This is the fifth in a series of profiles about friars commemorating major anniversaries of profession this year. The April 16 issue of HNP Today featured Emeric Szlezak, OFM.
WOOD-RIDGE, N.J. — As the only Korean friar in Holy Name Province, Francis Kim, OFM, has actively ministered to the Korean community along the East Coast. Francis, who is commemorating his 25th anniversary as a friar this summer, has founded and advised many Korean-speaking groups of the National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order.
“I’ve worked with Korean-speaking Secular Franciscans all over the United States, and have actually started most of the fraternities. It’s been very busy,” he said. Francis also ministers to Korean immigrants. He travels to North Korea and China several times a year to teach residents how to farm, assist refugees and work with the poor.
Today, he lives on 90 acres of farmland in Blairstown, N.J., where he works with a Secular Franciscan fraternity. The farm, dubbed St. Francis Village, began last fall and will harvest its first crops this year. All produce is grown organically without the use of chemicals. The vegetables will be donated to food programs at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City.
Though he is officially a member of Assumption Friary in Wood-Ridge, Francis spends most of his time on the farm and travels monthly to say Mass at the church.
The Korea native, who grew up in a Buddhist society, came by himself to the United States when he was in his late 20s to study. He was working as a mechanic for an American company in Iran and used the connections he had to come to the United States. He settled in Lowell, Mass., because he knew co-workers there.
Called to be Catholic
Francis enrolled in high school in Lowell, even though he was older than other students. “It was like starting over,” he recalled. At the same time, he began reading With God in Russia, a memoir by Jesuit Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ, that changed his life. “It called me to be a Catholic.”
The book also inspired him to consider religious life, and he began his journey to join the Order. “I looked through the Yellow Pages and found St. Anthony Shrine,” he said with a smile. “I had never met a friar, but I explored the religious orders. I got a phone number from the Yellow Pages for the shrine on Arch Street. Richard McFeely, OFM, answered the phone, and I said, ‘I want to become a Franciscan friar.’”
While finding the Franciscan Order in the phone book isn’t typical, it seemed fitting that he should be a Franciscan since his birthday is Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis. “I took Francis as my name,” he said.
He was first professed in 1989. Francis earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Maryland and completed an internship year at Siena College, Loudonville, N.Y., before professing final vows in 1993. While studying for his Master of Divinity Degree from the Washington Theological Union, Francis began ministering to the Secular Franciscans. He was ordained in 1996 at St. Anne Church in Fair Lawn, N.J.
His first assignment was to St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City, where he founded the Korean ministry and ministered to the Secular Franciscans. He took a sabbatical to study the Bible in Jerusalem from 2001 to 2002, and when he returned home, he moved to All Saints Friary in Harlem, N.Y., while continuing his work with Secular Franciscans for part of the year.
Traveling to China and North Korea
However, in 2007, he began traveling to China for three-month visits to minister to North Korean refugees who were immigrating there for better opportunities. “I had been doing work with refugees while at the churches in New York City, and the Korean communities there supported me in my work abroad.”
In 2008, he also began traveling to North Korea to teach residents how to farm organically without using chemicals and without overworking the land. He currently visits twice a year. While he is there, he stops to see his mother, two brothers, nieces and nephews.
In 2011, he also was assigned to live at Assumption Friary in Wood-Ridge, ministering to the Korean Secular Franciscans. In addition, he is the spiritual assistant to the Secular Franciscans in New York and New Jersey, and dedicates much of his time to the new farm in Blairstown.
Francis said is thankful to be a Franciscan. “I’m so grateful for the friars. They have been very generous, very kind, very friendly and fun.”
While the farm keeps him very busy, Francis said he finds time for contemplation. “It’s a wonderful location for praying and meditating.”
He is also searching for ways to keep the critters out of the garden and planning to build a deer fence. “Every night the bears come and dig in the garbage cans,” he says with a smile.
But he enjoys working the land.
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jubilarians who will be featured in upcoming installments of this series are Thomas Conway, OFM, Patrick Tuttle, OFM, and Jud Weiksnar, OFM.