Franciscan Influences: Enriched in Extraordinary Ways

Ben and Gladys Whitehouse Features

This is the 11th in a series of essays by the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The last installment, by Leo Vaccaro, a former Franciscan Volunteer Minister, appeared in the Oct. 26 issue of HNP Today. 

Below, two staff members at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Raleigh, N.C., describe the impact that the friars of Holy Name Province have had on them — for nearly 50 years — and their gratitude. 

It was the early 1960s when we met while in college (Ben at West Point and Gladys, Manhattanville). While dating, we were together one New Year’s Eve and Gladys, as a native of New York City, suggested that we go to Mass even though it was 3 o’clock in the morning. Ben, not being a Catholic at the time, was a little suspicious of this, but we went to a Catholic church on West 31st Street. Thus began a wonderful relationship for us with the friars of Holy Name Province.

It was another 20 years before we reconnected with the Franciscans; that experience was when we shared ministry in Marriage Retorno, a weekend experience teaching couples to pray, with Edward Flanagan OFM. Fr. Ed’s easy manner and commitment to us as a couple remained with us over the years, and we were pleased to see him last month in Washington, D.C., expressing his love and care for us.

Finding a Spiritual Home 
In the course of our 46 years of marriage, we have moved more than 15 times, exposing us to many different parishes and priests; however, with our last move to Raleigh, we reconnected with the HNP Franciscans, and our lives have been enriched in extraordinary ways.

We were attracted to the Catholic Community of St Francis of Assisi, then under the leadership of Daniel Kenna, OFM, in 2000. The first time we walked into the church, we felt welcomed and were caught up in the energy of the people as we gathered for liturgy. From the warm welcome to an amazing baptismal rite to engaging music and a challenging homily, we knew that we had found a spiritual home.

For the past 11 years, we have become family with the many friars with whom we have come to know, each bringing to us a unique and positive aspect of our faith. We have been blessed to serve on our parish staff and to experience the diversity of four friars currently here in Raleigh, each leading us to new awareness of our faith and continually reminding us of our mission — to help build the Kingdom of God.

Mark Reamer, OFM, our pastor, has shown his personal caring for us and all who come to our parish while providing the leadership essential to a large, growing, dynamic parish. When Ben’s father died, Fr. Mark made the effort to fly to Cape Cod for the funeral to show his support and caring for us.

David McBriar, OFM, the first friar-pastor here in Raleigh, has created in us a thirst for peace and justice in our world. Fr. David inspires and challenges us to make a real commitment to the least among us. We had the privilege of experiencing the Holy Land with him, along with several other friars, who made real the living stones throughout Palestine and Israel.

William McConville, OFM, brings a vitality and energy to everything he does and to every person he meets. By sharing who he is, he has constantly led us to a new understanding and awareness of our faith. Fr. Bill arrived in our parish the day after Sept. 11, 2001, and was instrumental in helping us heal our collective sorrow.

Emmet Murphy, OFM, has been with us a short time but leads with compassion and faith as he touches each of us. He challenges us to reach out to those in need, but like Francis, through his actions rather than relying only on words.

Though there are many friars who have passed through our parish in the past 11 years, each leaving their mark, we would be remiss if we did not mention George Corrigan, OFM. Fr. George spent a year with us as an intern, and we marveled at his journey from Annapolis graduate to priest. He demonstrated yet again the charism that the Holy Name friars live so authentically, their love of Christ and the Church, outreach to the marginalized and commitment to their fraternity of brotherhood with one another.

Feeling Charism of Outreach 
It has been through the presence of the friars of Holy Name Province here in Raleigh that the Franciscan charism of outreach has been instilled in us as a community. It is seen in the children and their families who attend our schools, both elementary and preschool, when they feed the homeless in downtown Raleigh several times during the year and collect food for our sister parish in Louisburg, N.C. It is evident when parishioners drive migrant workers to Mass in the summer months and join them for the evening meal.

whitehousesWe see the impact of the Franciscans on our youth when they travel up to Philadelphia and stay at St. Francis Innfor a week each summer. It is evident when we celebrate the feast of Francis not only with a blessing of animals, but with a daylong festival in which we have the opportunity to build house walls for Habitat for Humanity here in Raleigh. As at so many other Franciscan parishes, the list of ministry outreach opportunities goes on and on.

We believe that the friars have truly been partners-in-ministry: challenging us, supporting us, leading us, and being with us in our joy and in our sorrow. Working at our parish is a joy and a privilege for us as a couple. It is with much gratitude that we look forward to our continued ministry as part of the Franciscan family.

— Ben Whitehouse is director of parish operations at St. Francis of Assisi Church and Gladys, his wife, is a part-time coordinator of evangelization. The friars shown in the photo above are, from left, Emmet, David, Mark and William.

Editor’s note: The HNP Communications Office welcomes essays from lay men and women around the Province for future issues of this newsletter.