MARGATE, N.J. — Eighty-five-year-old Boniface Hanley, OFM, would like all friars to know that the provincial history book he has been lovingly working on for seven years is coming along. Really.
“I’m halfway done,” he said, when HNP Today caught up by phone with this busy senior friar at the Franciscan friary at the Jersey Shore.
While he acknowledged that seven years is a long time to be working on a book, he said he wants everyone to know that he has had a lot of starts and stops, recovering from a fall and two shoulder fractures, heart troubles, colon cancer, countless hospitalizations and complications. “Each hospital stay destroys your rhythm and your discipline. It disturbs my writing,” he said.
In the past two years, he’s been hospitalized eight times. “But I’m still alive,” said the affable friar. Nonetheless, Boniface has been using the Province archives in Butler, N.J., and researching the Provincial Annals to cobble together the Province’s 109-year history, a retirement task assigned to him in 2003 by former Provincial MinisterJohn Felice, OFM.
Although professional historian Joseph White produced a thorough scholarly history of the Province, Peace and Good in America: A History of Holy Name Province, Order of Friars Minor, 1850s to the Present, at that time, many felt a more popular, anecdotal history would also be valuable.
Barnes & Noble Comes a Calling
Perhaps his biggest distraction to the book, however, is the best one of all. Boniface recently needed to stop working on the provincial history to devote time to a book he wrote in 1998 about the life and work of a World War II German priest and prison chaplain in Paris. Fr. Franz Stock prepared approximately 1,000 men for their deaths before the firing squads, according to Boniface.
While he tried to find a publisher for this book — and was turned down 20 times — Barnes & Noble recently came to him, asking for permission to turn the story into an e-book.
Boniface signed a contract with the book publisher for The Last Human Face: Fr. Franz Stock: A Priest in Hitler’s Army. The French loved Fr. Stock, according to Boniface. “He was so good to the men who were going to be killed and to their families. He was just being a good priest.”
Fr. Stock is gaining newfound attention today, according to Boniface, because the Holy See has granted him the title of Servant of God, which opens the investigation for his beatification.
While Boniface takes a short detour to get the book ready for his e-debut, he wants to resume writing the Province history as soon as possible. “I’ll be the first friar to get paid for being put on the Internet.” He was recently reviewing the cover of the e-book, which should be available soon.
Finishing Provincial History
Boniface said he would like to return to writing on the computer every day for the Province book, which he says will be approximately 200 pages. As of now, he’s up to the 1950s in Province history.
He has been extremely touched by the Province’s efforts in foreign missionary work. “It’s unbelievable,” he said.”We’ve been in China, Japan, South America, Africa, in addition to many loner missionaries. What friars did in Brazil was incredible.”
What one piece of Province history has he found funny? “The fact that we continue to exist is humorous,” he said.
He clarified: “In the course of my life, I was in charge of training new priests. In looking back on that role, I often ask myself, ‘What was the characteristic that would tell me if a man would be a good candidate to be an OFM priest?’ The answer is if he was a happy man. If a man is happy, and most of our friars are, it gives you buoyancy and keeps everything in perspective. The reason that we exist and function and serve the church well is that, as Franciscans, we have a sense of humor.”
Boniface knows that well. His latest endeavor into being an e-book author is just one of many. As a friar for 66 years and a priest for 60, his ministry has been quite varied. “I like all areas of ministry. I’ve had a variety of apostolates. My career is checkered.”
He emphasizes that his provincial history book is only one effort to bring attention to the story of Holy Name Province. Other books have been written, including White’s Love at Work.
Boniface, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., was featured in the winter 2009 issue of The Anthonian. His Franciscan Journeyis also available on the Province’s Web site.
— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer based in Connecticut and a frequent contributor to HNP Today.