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December 23, 2019

Away in a manger: Friars remember their family crèche

BY TIM SUCHER, OFM

The Sucher family crèche is one of many from Tim’s International Nativity Collection in the Franciscan Christmas display in Over-the-Rhine. Click here for details.In 1956, when we were 4 and 3 years old, my brother Dan and I spent a few weeks before Christmas with our grandparents, Harry and Collette Hausfeld. Our mother Janice had to undergo major surgery for a kidney stone and was in the hospital.

Grandma spent a lot of time baking and decorating the house in St. Bernard for the holidays. The focal point of the decorations was the family nativity scene. Grandma carefully cleared out a space in the living room where the scene would have a central place. She lined a special cabinet with paper that had a red brick pattern. Each statue was carefully unwrapped and placed in the crèche.

Dan and I were in awe of the crib. It impressed us so much we made a promise to save our pennies in the upcoming year so we could purchase a set just like Grandma and Grandpa’s for the following Christmas.

Tim Sucher, OFMAll year we put the money we received into the fund. As Christmas drew near, we enlisted the help of Fr. Timon Cook, OFM, to buy the nativity set for us at St. Francis Bookshop on Vine Street, where he received a religious discount. The bill, which I still have, came to $18.

To prepare for the arrival of the nativity set, our dad Bill designed and had someone make a stable where the statues could be displayed. The unique thing about this wooden stable was that it was big enough to house the statues but would fold up for easier storage.

For Christmas of 1957, our parents, Dan and I proudly displayed our new nativity set and stable under the tree in our house in Price Hill. Over the years it stayed mostly with my mom. Now it stays with me. Each year it reminds me of how special Christmas was at our house.

Treasured by generations

BY CHRIS MEYER, OFM

Chris Meyer, OFM My mother was a small child in the 1960s when her mother purchased the family crèche. The figurines were made of wax. Much of the paint had rubbed off by the time I was a youngster.

One of my early Christmas memories is going to Frank’s Nursery and Crafts in Fort Wayne, Ind., to purchase new nativity figurines. For sentimental reasons, my mother decided to keep the wax infant Jesus. The animals and angel were in good condition, too, but the others had to go.

Now, after four generations of children, pet cats and dogs, each figurine looks a bit tattered, but my mother still continues the warm family tradition of displaying the crèche under her Christmas tree.

 

The memories are priceless

BY BOB BRUNO, OFM

 I have no information on the origins of our manger set, but it’s been with our family, along with an eight-car Lionel train, since the first Christmas I can remember as a child.

There’s nothing expensive about it at all, though our lifelong memories of it are priceless. My dad built a fairly wide plywood base for the tree as a support for the train track that ran the perimeter of the platform. The platform was then covered with a white sheet that gave the impression of it being snow-covered. The manger was always placed near the base of the Christmas tree and away from the track. Somewhere we’d get a handful of straw to place inside the manger.

A Bruno tradition.Once all the pieces of the train (siding, track switches, light tower, semaphore signal, tunnel, locomotive, coal car, boxcar, gondola and caboose) were in place, along with all the pieces of the manger (Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus in crib, angels, the Three Kings, shepherds, cows, sheep, camels), a folding green fence made of very lightweight wood was placed around the edge of the platform as a frame for the whole display. Santa Claus always had a hard time placing gifts under the tree with all those accoutrements lying about.

Along with bubble lights and the tree ornaments, the nativity set was part of our family tradition, embedded in our memories from those long-ago Christmases.  It continues as part of the annual display at my brother Bennett’s home.

Ah, the days of blissful innocence.

Rebirth, rejoicing

Anniversaries converge in Lithuanian celebration

BY PAT MCCLOSKEY, OFM

PHOTOS FROM ST. CASIMIR PROVINCEThe two-hour program celebrated the friars’ rebirth; above, the trumpet-playing mayorThe Franciscans of St. Casimir Province in Lithuania may be the most hospitable group of friars that I have ever met. How they got that way is a great story.

Ten days after the Berlin Wall opened on Nov. 9, 1989, friars of St. Casimir Province descended on their former friary in Kretinga (northwest Lithuania) and celebrated a Mass in its courtyard, much to the amazement of startled government officials who years before had turned that friary into a museum of local history. It and four other former friaries were eventually returned to the friars. The first friars had come in 1252 to Lithuania, the last country in Europe to accept Christianity.

On Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, I was with 16 friars from outside Lithuania as we joined approximately 2,000 people gathered in the civic center in the nearby city of Palanga to celebrate 30 years of renewed ministry and the 550th anniversary of the founding of that province. I represented both the English-Speaking Conference and St. John the Baptist Province at the Nov. 15-17 celebration. The connection? Our own Mark Soehner and the Lithuanian provincial attended the same “provincials’ school” in November 2017.

