Fr. Kevin Cronin, OFM

It is only fitting that I begin writing this — my Franciscan journey — on Sept. 12, 2011, the anniversary of death of Fr. John Forrest Loviner, OFM, who founded St. Anthony’s Guild in 1924 and published the first issue of The Anthonian magazine in 1927. If it weren’t for The Anthonian, I probably would not be a friar today.

When I was growing up, attending St. Anne’s Grammar School in Garden City, Long Island, we kids longed to get some mail with our name on it — even junk mail, but in those days there was none. So, my best grammar school friend, Jimmy Walters, and I used to send away for “free information” from religious orders that used to appear on the back of our Junior Catholic Messenger magazine. We just wanted to get mail.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Like many Catholic schoolboys, especially if they also were altar boys back then, I was seriously thinking about becoming a priest. I knew great parish priests growing up in Our Lady of the Snows Parish in North Floral Park, Queens, but, for some reason, I never wanted to become a diocesan priest.

Well, my wish for more mail came through. I received lots of information from the Josephites, Maryknolls, Jesuits and Carmelites. Deep down, however, I actually wanted to become a Franciscan. It sounds silly now, but I attribute my initial inspiration to Friar Tuck, in the Robin Hood movie. He was my kind of priest: jolly, serving God, helping the poor. Yes, I really wanted to become a Franciscan, even though I had never met a real one.

I had no address to write to, that is, until my friend Jimmy said: “Hey Kev, I found the Franciscans for you, in a magazine my mother gets: The Anthonian.”

I sent for information, and, as they say, the rest is history. When I was in the seventh grade, I asked my wise dad if I could go to the seminary. He said, “Hey Kev, it’s your life. If you think that’s what God wants you to do, go. But, remember our door is always open if you change your mind.”

The following year, in 1962 at age 14, I traveled to Upstate New York’s Sullivan County in the Catskills, to St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon to begin 13 years of preparation to become a Franciscan priest.

There were 65 guys in my first-year class at the height of the vocation boom in the early 1960s. There were still 42 of us young men left when we entered our novitiate year in 1968, but 14 of my class left the novitiate that year! Only five of our original 65 had the honor to be ordained in 1974 by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, one of the truly great American priests of our era.

Today, 37 years later, I am the only one of those originals remaining as a Franciscan priest in Holy Name Province. Sometimes it’s been a long and lonely journey with lots of good-byes and constant decisions and choices to make to renew my solemn vows as a friar.

Despite the occasional difficulties, I have had wonderful experiences as a Franciscan. Before ordination, I worked for three summers with migrant workers in South Jersey, taught high school in Virginia, and did my internship at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street in New York City. My experience there turned into Kenosis, a book I wrote based on my master’s thesis.

After ordination, I spent eight marvelous years at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, where I helped start the post-Vatican II adult education program. Among my other pastoral duties I also founded the Young Catholics club, from which six young men became friars.

From there, when I was appointed vocation director and recruiter for Holy Name Province, I went to reside in the parish of my birth and baptism, Holy Cross Church in the Bronx, where I served with two great friar friends, Fr. John Hogan, OFM, and Fr. Ronald Pecci, OFM.

During a sabbatical I spent in Berkeley, Calif., where I was studying the media and its effects on culture, friars involved in the Ministry of the Word asked me to join them. I figured if I was going to give parish missions, I first better learn what a parish is like. I was assigned to the St. Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, N.J. — a challenging, busy suburban community where I became involved in team ministry with other friars and committed laity, and where I met many wonderful people and made lifelong friends. From there I went to do what I always wanted to do as a friar: Preach the Good News through parish missions and retreats, which I have done now for the past 18 years.

Meanwhile, I also edited another book, where 10 friars and myself contributed stories from our lives. Published by Continuum, titled A Friar’s Joy, Magic Moments From Real Life still sells.

My approach to unfolding the Gospel in my ministry of preaching and teaching is based on the words of our holy founder St. Francis: “What else are the servants of God but God’s minstrels, whose work is to lift up people’s hearts to spiritual joy, that they might love God gladly.” Another of his sayings always guide me, “Blessed is the friar who finds all his joy in the words and deeds of Our Lord, and uses them to help others love God gladly.”

In my ministry, some wonderfully kind comments have kept this itinerant preacher on the road. A parishioner in Jacksonville, Fla., told me, “Your joyful mission touched me very deeply. In fact, it was the greatest spiritual education I’ve ever experienced!” And, best of all, the kind of remark any follower of the Good Shepherd rejoices to hear: “This mission literally saved my soul. Away 40 years. I’m back! Thank you.”

Sometimes I feel guilty because I love what I do and do what I love. And it all began with The Anthonian!

— This essay, which appears in the Winter 2011 issue of The Anthonian, was written while Fr. Kevin was a member of the friar community in Butler, N.J.