NEW YORK – A post-Christmas/pre-New Year gathering at the friary of Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great turned into an early 80th birthday present for Susan Ford when her son Larry Ford, OFM, surprised his mother in front of dozens of family members, friends, and friars. At the Dec. 28 afternoon gathering he presented her with the Holy Name Province Francis Medal for living her life in harmony with Franciscan values and ideals.
“She has not only practiced her faith, but she has also taught it – especially the Franciscan values of service, hospitality, and care for God’s creation. She has lived a deeply active Catholic life, and has always supported Catholic education,” said Larry, pastor of the Upper West Side parish.
He recalled how his mother always found time to “do things for others,” despite her demanding responsibilities as a homemaker raising five children.
“She always volunteered, whether serving as a Eucharistic Minister — one of the first females in Buffalo to do so, or as president of the parish council and member of the bishop’s committee or working with Evan Banks, OFM in Marriage Encounter,” Larry said. “She was also a pioneer in environmental-consciousness, always repurposing household items and getting involved early in the recycling movement. Best of all, she and my father always opened our home to the Franciscan friars from St. Bonaventure University.”
On hand to witness Larry present the Francis Medal to his mother, who celebrated her 80th birthday days later on Dec. 31, were Susan Ford’s other four children — Ryan and his wife Pamela, Sean and his wife Nora, Colleen and Brendan — as well as four of her grandchildren, one of her sisters-in-law (one of whom will turn 90 years old in March), several nieces and nephews, many cousins, and many close friends – among them seven of her former college classmates.
She was “overwhelmed and shocked” to receive the medal, an honor established in 1998 by then-provincial John Felice, OFM, to acknowledge laypeople whose lives have been modeled after the values of St. Francis of Assisi.
“Someone told me that the expression on my face said it all,” Ford said of her genuine surprise when Larry told her that he had something special from Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, and the friars of Holy Name Province.
Larry admittedly lured his mother by billing the event as a festive gathering to celebrate Christmas – and to perhaps acknowledge the milestone birthday she was celebrating on the last day of 2019 – without ever mentioning his plans to present her with the Francis Medal.
“I just think of birthdays as coming and going, year after year, and not being particularly special. But I guess this one was! It was a wonderful birthday present from my children,” said Susan Ford who lives in Rhode Island.
Friendship with Friars
Both Larry and his mother shared fond memories of the Franciscan friars at St. Bonaventure University during the family’s many years of living a few miles from the campus in Allegany, N.Y.
“She and my dad offered great hospitality at our house to the friars. She frequently provided a woman’s voice and insight on women’s issues in the university and the Church. She was deeply affected by the Franciscan charism. The friars taught spirituality to her and my father,” said Larry, the eldest of five children.
“From my mom – as well as my dad – I learned ‘we’ well before I learned ‘me.’ Our house was a frequent destination for the friars on Provincial retreat – and for years, Dan Kenna, OFM, and Andrew Reitz, OFM, brought novices to our house for summer cookouts and lobster bakes,” Larry said.
“The friars were like uncles to our children,” said Susan, who acknowledges that she knew nothing about the Franciscans until her husband of 53 years, Lawrence Ford, who passed away in July 2018, attended St. Bonaventure University.
The couple moved to Western New York from their native Connecticut in 1964 shortly after Larry Ford Sr. graduated from SBU. They lived in Olean for 52 years and grew close to the Franciscans as a result of Larry Sr. holding several administrative positions at SBU as director of the Reilly university center, director of personnel, and director of auxiliary services.
They participated in community organizations and university life while raising their five children, all of whom attended Catholic school from kindergarten through college. Susan Ford was a staunch supporter of Catholic education, particularly parishes in Western New York, Walsh High School, and Southern Tier Catholic School in Olean.
Influence of Franciscans
Susan quickly became impressed by the fraternity of the friars and incorporated that value into her family’s life, according to Larry. “We belonged to each other as family, and the family belonged to the larger community,” he said.
“Though they arrived in Olean with traditional faith, the Franciscans taught my mother and father a different depth of prayer, faith-sharing, how the Incarnation is real and lived, and the love of all creation,” said Larry, who professed his first vows as a friar in 1991.
“Her life of shared love and fidelity with my dad is my mother’s chief accomplishment, followed by the raising of the five of us,” Larry continued. “What holds her life together is her lived faith, which is informed by and an example of the Franciscan charism.”
He added, “Giving the Francis Medal to my mother helped confirm that she was never in a secondary role to my father. They truly were one.”
One obituary of Larry’s father published on July 5, 2018, in the Buffalo News described the impact that he and Susan had on the community.
Tom McElroy, SBU’s former sports information director who went on to a career in major college athletics, recalled that few people better exemplified the spirit of the Franciscan university’s patron, St. Francis of Assisi, than Susan and Larry Sr.
“Whether it involved directing a student toward the right professor, finding a job, or offering informal career counseling, [you] gained [something] from the simple sincerity of [their] words, humor and actions,” McElroy said.
The couple eventually moved to New England in 2016 when Larry Sr.’s health was failing. But before moving to an assisted living facility in Massachusetts, Susan and her husband did what they had always done throughout their lives. They thought about helping others, and so they gave away all of their household possessions (instead of tossing them in the trash) – dishes, pots, cleaning supplies, furniture and clothing – to a shelter for victims of domestic violence, St. Vincent de Paul, and the Bridge at St. Bonaventure Parish.
Last year, the friars of Holy Name of Jesus -St. Gregory the Great presented the Francis Medal to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary sisters who contributed to the parish for many years.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- “Siena Friars Present Francis Medal to Administrator for her ‘Franciscan Heart’” – Dec. 9, 2019, HNP Today
- “Lawrence Ford Marks 25 Years as a Friar” – June 1, 2016, HNP Today
- Obituary of Lawrence Ford – July 6, 2018, Olean Times Herald