A two-hour program in Palanga featured an orchestra of 60 musicians, singers of all ages, dancers, tributes from government officials, and the very talented trumpet-playing mayor of Klaipeda, the country’s third largest city. Filmed for editing into a one-hour program for a later national broadcast, this event celebrated the friars’ rebirth in Lithuania, the first religious congregation to do so while the country was still under Russian control. The evening included the audience’s enthusiastic singing of the “Salve Regina.” Mine were not the only wet eyes during parts of this celebration.

Starting over

In 1940, the Russians invaded Lithuania, closed the province’s five friaries and scattered its 139 friars. In 1947, the province moved its headquarters to Kennebunkport, Maine, and continued to accept new members, ministering in the United States and Canada.

The province later became a member of the English-Speaking Conference. After 1989, provinces from that conference and across Europe contributed formators, finances, and moral support to help the Lithuanian friars begin again.

Top, touring a heritage museum; above, guests from a dozen OFM entities.The Lithuanian friars resumed some of their previous ministries and began new ones, such as a facility to house adults undergoing cancer treatment at a special hospital outside Klaipeda. The 35 Lithuanian friars minister in parishes, schools, and a variety of special ministries. The friars helped establish a Poor Clare monastery with a prioress from Mantua, Italy, and seven Lithuanian women who spent several years in Mantua to become Poor Clares.

Tours and worship

On Saturday, Nov. 16, visiting friars explored a Lithuanian heritage museum, discussed with local friars their hopes for the Order’s future and took part in a two-hour prayer vigil with the local Franciscan family. Anthony Jukes (UK custody) and I had a tour of the adjacent grade school that the friars founded almost 85 years ago; it and the nearby Catholic high school enroll almost 1,000 coed students. I had brought donated Roger Bacon shirts, hats and other Spartan apparel.

Later we gathered at the Baroque-style Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church. Roughly the size of St. Clement Church, with more seating, it was packed. Then followed a Mass at which Provincial Minister Fr. Algirdas Malakauskis presided and General Definitor Caoimhin Ó Laoide preached. A cookout followed outside with hearty soups, breads and delicious desserts.

The next day we were back in the same church for a Mass at which the country’s newest cardinal (a Jesuit imprisoned for years by the Russians) presided, assisted by the local bishop, a friar bishop from another part of the country, plus many visitors and local friars. ABVM’s John Puodziunas, a former general visitor of St. Casimir Province, preached in English and Lithuanian, with simultaneous interpretation into the other language.

After a lunch with spirited speeches in the friary, most of the visitors went to the Poor Clare monastery and prayed with the enclosed nuns. The entire celebration demonstrated that all the friars, Clares, Franciscan sisters and Secular Franciscans are indeed “members of the same family.” March 4, the patronal feast of St. Casimir Province, will never again be the same for me.

(Pat McCloskey is Executive Secretary of the OFM English Speaking Conference.)

Show of solidarity

The November celebration in Palanga and Kretinga drew 17 friars from about a dozen OFM entities in Italy, Poland, Germany, Ireland, England, Ukraine, the United States, and Australia to show their solidarity with the Lithuanian friars. That province has a special relationship with the Tuscan province, where several new Lithuanian friars did part of their initial formation. Lithuanian, Polish, Italian, Russian, English and many languages were spoken at meals and evening recreations.

  • On Dec. 11, 10 friars helped the Roger Bacon High School community prepare for Christmas by celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
  • PHOTO FROM ST. BARBARA PROVINCENewly ordained Sam Nasada offers a blessing.Congratulations to Sam Nasada of St. Barbara Province, ordained to the priesthood Dec. 3 at The Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Angels at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Ariz. Many of you met Sam, a native of Jakarta, Indonesia, at the Chapter of Mats in Denver. According to SB Province, “He joined the Franciscans in 2010, professed solemn vows in 2016, and obtained his Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in 2017. When the socio-political climate of the country seemed to be increasingly anti-immigrant, he decided to help establish a new Franciscan community in Elfrida, near the border town of Douglas, Ariz.” See video from the ordination at: youtube.com
  • Attached to this newsletter email is information from General Definitor Caoimhin Ó Laoide about an Ongoing Formation experience in the Holy Land — a shared experience with OFM Conventual friars. It will take place over five weeks in the Emmaus Inter-Obediential fraternity,  from April 4 to May 10, 2020.

Find your part in the Christmas scene

BY MARK SOEHNER, OFM

PHOTO BY MARILYN WILSONThe friendly sheep in the live nativity at St. Francis Seraph Church.My office looks out over a courtyard here at St. Francis Seraph Friary. In the courtyard there is the annual exhibit of a live nativity scene. Yes, live! If you live in Cincinnati you can stop by and get a chance to actually pet the sheep or goats or donkey, if they let you. This year, they all seem friendly and eager for human interaction.

