This is the tenth in a series of profiles of Holy Name Province friars who are marking major anniversaries as Franciscans in 2015. The last article featured James Nero, OFM. Andrew and the other jubilarians commemorating 50 and 25 years of profession will be honored by the Province on June 24.
NEW YORK — “Where did the time go?” asks Andrew Reitz, OFM. The pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street adds, “I can’t believe I’m celebrating 50 years as a friar.”
Andrew has had a well-defined religious life, with 32 years in parish ministry and 12 working in formation.
“My ministry has been very exciting, fulfilling, and challenging, and I’ve enjoyed it all,” he said. “I’ve been at a number of different places and have had lots of varied experiences.”
Because Andrew grew up in the small town of Olean, N.Y., later moving to Allegany, he was familiar with the Franciscans at nearby St. Bonaventure University. In addition, his family worshipped at St. Bonaventure Church in Allegany, which is staffed by the friars.
He attended public elementary and high schools, and was very involved in extracurricular activities. “I was always a busy person.” He said it seemed as if he was always organizing and working on a project or getting something done. Those managerial skills have served him well as a priest.
Andrew began considering religious life during his sophomore year at SBU, and he joined the Order soon after. He recalls Hugh Hines, OFM, at St. Bonaventure Parish being particularly supportive.
Andrew attended St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., and was received into the Franciscan Order at St. Raphael’s Novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., in 1964, professing first vows one year later. He made his final vows in 1969 at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington.
He continued his education at the Province’s house of philosophy, St. Francis College, in Rye Beach, N.H., earning a bachelor’s degree from SBU. He received a master’s degree in theology from Augustinian College in Washington.
Ministry on the Jersey Shore
Following his ordination in 1971, he was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island, N.J. He enjoyed ministering in this summer community and stayed 13 years. “For my first assignment, I went there as part of team ministry, which was popular in the 1970s.”
After several years of formation work, he returned to the South Jersey four-church parish in 1996 for another nine-year assignment.
He recalls: “It was a wonderful place to break into ministry. The friars there were a great model of community life. The parish was growing and so was the community.” He expressed gratitude to the late Thaddeus Sapio, OFM, and Owen McNally, with whom he ministered.
“When I went back the second time, I was very happy because the parish had matured and grown.” The parish’s community center, which was built during Andrew’s first assignment, was functioning well and had been expanded. When Andrew returned, the parish wanted to add an indoor swimming pool, and he helped quickly raise the $2.5 million needed to build the new aquatic center for the busy St. Francis Center, now 43 years old.
During his second assignment at St. Francis, Andrew was elected as a Provincial Councilor.
In between his two assignments on Long Beach Island, Andrew was assistant director of formation, and later, director of novices. This 12-year time period, from 1984 to 1996, took him to Silver Spring, Md., Brookline, Mass., and Providence, R.I. He took a break from 1987 to 1989 to serve as parochial vicar at St. Camillus Church, Silver Spring.
“I liked my years in formation, especially being novice director for seven years,” he said. “I was grateful for classes and a greater understanding of Franciscanism.”
The process of formation, he said, has greatly changed over the years, especially with the declining numbers of new friars. “When I was director, we had 50 or 60 guys in formation. Today, people have different backgrounds — some are second careers — and most of the guys are in their 30s and even 40s.”
Moving to Florida
In 2005, he was assigned to Sacred Heart Church in Tampa, Fla. The Jesuits were leaving the church and as a Provincial Councilor, Andrew recommended that the Franciscans take it over. He was assigned to be guardian and pastor during the transition and remained there for the next six years.
The parish has “a big heart for social ministry,” said Andrew, and was often in the news for allowing the homeless community to sleep on its steps. “At one point, we had 80 people sleeping on our steps,” he said. Unfortunately the initiative became too large for the parish to continue, and it had to stop the practice.
In 2011, Andrew was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi in New York City, a large urban church much different than his other parishes.
Coming to New York was a big adjustment, he said. “I had never lived in Manhattan or in a large community like St. Francis Friary.” The New York City experience is very different from growing up in Allegany, he added.
But Andrew embraced the experience and is now comfortable as a New Yorker. He quickly got to know many of St. Francis’ ministries and programs.
In his free time, he likes to read fiction and belongs to a book club. He also takes advantage of New York’s theater, music and art scene. He hopes to travel soon to see his brother, who retired to Costa Rica a few years ago.
Andrew said he is most grateful to the Province for letting him and others use their skills and interests in varied ways. “There are many opportunities,” he said. “We’re a place where you can begin ministries, grow ministries, and use your talents and abilities for the greater good.”
He says he would like to be remembered “as a worker and one who was appreciative of my Franciscan life, and that wherever I was, I tried to do my share to build up the ministry and make people proud of the friars.”
He offers advice to men considering religious life. “Get to know the Province and friars. Realize that it’s a learning experience and keep your enthusiasm. We appreciate what you are offering to us.”
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.