Father Michael Joyce, OFM, a professed Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province for 61 years, and a priest for 55, died on the evening of Monday, August 15, 2022, the feast of the Assumption, at St. Luke’s Hospital in Newburgh, New York, after a long illness. He was 82 years old. He had been living at St. Lawrence Friary in Beacon, New York, since May 31 of this year. Prior to transferring to the skilled nursing care facility, he lived in retirement at St. Anthony Friary in Butler, New Jersey, since 2016. Michael spent more than half his friar life in missionary work in Japan and East Africa.
A 10:30 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial was offered on Aug. 20 at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Butler – during which Kevin Mullen, OFM, provincial minister, was the chief celebrant, and Joseph Ehrhardt, OFM – who served with Michael in Japan and Africa – preached the homily. The Mass was preceded by a 9:30 a.m. viewing. Burial took place at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Butler immediately following the Mass.
Michael served for 33 years in Franciscan missions in Japan and East Africa before returning to the United States to serve another 16 years in pastoral and fraternal ministry. He cherished his missionary work and often noted that more than half of his life as a Franciscan friar was spent in ministry abroad. Michael called his time in Japan a “unique experience” – particularly because less than one-tenth of one percent of Japan’s population is Catholic (at the time he was assigned there). Although his parishes were always in cities with populations of 400,000 to a half-million people, his congregations were never larger than 600 members. Besides the Japanese culture and ministering to this population of the faithful, he found his work with men in formation a rewarding part of his vocation, which followed him to his missionary work in East Africa.
A native of Newark, New Jersey, he was born Michael Seamus on January 24, 1940, one of seven children of Walter and Anne (Quinn) Joyce. He attended St. Michael grammar school in Newark, and after graduating from St. Peter’s High School in Jersey City in 1958, he entered St. Joseph Seminary in Callicoon, New York. He was received into the Franciscan Order in Holy Name Province on July 14, 1960 at St. Raphael Novitiate in Lafayette, New Jersey, just 50 miles from where he grew up, and made his profession of first vows there on July 15, 1961. He professed his solemn vows on Aug. 23, 1964 at Christ the King Seminary in Allegany, New York, and was ordained to the priesthood on Feb. 18, 1967 at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C.
During formation, he studied philosophy at St. Francis College in Rye Beach, New Hampshire, from 1961 to 1963, earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Bonaventure University in western New York. He also studied theology at Holy Name College, the Province’s house of studies in Washington, D.C.
Upon ordination in 1967, Michael began his more than three decades as a Franciscan missionary when he arrived in Tokyo, Japan, spending his first two years in Japanese studies at the Franciscan Language School. He served in pastoral ministry at churches in Maebashi, Ota, and Kiryu – all in Japan’s Gumma Prefecture – for nine years (1969 to 1978), before moving to Kita Urawa in the Saitama Prefecture to serve as assistant novice master (1978 to 1982), working with men in formation, and as pastor (1982 to 1983) of a local church.
In 1983, Michael was among a group of friars from Japan and other countries invited by the general superior of the Franciscans in Rome to establish new missions in Africa. For the next 17 years, he served in pastoral ministry in several countries in East Africa, including Malawi, Zambia, and Kenya. During two of those years, he was a staff member of the Franciscan House of Studies in Zambia, assisting in formation and the education of local clergy.
After 33 years in ministry abroad, Michael returned to the U.S. in March 2000 and, four months later, was assigned to St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, Massachusetts, as a spiritual director and retreat master. In 2002, he moved to Providence, Rhode Island, serving in pastoral ministry for nine years – first as an associate at St. Francis Chapel (2007 to 2011), and then as parochial vicar at St. Mary Church (2007 to 2011). In 2012, he was assigned to St. Bernardine of Siena Friary on the campus of Siena College in Loudonville, New York, where he served for four years in a chapel mall ministry in nearby Albany, and as spiritual assistant to the friary’s fraternity. In 2016, Michael moved to St. Anthony Friary in Butler to live in retirement.
In addition to his Franciscan confreres, Michael is survived by his brothers – James of Tinton Falls, New Jersey, Walter (Dorothy) of Livingston, New Jersey, and Brian (Deirdre) of Vancouver, Washington – and 24 nieces and nephews and their spouses, 55 grandnieces and grandnephews, and three great-grandnieces and nephews.