It takes a lot of work to get all that together, which Br. Tim Sucher faithfully – even gleefully – does. By the end of October, he’s out there with a crew, measuring, pounding, putting together a very realistic crèche scene. No wonder we call him “Father Christmas”. He even has a large number of Christmas crèches next to St. Francis School at Moerlein Brewery, which are a marvel to see.

This year on Dec. 1st Pope Francis went to the mountain village of Greccio, Italy. In this ancient town he delivered an Apostolic Letter called, “Admirabile signum”—which means, the “Enchanting Image”. In it he spoke about the importance of capturing the Christmas scene as something to be seen by all – at least in the house, or office – or on a grand scale, like at this Cincinnati friary, by the people of Cincinnati.

A nativity in Greccio, Italy: Pope Francis wrote an Apostolic Letter on the “Enchanting Image”.In 1223 St. Francis himself went to the very same village Pope Francis would visit 796 years later.  St. Francis went on the night of Christmas accompanied by the friars and the people of Greccio, holding burning torches. There he had set up a scene that included a donkey and ox, sheep and a manger full of hay. As they celebrated the midnight Mass, a baby appeared in the manger for many to see. And St. Francis was so excited that he seemed to bleat like a sheep the word “Beth-lele-hemhem”. Pope Francis’ letter can be Googled on the internet.  He, too, is excited to move into the scene of Bethlehem. He invites all believers to find their part in this incredible gift of God.

For St. Francis the fact of the Incarnation filled him with great joy. I hope this year it will do the same for you and your friary, your family, your friends. Just think how our own lives have been turned upside down by this one holy night. Check out a Christmas crèche, and look at what lengths God will go to win our love.

Merry Christmas!

(Read Pope Francis’s “Admirabile signum” at: Letters)

Part 4: Day 6

Obedience and restlessness

Sunday Afternoon, Aug. 18, 2019

Holy Rosary Cemetery, Houma, La.

Holy Rosary is in some ways a newer and more open St. Roch. We purchased space on an outside wall of an ever-expanding mausoleum in 1996. Two more of my predecessors at Terrebonne General, Kilian Huber and Leopold Skorogod, are buried here. Kilian and I were in Columbus together over 25 years ago, he at Corpus Christi and I at St. Mary of the Visitation.  Leopold was in retirement in Thibodaux when I lived in Houma. My final and most enduring memory of Kilian PHOTOS BY LOREN CONNELL, OFMDuane Stenzel’s grave in Maryhillis from the provincial chapter of 1996. We sat next to each other during the chapter sessions and speculated on the outcome of this proposal or the chances of that candidate.

I can’t leave this place without reflecting on the friar who is not here. More than once when we lived together at Holy Rosary Friary, Edwin Deane expressed a readiness to be buried here. He was happy on the Gulf Coast, first in Houston and then in Houma. I think that he wanted to die here, and I am sad that he had to die elsewhere. I remember him shaking his jowls at us in the novitiate and muttering, “Don’t you know the meaning of obedience?”  “When you were younger,” Jesus tells Peter, “you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18). In his dying, Edwin gave witness to obedience. May I have the grace to do the same.

 

Monday Morning, Aug. 19, 2019

Maryhill Cemetery, Pineville, La.

Maryhill is a renewal center for the Diocese of Alexandria. The cemetery is a small fenced-in plot near the entrance to the campus. It contains the graves of 70-some clergy, including at least one bishop. One of the graves is Duane Stenzel’s. The Crucifixion scene in the center of Calvary Cemetery.graves are all below the ground and are covered by identical white stone slabs the length and width of each grave. The inscriptions vary from slab to slab. Duane’s is very simple: his name, birth date, and death date.  A chipped cherub and a nearly defoliated plastic flower testify to the affection with which our brother is still held.

I did not know Duane well. I lived with him for one year at St. Clement in Cincinnati.  Twenty years later he lived at Lumen Christi in Schriever when I lived at Holy Rosary in Houma. Duane seemed to be something of a restless friar who could not easily be fitted into the various slots of our conventional provincial ministries. He was heavily committed to evangelization and renewal as he saw it. His vision of renewal differed from mine, and I tended to look on it as counterproductive to true renewal, i.e., my own vision. Duane, our visions may have differed, but I suspect that we are more alike than not. I, too, am a restless friar, with multiple assignments and ministries, not easily fitting into an organizational slot. This is a holy place and a holy day. It is a grace to call you my brother.

