February 5, 2016

Conventual Franciscans reach out to the margins from Mount St. Francis

Conventual Franciscan friars process into the chapel at Mount St. Francis in Mount St. Francis on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015. The friars of the Our Lady of Consolation Province have been based at Mount St. Francis since 1926. (Submitted photo)

Conventual Franciscan friars process into the chapel at Mount St. Francis in Mount St. Francis on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015. The friars of the Our Lady of Consolation Province have been based at Mount St. Francis since 1926. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: The Church’s Year of Consecrated Life began in November 2014 and concluded on Feb. 2, 2016. With that in mind, The Criterion has published a series of articles featuring the life and history of each of the religious communities based in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. This is the sixth and final article in that series.)

By Sean Gallagher

MOUNT ST. FRANCIS—Conventual Franciscan friars across the United States look at their colleagues in the Our Lady of Consolation Province, based in Mount St. Francis since 1926, as the “cowboys” of their order.

With a missionary heart, they’ve ministered among migrant workers in New Mexico, among the poor in Central America, and in Zambia in southern Africa where the Church was still young.

They also historically ministered among German Catholic immigrants in various parts of the United States, including in parishes in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, at a time in the 19th and early 20th centuries when they were on the margins of American society.

“[We’re] willing to take on new frontiers, new challenges in ministry, new mission expansions,” said Conventual Franciscan Father John Bamman, who promotes vocations for his province. “We were involved in a lot of missionary activity, and other provinces perhaps stayed a little more insulated.”

Conventual Franciscan Father Maurus Hauer knows from personal experience that being a cowboy friar can mean doing any number of jobs.

A native of Terre Haute, Father Maurus was assigned to a parish in southeastern New Mexico made up primarily of migrant Hispanic crop workers shortly after his ordination in 1945.

“I did carpentry work, making blackboards for the school,” said Father Maurus, who is 98. “I drove a school bus. I taught catechism in the school. I’d put boots on and work in irrigation. A little bit of everything”—even directing the moving of a church building 20 miles across land from a closed military base to his parish.

“We got prisoners out of the jail to take down fences,” he said. “A potash company loaned us 200 railroad ties to make a bridge across a concrete irrigation ditch. We had [the local utility] to take down power lines, and the telephone company to take down telephone lines.”

All of this wide and varied work, though, Father Maurus said, is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of St. Francis.

“The Franciscan spirit is open to whatever God wants us to do,” said Father Maurus, who later served as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Clarksville.

And that can change from one time period to another.

From 1896-1975, the Conventual Franciscans operated a minor seminary at Mount St. Francis.

This year, the province is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the founding of its Mount St. Francis Center for Spirituality. It often hosts retreats for Catholic high schools and youth ministry groups in southern Indiana and northern Kentucky. It also offers retreats of its own.

Over the 120 years that Conventual Franciscan friars have lived at Mount St. Francis, Father John said that the place has been “a huge magnet for all kinds of ministry that expresses our charism—friars that have taught, friars that have worked to be healers as chaplains in hospitals, and friars that have been working with the poor.”

Conventual Franciscan Father James (Jim) Kent serves as the provincial of the Our Lady of Consolation Province. A native of Columbus who grew up in St. Bartholomew Parish, he sees the spirituality center as reaching out in a Franciscan way to the poor—but a new kind of poor.

“I think now, especially with technology, people are spiritually poor,” said Father Jim. “And I think they’re coming to realize that. We’re trying to provide a place … to unplug for a little bit.”

Through their 800-year history, Franciscans have been known not only for their care for the poor, but also for their embrace of poverty themselves.

In the 21st century, Father Jim said that the Conventual Franciscans of the province he leads are experiencing poverty in new ways.

One is in welcoming friars from India, which is bursting with vocations and cannot find enough places for priests to minister in their home country.

The province in India is also young, with few members older than 50, so coming to the United States helps them gain experience in ministry and to learn from the wisdom of a province that reaches back more than a century.

“It’s not easy to receive people from other cultures,” said Father Jim. “They have to be prepared for that. But we have to be prepared for that also. … There are things for us to teach them, but also things for us to learn from them. It’s wonderful. But it’s not easy.”

The Conventual Franciscans of the Our Lady of Consolation Province have pushed cultural boundaries throughout much of its history.

In serving as missionaries in Central America and Africa, they helped to establish new provinces for their order, made up of natives of those regions. Because of that, American friars no longer minister there.

“That’s the sense of mission,” said Father Jim. “You establish something, and you go on.”

Now they don’t have to go far from Mount St. Francis to experience cultural diversity. The Hispanic ministry that Conventual Franciscans carried out in New Mexico now takes place in nearby St. Mary Parish in New Albany and St. Mary Parish in Lanesville.

Father Jim said that this kind of ministry brings the friars of his province close to a similar kind of poverty they experience in living and ministering with their colleagues from India.

“Poverty … is sometimes giving up your language and learning a new language, or accepting a new culture,” he said. “That’s something we’re wrestling with in the Church in the United States.”

With the number of men attending vocations events for his province doubling in recent years, Father John has high hopes that a growing number of men will embrace the poverty and ministry at the margins of society that is at the heart of Franciscan life.

“That’s very promising for our Church,” he said. “There’s something marvelous happening. People are really hearing that invitation and call from God. That’s got me excited and busy visiting vocation prospects.”

Father Jim gives much of the credit for this change to the example of Pope Francis, who took the name of the founder of the Franciscans.

“We really think it’s the Pope Francis effect,” said Father Jim. “He’s put an emphasis not only on Franciscan spirituality, but also on simplicity. I think people resonate with that.

“They might even feel a desire deep in themselves to explore that. We hope we can reflect what we profess to be, which is a challenge.”

(To learn more about the Conventual Franciscans of the Our Lady of Consolation Province, visit www.franciscansusa.org. To learn more about the Mount St. Francis Center for Spirituality in Mount St. Francis, visit mountsaintfrancis.org.)

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