Br. Paul Santoro, OFM

Br. Paul Santoro, OFMI was born and raised in East Boston, Mass. I was the fifth of eight children (six boys and two girls) born to Angelo and Ida Santoro.

My first memory of anything Franciscan was from my paternal grandmother, Francesca, who was a member of the Secular Franciscan Order associated with a fraternity at Mt. Carmel Parish in East Boston. She was a daily communicant and spent much time at church. When not doing household chores or cooking, she often read from her Bible and Franciscan sources, which she kept on her kitchen table in her small apartment.

I attended the parish school, Sacred Heart, and then East Boston High School. As a teen, I was actively involved in CYO, the Holy Name Society and taught religious education classes at my parish in East Boston. At 16 years old, I was elected the youngest ever to serve the Holy Name Society as its vice-president.

In high school, I was actively involved in the Key Club, the high school equivalent to Kiwanis, a civic service organization. I also was co-founder of Cub Scout, Girl Scout and Boy Scout organizations operating out of the Orient Heights Housing Project, also in East Boston. Additionally, I was teaching religious education classes at two other parishes: Holy Redeemer and Mt. Carmel.

I was actively involved with a local center, Kairos, staffed by the Religious of the Cenacle. I counted many sisters and priests as friends and confidants in my teen years. I felt comfortable and at home with the Church and my developing spirituality.

I truly felt called to ministry. This call to serve came at an early age, but I didn’t feel called to ordination, so what to do?

In the mid 1970s, the friars of Holy Name Province established a community in East Boston, actually two, in close proximity. I began to spend time with them and work with them in their ministries at Holy Redeemer Parish. It was also the first time I met a friar who was a brother and not a priest.

I began to realize that there was another way for me to serve the Church without ordination. I was attracted to the simple lifestyle of the friars, who were ministering in several capacities in the city: pastoral work, thrift shop, outreach to the poor and hospitality at their home. Through them, I learned much about St. Francis of Assisi and knew that I wanted to be a part of this life.

I began to talk vocations with a good friend and mentor, Sr. Lisa, a Franciscan nun. Working with her led me to further discern my vocation by moving from Boston to Syracuse, N.Y., where I was able to spend quiet time — without distraction — discerning this call. Sr. Lisa led me to the Franciscans at St. Bonaventure University, where I began the process for admission to the community. In August 1980, I was welcomed into the postulancy program at Winsted, Conn. One year later, I was received into the novitiate at Brookline, Mass.

My initial plan was to serve the community as a cook. Although I wasn’t formally trained to cook, I can put a meal together, thanks to watching my mother and countless cooking shows. However, cooking — at least as a primary ministry — was not to be. Upon professing simple vows in 1982, I went to live at Holy Name College, our house of studies (then in Washington, D.C., but now in Silver Spring, Md.). While there, I completed a bachelor’s degree in religious education from Catholic University of America. I earned a master’s in religious education from Fordham University in 1992.

Most of my friar life has been in education: teaching religion, director of religious education and high school campus ministry in Buffalo, N.Y., Bronx, N.Y., Paterson N.J., Triangle, Va., and Greensboro, N.C.

In 2001, my ministry took another direction. I began working for Straight and Narrow, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program administered by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Paterson. While there, I worked in the adolescent inpatient program teaching in the school and interning as a drug/alcohol counselor. I was credentialed by the state of New Jersey as an alcohol/drug counselor in 2003.

For the next year, I continued in this field in New Jersey, and then in 2004 moved to Boston, where I worked in an outpatient narcotics treatment facility and the Mychal Judge Center for Recovery at St. Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston.

In 2009, I took up residence at St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, Fla., one of our retirement houses. No, I did not go to retire but to begin ministry at a local Catholic high school. In August, I began my second year as campus minister at Santa Fe Catholic High School in Lakeland.

It’s been 30 years since I entered the community. The journey has been wonderful, and I’m grateful to all of the people along the way who have made it so.

— This essay was published in the fall 2010 issue of The Anthonian magazine.