Part Four of this pilgrimage began last Monday at St. Joseph Cemetery in Conneaut with a fruitless search for a restless friar buried there. It ends here with a fruitful revelation at the grave of another restless friar. The pilgrim himself is restless, and God is with us all.

 

Part 5

Friday Afternoon, Oct. 4, 2019

Calvary Cemetery, San Angelo, Texas

Eusebius was the first and last of our friars to die in Texas.Today is St. Francis’s Day, and I am standing here in Calvary Cemetery at the grave of Eusebius Schweitzer. The cemetery is neither large nor tiny, about the size of St. Joseph in Olpe or Conneaut. Like much of west Texas, patches of grass and shrub are intermingled with patches of dry brown soil. A number of the sections are delineated by (often rusting) fences or by stone or concrete curbs. An altar with a conventional crucifixion scene stands in the center of the cemetery. To the left of the road leading to the altar is a curbed-in section for priests. This is where our brother’s grave is, marked by a simple upright gray granite stone. Engraved on the stone are his name, the years of his birth and death, Order of Friars Minor, and priest. Two graves over is a stone marked Serran Braun, most likely that of the former friar of that name who became incardinated in a diocese (San Angelo?). He had a (twin) brother, Servan, as I recall, who also left us. Were they nephews of Linus and Osmund?

Eusebius lived in Texas less than a year and was the first (and last) of our friars to die here. Who knew at the time of his death that within a decade the province would leave the state?  Thus our brother is buried among strangers, with the closest friars interred 300 miles away in Clovis and Roswell. The remoteness of his grave testifies to the evangelical poverty which he professed. “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Human One has nowhere to lie down and rest” (Mt 8:20; Lk 9:58).

The friars ministered at Sacred Heart Parish in San Angelo until the mid ’60s, shortly after the diocese was established and the parish church became the cathedral. How long were we there? Did we minister elsewhere in Texas? This afternoon I passed highway signs for Sonora and Big Lake.  Somewhere in the recesses of my memory those two towns pop up as places where we used to be.

As I leave Calvary Cemetery and bring this briefest part of my pilgrimage to a close, I have two questions: What did the friars call Eusebius within the brotherhood?  I have a hard time believing that it was by his full religious name! And when was the last time a friar visited his grave?  Has another friar been here in the 50-some years since we left this part of the country? Who knows? Whatever the answer, it is a grace to celebrate St. Francis Day in this sacred space.

 

Send comments or questions to: sjbfco@franciscan.org

ARCHIVES

The Sucher family crèche is one of many from Tim’s International Nativity Collection in the Franciscan Christmas display in Over-the-Rhine. Click here for details.In 1956, when we were 4 and 3 years old, my brother Dan and I spent a few weeks before Christmas with our grandparents, Harry and Collette Hausfeld. Our mother Janice had to undergo major surgery for a kidney stone and was in the hospital.

PHOTO BY MARILYN WILSONThe friendly sheep in the live nativity at St. Francis Seraph Church.My office looks out over a courtyard here at St. Francis Seraph Friary. In the courtyard there is the annual exhibit of a live nativity scene. Yes, live! If you live in Cincinnati you can stop by and get a chance to actually pet the sheep or goats or donkey, if they let you. This year, they all seem friendly and eager for human interaction.

Maryhill is a renewal center for the Diocese of Alexandria. The cemetery is a small fenced-in plot near the entrance to the campus. It contains the graves of 70-some clergy, including at least one bishop. One of the graves is Duane Stenzel’s. The Crucifixion scene in the center of Calvary Cemetery.graves are all below the ground and are covered by identical white stone slabs the length and width of each grave. The inscriptions vary from slab to slab. Duane’s is very simple: his name, birth date, and death date.  A chipped cherub and a nearly defoliated plastic flower testify to the affection with which our brother is still held.

Eusebius was the first and last of our friars to die in Texas.Today is St. Francis’s Day, and I am standing here in Calvary Cemetery at the grave of Eusebius Schweitzer. The cemetery is neither large nor tiny, about the size of St. Joseph in Olpe or Conneaut. Like much of west Texas, patches of grass and shrub are intermingled with patches of dry brown soil. A number of the sections are delineated by (often rusting) fences or by stone or concrete curbs. An altar with a conventional crucifixion scene stands in the center of the cemetery. To the left of the road leading to the altar is a curbed-in section for priests. This is where our brother’s grave is, marked by a simple upright gray granite stone. Engraved on the stone are his name, the years of his birth and death, Order of Friars Minor, and priest. Two graves over is a stone marked Serran Braun, most likely that of the former friar of that name who became incardinated in a diocese (San Angelo?). He had a (twin) brother, Servan, as I recall, who also left us. Were they nephews of Linus and Osmund?

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