important document, or a treasured item.  That’s what St. Anthony is for!

Wednesday morning I had a doctor’s appointment.  I left Mass right after communion because I realized that my time was tight.  I had a number of materials to take to the doctor’s.  In the transfer of items, I temporarily set my wallet on top of the car, and because I was late, forgot it.  Only when I reached the doctor’s office did I realize I no longer had the wallet.  I began to pray: St. Anthony, please, return to me the wallet that I foolishly lost!

Initially I thought I had somehow left it in the garage, but that proved not to be true.  Then the sickening feeling of that little unexplained thud as I drove down Liberty Street flooded my memory.  I searched high and low down the street, but came up empty-handed.  I quickly moved from sickened to panicky.  Luckily I had copied my credit cards and driver’s license.  The cards were cancelled.  In an hour, with Dan Anderson driving, I had applied for a new copy of my driver’s license with a temporary card proclaiming me ready to drive.  David O’Brien’s office gave me a copy of my Province Medical Card.  Toni Cashnelli reminded me to call the police Ð even for a lost item.

Back to St. Anthony.  I did not find my wallet, but I found something better:  peace of mind.  This item, which seems so essential, was lost.  But it made me reassess all the important items in my wallet Ð and all that was on my To Do list that day. I began to believe again on a practical level in a Power Greater Than Myself.

I was grateful for Dan, who is a calming presence.  David made it seem that everyone does this kind of thing. A personal story from Toni led her to remind me to make a police report.  God is so good to surround me with many good people.  I may have lost my wallet Ð and my mind Ð for a time.  But with God and St. Anthony’s help, I learned in this Lenten time where my real treasure lies.


— Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM


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

Mark Soehner, OFMMarch 27 – “The Spirituality of Pilgrimage” with Mark Soehner: “Franciscan friars really popularized the Stations of the Cross,” Clifford Hennings says. This will be a spiritual reflection on “why we do it and what it means.” Mark will also talk about the friars’ walking pilgrimage through Virginia in 2009, “so people can look on Lent as their pilgrimage as well.”

Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist