October 24, 2019
BY TONI CASHNELLI
ILLUSTRATION BY BRENDA GRANNAN
Each day millions of people type an electronic request into a phone, a tablet or a computer, asking for prayers for themselves or for others. Many of the petitions that once flooded the mailrooms of religious organizations are now zapped directly to their destination.
In St. John the Baptist Province, those requests are carefully and prayerfully reviewed. The website for St. Anthony Shrine/FriarWorks gets almost 5,000 messages each month. They are read by compassionate people and posted on www.stanthony.org, accessible to readers around the world. Last year for the first time www.franciscan.org, the province website, added an online form with the invitation, “Let Us Pray for You”. Now requests from every corner of the globe – Chile, India, the Philippines, Kenya, Australia – are forwarded to St. Clement Friary in Cincinnati, where Guardian Frank Jasper asks brothers to give them special attention.
At the heart of this technology-driven process are caring people deeply affected by the prayers. Mary Jo Berlon has been processing requests for stanthony.org for 15 years. “I love this job,” says this Cincinnati school teacher. “It’s a ministry.”
In 2004 she was casually asked, “Do you want to earn extra money and approve these prayers?”. Since then, almost every member of her family has offered to assist. Her late mother and father read and edited prayers; “It was something they could do and it gave them purpose.” Now her grown daughters, Anna Berlon and Allyson Richer, both review petitions for stanthony.org.
PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMSt. Clement friars help with prayers from franciscan.org.Mary AnnMichael Monseur
At St. Francis Seraph Friary in Cincinnati, receptionist Dan Nolan checks and forwards requests that come in through franciscan.org. “It’s neat that they’re coming to us” with their prayers, he says. “There’s something about the humanity of the Franciscan spirit. People find us approachable. They believe that Franciscans are men of prayer, and that their prayers will be heard.”
Guardian Frank prints and posts those requests, so far a couple dozen each month, on a board outside the chapel at St. Clement, and then channels certain prayers to certain friars. “We pray for them individually at Morning Prayer, and at times at Evening Prayer.” Last names and email addresses are removed before the requests are shared to preserve the privacy of senders. “The one I was wishing I could have responded to was a sixth-grade class in California that was studying about St. Francis and Franciscans,” Frank says, “and they asked us to pray for them as the Feast of St. Francis was coming up.”
Stanthony.org receives about 5,000 requests per month.He’s getting to know the “regulars”, those who frequently email prayers. “The other day I printed out one intention that was 10 pages long from a guy in Australia. Everybody was in it: He had very detailed requests for employment for his son, that his relative make a good choice, that he has good funding and hires good employees, that his business is successful….” and much more.
Not surprisingly, “Many of the requests are health-related,” says Dan, “people awaiting the results of a test, praying for family members or impending surgery, long-term health issues. What I’ve noticed a lot is people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, or financial issues, a better job or worries about bills. A predominant theme is healing of broken or strained relationships, praying that things will get resolved or that somebody will come back to them.”
When prayers are posted on stanthony.org, “There are people all over the world praying for them,” says Mary Jo. “I see requests from China sometimes. I’m surprised at the amount of Christians in India. They’ll bring things of their culture into their prayer, such as, ‘My father is making me marry into my caste.’”
In a recent sampling of 20 prayer requests, she says, “Health was the No. 1 issue, prayer requests for surgery or babies born with health issues or physical or mental addiction.” There were also prayers for family, for love or the loss of a love, for people who have died, for a new job. Two petitions for lost items – it’s often car keys or cell phones – attest to the popularity of St. Anthony.
PHOTO BY Toni CashnelliDan Nolan reviews prayers for franciscan.org.
Some of them are incredibly moving, says Dan, who thinks about “the grandmother who had a request for a grandson who was 10. The child was going to have surgery in Toronto, the removal of a tumor in his brain. Even if everything went great, this child’s life would be impacted. They didn’t know if his personality would be affected.” Dan was touched by “the helplessness of that grandma, her fear that he would be changed permanently” as she wondered, “Is my grandson going to be the same person? Will I know my grandson?”
After a while, “You feel like you know these people,” says Mary Jo, who is personally invested in those who write. She wonders what became of the lady in India who flunked her driver’s test twice and only had one more chance to pass it. “One elderly person had been posting for a long time and they stopped. What happened to them? When I first started doing this there was a lady who prayed for other people on the site, Anna from Germany. All of a sudden, she wasn’t there anymore.” Where did Anna go?
Because posts on stanthony.org bear only a first name or an initial, “It’s a safe space” where people can unburden their souls, Mary Jo says. “That’s the really cool thing about this.” When she signs off on a new request, “I hope it’s benefiting the people who submit prayers. I hope it makes them feel listened to and heard and less lonely.”
“Some people are really struggling,” says Mary Jo Berlon, who daily reviews hundreds of prayer requests sent through stanthony.org. And sometimes, a prayer is a cry for help from one who feels lost or is especially troubled.
When Mary Jo is concerned about a petitioner’s well-being, she forwards the prayer to Colleen Cushard, co-director of FriarWorks. Colleen tries to reach out, but sees the need for “a more in-depth response to people struggling.” So she’s hoping to find a friar who is willing to help by contacting people in crisis.
“If any friar would be interested in counseling or responding to e-mail, they could contact me for more information,” she says. Write to Colleen at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 513-721-4700, ext. 3219.
BY MARK SCHROEDER, OFM
PHOTOS BY BR. OCTAVIO DURAN, OFMNovices assemble for a photo at Mission Santa Barbara; above, breaking in the new habits.
Joining guests from the Capuchin and Conventual Novitiates and local supporters, Vicar Bill Farris and Vocation Director Tim Lamb celebrated with SJB’s Joshua Richter and his fellow novices.
Novice Directors Jeff Macnab, Michael Blastic and Freddy Rodriguez had prepared the novices for this day. A ritual sprinkling of water accompanied the opening hymn and gathering prayer. The first reading in English was from Celano’s Life of St. Francis. The second reading from the Gospel of Matthew was proclaimed in Spanish: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me…” Seven friars voiced their thoughts about the sign of the habit when all in the assembly were invited to share a reflection on the readings.
Friars from the US-6 provinces led the Rite of Investiture. They handed each novice a folded habit with the pronouncement, “Receive this habit of probation in the Order of Friars Minor. It is a sign of your commitment to your brothers, the Church and the world in service to Christ and His Church.”
After processing to the sacristy to don their new habits, the novices soon emerged, newly clad. As they stood in the middle of the chapel, all sang a moving Blessing Prayer based on the Suscipe of St. Ignatius. After heart-felt Intercessions came the Lord’s Prayer and a Blessing. The Closing Song began with the words, “Sing, O sing like the wind and sea; let music fill the skies! Lift your voice like the thund’ring waves: let songs of praise arise!”
The day of celebration continued with social time on the patio, and dinner and dessert in the dining room.
(Mark Schroeder is Guardian of Old Mission Santa Barbara.)
(The Annual Friars’ Bistro Oct. 9 did more than raise funds for St. Francis Retreat House in Easton, Pa. It also raised awareness of the contributions of Mike Albarrel, longtime friend of SFRH, and Ed Skutka, stationed there for almost 50 years. Before Ed was given an award, here’s how he was introduced by friar Henry Beck.)
PHOTO BY CHRIS MEYER, OFMState Sen. Lisa Boscola gives Ed his award.
He has done many different tasks here, especially in the kitchen and dish-washing areas of the work here, but through it all he has been a brother to the friars here, to the staff, and to the retreatants who come for spiritual renewal. They didn’t know they were also going to get a few good jokes … and maybe some “groaners”, too, from Brother Ed.
We welcome this evening in a special way, Bro. Ed’s sisters here with us: Marilyn and Peg.
Bro. Ed was one of 14 children whose parents raised them in a very caring and religious atmosphere. After looking at the Trappist monks for several months and then two years in the Army, serving as a medic in Vietnam during the war there, Bro. Ed found the Franciscan friars. And we are very grateful. His one and only assignment (other than a year away for the novitiate) has been SFRH.
Ed, we thank you sincerely for being “brother” to us and to all whom you meet and serve here at SFRH. Your steady presence has meant much to many persons throughout all your years here at the retreat house.
Congratulations and many blessings to you, Ed!
–Henry Beck, OFM
A heartland pilgrimage
Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019
St. Boniface Cemetery, Lafayette, Ind.
16 friars are buried at St. Boniface.Alphons GriesenboeckNorbert Oldegeering
Theodore Hesselbrock’sEthelbert Morgan’sClement Steinkamp’sPHOTO BY LOREN CONNELL, OFMChristopher Lynch could not be found at St. Joseph Cemetery.
I knew only two of the friars buried here. Regis Mehn was guardian at St. Anthony Friary when I was a novice there. Norbert lived and ministered at St. Boniface when I was chaplain at St. Elizabeth; I was present at his funeral. Someone put flowers by his grave and also by that of Joachim Markus.
I conclude a long Part Three of my pilgrimage here in Lafayette, a place very dear to me. Holy Cross Cemetery in Escanaba, where Part Three began, seems far away in both time and distance. Between there and here God has led me into a more profound appreciation for the brotherhood and for my Franciscan vocation.
Mid-Afternoon, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019
A crucifix overlooks Holy Trinity. St. Joseph Cemetery, Conneaut, Ohio
I begin this fourth part of my pilgrimage on a damp and dreary day. The skies are overcast as I leave Southfield, Mich., and it rains off and on as I drive from northwest to northeast Ohio. The rain has stopped by the time I arrive at St. Joseph Cemetery. Conneaut is a town of a few thousand people, and the cemetery is not hard to find. Finding our brother Christopher Lynch, however, is another story. The cemetery is flat, fairly nondescript, neither small nor large. Christopher is supposed to be in Section 6, Lot 309, Grave 4. If the sections are marked, I do not see the markers. I have been driving around and walking around, and still I see no sign of our brother’s grave. I am frustrated with myself for not having sought clearer directions ahead of time.
Alexian Brother, Servant of the Paraclete, diocesan priest, Friar Minor—Christopher, you seem to have been a restless soul. Your grave is as wrapped in mystery as was your life, but the God whom you sought has at last found you. My brother, may you rejoice in the presence of your Risen Lord.
Early Evening, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019
Holy Trinity Cemetery, Ford City, Pa.
PHOTO BY LOREN CONNELL, OFMFriar relatives are in close proximity.It begins to drizzle again as I head into the hills of western Pennsylvania. Ford City is an old glass-making town that is past its prime. Like Hamtramck, Mich., it was a one-industry town, and that industry has either downsized or shut down altogether. Much again like Hamtramck, the houses are all alike, row after row of two-story frame structures. This is the home town of Ladislas Szymanski, director of lay seminarians when I first came to the order 58 years ago, and of Felix Petrovsky, Capuchin friar with whom I worked when I was provincial and national spiritual assistant.
Holy Trinity Cemetery is on a hillside on the outskirts of town. A large crucifix overlooks the entire cemetery. Florian Lalis’s grave is not hard to find. An upright gray granite marker lists his name and dates. To the left is a double stone marked Lalish, perhaps marking the graves of his parents. Behind that stone is a double stone marked Portasik, perhaps marking the parents of Florian’s nephews, Joe and Richard. The rain has stopped, the grass is wet, sunshine breaks through the clouds. I experience peace here. As I understand it, Florian was a faithful friar who was not always given respect among some of the other friars. It is good to be here at his gravesite, breathe in his spirit, and reflect on his Yes to God’s call.
Finding ways to close the distance
BY BILL FARRIS, OFM
This is a column that Mark Soehner could write better because he travels much more frequently and farther than I do. He experiences almost every week the distance which lies between the east and west coasts, the northern and southern tiers of our vast country. I’m getting a taste of this distance, having traveled to Santa Barbara, Calif., for the investiture ceremony last week, being in Scottsdale, Ariz., this week for a provincial council meeting, and then spending next week in Jamaica to lead the friars’ retreat.
As the miles fly by, I often reflect on the challenges that distance will be as we move toward the creation of a national Franciscan province. I still remember the early efforts of the Midwest provinces to explore unification. At one gathering the provincial of the newly-merged Marianist provinces shared with us the challenges of being spread across the country.
Our July assembly in Denver overcame geography for a few days, giving almost 400 friars a week of precious time to spend with each other. Yet we’ll have to be proactive and creative in finding other ways to bring about a vivid sense of our oneness. Interprovincial retreats have long been great opportunities to broaden our fraternity. Next year several pilgrimages are being organized for the same purpose. Interest groups are still welcoming new members to join in the work of building connections between provinces.
We’ll never have enough personal contact with our brothers around the country; even learning each others’ names is enough of a challenge. On the other hand, I was very blessed to be present at the novitiate investiture ceremony, and to be reminded that the novices from the six provinces are already experiencing a unity which overcomes distances.
PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFM
PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFM
No one had more fun than Pastor Fred Link when the children of St. Clement School in St. Bernard brought their best furry friends – many were adorable stuffed animals – to be blessed on the Feast of St. Francis.
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PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMSt. Clement friars help with prayers from franciscan.org.It was the Franciscan element that appealed to all of them, says Mary Jo, whose parents, Mary Ann and Michael Monseur, were founding members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Centerville, Ohio. “We were raised in the Franciscan spirit. We’ve always kept that very dear to us.” When she took on the prayer requests, “It felt very natural.”
PHOTO BY Toni CashnelliDan Nolan reviews prayers for franciscan.org.What has Dan learned? “It seems like a lot of people are hurting or lonely,” with many seeking “reconciliation with a spouse or a long-term relationship. Some people are really spilling their hearts out, trusting us with the most painful part of their lives. They don’t have a support system they can turn to. What strikes me is how vulnerable people make themselves,” hoping that the person on the end of an electronic lifeline will understand.
PHOTOS BY BR. OCTAVIO DURAN, OFMNovices assemble for a photo at Mission Santa Barbara; above, breaking in the new habits.Their smiles tell the story. Oct. 15 was the day 11 OFM novices reached a joyous milestone in their formation as friars when they received the Franciscan habit and cord during the Rite of Investiture at historic Mission Santa Barbara.