Bishop Capistran Heim, OFM

Born in Catskill, N.Y., in 1934, Bishop Capistran F. Heim, OFM, has served the Prelacy of Itaituba, Brazil for eight years. He came to know about St. Francis as a boy, taught by Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, and later as a meat cutter where Franciscan friars did their shopping.

In 1954, I was drafted into the Army as the Korean war was winding down. I served almost two years in southern California and left the service with a four-year college scholarship under the GI Bill of Rights. I thought of becoming a veterinarian and enrolled in biology courses at Siena College, where Holy Name Province friars taught.

During my last months in the Army and my first semester at Siena, the idea of a priestly vocation kept popping up. I banished it, trying to convince myself that I would one day be a veterinarian. Around the beginning of the second semester, the province’s vocation director came to Siena to speak to us about the vocation to the priesthood and to religious life. It was the last straw! In a matter of half a year, veterinary medicine ceased to be a priority in my life. I was soon on my way toward an adventure that has lasted almost 40 years and is still going on.

In the years of formation for the priesthood and Franciscan life, I came to know St. Francis and the down-to-earth way of living the Gospel that he left to his followers. I came to know and love the simplicity and brotherhood of scores of friars who, each in his own way, influenced my life and painted rich details into the scenery along the way. But halfway through theology, when everything seemed so orderly and regulated, the Lord came up with another invitation to adventure.

Fr. Donald Hoag, OFM, our provincial, offered three of us the opportunity to finish our studies in Brazil, to better prepare ourselves for work in the mission in the state of Goias. We would be the first friars of the province to do this. After two years, I felt comfortable with the Portuguese language and the Brazilian people.

My missionary work was about to offer me a rich and varied experience of the presence and guidance of the Lord in my own life and in the lives of those that I served.

The Cursillo Movement and the Marriage Encounter enabled me to touch the lives of countless people, opening the channels of God’s grace, especially through the sacrament of penance, counselling and spiritual direction.

Management of our training center for laypeople and administrative duties in our mission taught me the value of pastoral planning and organization. Retreats and days of recollection for priests and sisters added a deeper dimension of practical spirituality to my ministry.

Two years of unending struggle to use our radio stations as a means of evangelization on a shoestring budget brought me to the understanding that all is not “wine and roses” in this world’s kingdom of God. “‘Tain’t easy in the missions,” old Br. Gerry Quigley, OFM, used to say — and he was often right! But it was in the parishes that I served as pastor for almost 10 years that I most fulfilled in my own life St. Francis’s longing to become an instrument of God’s peace.

A sabbatical year in Jerusalem gave me a chance to walk in the footsteps of Christ, as well as a deeper understanding of the word of God and its power to transform us into disciples of the Divine Master. All these experiences were the elements of the Lord’s careful preparation for the next and most recent stage of my journey with the Franciscans.

This was the call to serve the Lord and his missionary Church in Brazil as the bishop of the Prelacy of Itaituba in the midst of the Amazon rain forest. This is a vast area the size of all of New York State plus all of New England with no paved roads, only eight priests, one brother and 12 sisters, all deeply committed to the missions.

There are social injustices that cry out to heaven, drugs, juvenile prostitution, greed and epidemics of tropical diseases. But I’m also encouraged to find generous and dedicated lay men and women, a vibrant Church in the first stages of evangelization.

My journey with the Franciscans continues, and every day brings a new challenge.

— This essay was written in 1996 when Bp. Heim was serving the Prelacy of Itaituba, Brazil. It appeared in the December 1996 issue of The Anthonian magazine.