Fr. David McBriar, OFM

Fr. David McBriar, OFMI recall, as a high school student in Paterson, N.J., going to the St. Anthony novena at St. Bonaventure’s with my mother. She had devotion to St. Anthony. I went with her more out of filial piety than personal piety. That was in 1953.

In those days, our Province’s novitiate was at St. Bonaventure and the novices provided the music for the novena. I admired the novices. They seemed generous to be giving themselves to a fraternal life of service. Moreover, they seemed to exhibit a kind of truthfulness about God’s presence. And, most certainly, they had a disarming humanness.

After that experience, short-lived as it was, college distracted me for a time, and it wasn’t until 1957 that I again visited St. Bonaventure on Ramsey St., this time to talk to a friar about what I thought was a vocation to the Franciscans. That friar is long dead now, but I recall his inviting words, “join the Army, fella. You need more seasoning.”

I didn’t follow his advice. Instead, I went to Callicoon, our minor seminary and a requirement for all aspiring Franciscans. As I spent time at St. Joseph’s in Callicoon, I thought to myself, “That friar in Paterson was not far from the truth. This place is a boot camp with prayer.”

When Fr. Dan McLellan, OFM, was director of formation for Holy Name Province, he invited me to speak to our friars in formation on the question, “What do you think it means to be a successful friar?”

I told the young friars that I thought success as a friar was measured by those men I had known over the years who both embodied and were tested in those original virtues that I had discerned romantically in the friars at St. Bonaventure: generosity, truthfulness and humanness.

I spoke to the young friars of my teachers, Fr. Stephen Hartdegen, OFM, and Fr. Joe Doino, OFM, Fr. Cassian Corcoran, OFM, and Fr. Juvenal Lalor, OFM, Fr. Reginald Redlon, OFM, and Fr. Francis Kearney, OFM. I recalled for them friars in parish ministry: Fr. Capistran Petrie, OFM, and Fr. Joe Holohan, OFM, Fr. Theodore Cavanaugh, OFM, and Fr. Art Butler, OFM. I mentioned friars identified with the poor and the cry for social justice like Fr. Ben Taylor, OFM, and Fr. Joe Nangle, OFM, Fr. Angelus Gambatese, OFM, and Fr. Matthew Conlin, OFM.

There are more, of course, who came to mind then and now, but I leave them unnamed for fear of embarrassing them. Franciscan life has been living with, ministering with, rubbing shoulders with, reading about, always admiring, these generous, truthful and human men, as well as the hundreds of lay men and women who have incarnated the truth of Jesus’ challenge that if you give yourself away you discover yourself.

I have been a friar for 46 years now; the first half of those years has been spent in a classroom, the second half in parish ministry. One of the most determining moments in the first half of my life was teaching theology in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council at our Franciscan School of Theology on the West Coast, with the Santa Barbara friars.

Again, I think of wonderful friars like Fr. Kenan Osborne, OFM, and Fr. Alan McCoy, OFM, our former Minister General John Vaughn, OFM, and Fr. Louis Vitale, OFM. They were not only good theologians in the classroom but they lived out their theology in the marketplace.

In those days, the Vietnam War was raging and we friars ministered at Travis Air Force Base in California. We were there when the body bags arrived, containing the bodies of young men and women killed in that insane war.

It was those Santa Barbara friars who also witnessed in the Nevada desert against the testing of nuclear weapons. Standing alongside them raised my consciousness of the evil of war the horror of nuclear weapons.

Coming to the South, here in North Carolina, has been an exciting chapter in my life as a parish minister. Again, I see people hungry for the Gospel, willing to take to the streets if necessary to proclaim that Gospel.

The priorities of the friars of Holy Name Province, that is, to enable the laity, witness to peace and justice, and reach out to the alienated are proven time and time again to be the means by which people are gathered as Church and then sent out into the marketplace, factories, fields and homes to live as Church.

The virtues of generous service, truthfulness and humanness I admired in the friars in Paterson are still being appropriated and lived out by our friars, Secular Franciscans and the people we are privileged to serve. The journey continues to be an exciting and fulfilling one for all of us. I am privileged to be part of it.

—This essay was written in 2003 when Fr. David was serving at Immaculate Conception parish in Durham, N.C. It appeared in the June 2003 issue of The Anthonian magazine.