Fr. Hugh Hines, OFM

Fr. Hugh Hines, OFMA native of Schenectady, N.Y., Fr. Hugh Hines, OFM, became a Franciscan in 1953 and was ordained in 1960.

As with so many mysteries of life, my Franciscan journey began even before I realized it. I was a public school student, enrolled in the school of religion at my parish. Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement taught us about St. Francis of Assisi, whose stigmata especially impressed me.

This mysterious Franciscan journey took another twist when I graduated from high school. Miss Margaret Walsh, my homeroom teacher, encouraged me to take a college scholarship exam, and I received an award. I kept in contact with this wonderful teacher, and only much later found that she was a life-time member of St. Anthony’s Guild — again, a Franciscan influence on my life.

I was accepted at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. Practically from the first day of class, I was attracted to the friars.They were a warm, down-to-earth group of men, who seemed to love their Franciscan ministry of teaching. Little did I realize then that later I would serve at Siena with two of my former professors.

I was so impressed by the friars at Siena that during my freshman year I applied to the Franciscan seminary and my journey became more clearly mapped out. I met the most kind and fun loving group of men that I have ever encountered. That was more than 40 years ago, and in every friary since those days that has been my repeated experience. With all our faults, somehow the spirit of Francis has touched us all.

After solemn profession and ordination, my ministries took various twists and turns: St. Anthony Shrine in Boston; St. Bonaventure parish in Western New York; Bishop Timon High School in Buffalo, N.Y.; then back to Siena College, where my Franciscan journey had begun.

Friars are called to be pilgrims and strangers; somehow my pilgrimage got stalled at Siena College, where I spent over 20 years. Yet the mysterious journey continued. Perhaps the most defining moments were the several years that I was involved in the Franciscan formation program. Two friars and I were given the daunting responsibility of allowing young candidates for the Order of Friars Minor to experience both the real world of college life and helping to form them to the Franciscan life.

For me it was a time of spiritual growth, strengthening my own vocation. The willingness and eagerness of these young men to pray, to speak with confidence to other collegians about their vocation, was a sign of God’s grace in those turbulent times. Those years opened my mind to future directions of the Order and the Church; as friars we must try different things and retain what is good.

A Franciscan journey through life has its unexpected aspects. I work with several of the friars whom I knew as students, and one, Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM, is my guardian at St. Anthony Shrine. (As a novice in Paterson, N.J., I was at his baptism; will wonders never cease.)

At Siena I saw lay involvement in ministry at its very best. Faculty, staff, trustees embracing the Franciscan mission and the values it represents: the uniqueness of the individual, yet the importance of the community; the love due to all people, especially the poor; and respect for all creation. From these lay women and men I first learned of the laity and friars working together.

When I think of St. Francis, I think of his poverty, joy and a bit of his madness in his love for God and neighbor. Having said that, the next stop on my Franciscan journey was St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia. In a desperately poor section of Philly, frequently referred to as the Badlands, stands this tiny refuge. The Franciscans at the Inn are among the most impressive and memorable. Fr. Michael Duffy, Brs. Xavier and Tom, along with a wonderful group of sisters and lay volunteers, serve the poor with great love and affection. The homeless, prostitutes, children, the elderly and addicts are all welcomed and received with dignity and respect.

I mentioned the joy and madness associated with St. Francis; you need both in a soup kitchen that on some days feeds 500 guests. There are no paid employees, no government aid. We were often not sure what we would serve for supper. Our only steady income was a generous donation from St. Anthony’s Guild. Yet what we glibly call the madness of St. Francis and of the staff of the Inn is not madness at all, rather an absolute faith in a concerned and loving Lord.

My lesson from the Inn, along with the madness and joy and faith, is the spirit of gratitude which I inherited from the guests. Those men and women had nothing, but they would go out of their way to thank us for the meal, or the loaf of bread or the sweater. The area may be called the Badlands, but the people are good and faithful.

It’s been 50 years since Sr. Mary John told my catechism class about St. Francis. It’s been a journey strengthened by the Eucharist, which St. Francis loved so much, and with friars and friends all enlivened by the man from Assisi. It’s been fun. The journey continues.

—This essay was written in 1996 when Fr, Hugh was on the staff of St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, Mass. It then appeared in the March 1996 issue of The Anthonian magazine.