Franciscan Influences: A Lifetime With Siena College Friars

David Smith Features

This is the 21st in a series of essays by the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The last installment, by a member of the administrative staff at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C., appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of HNP Today. Below, a staff member of Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., describes his time with the friars, beginning with his days as a student in the 1970s.

Recently, I received a call at Siena College from Hugh Hines, OFM, to update me on information he received from a few graduates and friends he spoke with over the holidays. After recording the updates, Fr. Hugh and I spent 45 minutes catching up and reminiscing about our travels together and the wonderful folks — some of them we lovingly referred to as “characters” — whom we had met while he was president and I was then-Siena’s director of alumni relations. We both laughed at some of the stories and I ended the conversation telling Fr. Hugh that his call made my afternoon.

Ironically, the following day the HNP Communications Office asked me if I would consider writing an essay on my experiences and interactions with the many Siena friars with whom I have had friendships and associations over my many — more than 30 — years here at the college. I looked at that request as an act of divine intervention and responded “yes” immediately.

The friars have had a profound impact upon my life. I have been a student of life during all of my years of experiences with them. During each chapter in my life, I learned that their teachings had greater, more in-depth meaning. I have learned, and continue to learn, more about Francis and Clare, service to others, social responsibility, and simply how to lead a mission-centric life. I am a better person because of these lessons.

Professors, Counselors, Friends
My first experience with the friars goes back to Siena’s orientation weekend in the fall of 1975. I was a “brother’s boy” the four years prior, having graduated from Christian Brothers Academy in Albany, N.Y., the previous spring. I had some wonderful relationships with the brothers at CBA so seeing and interacting with those “men in brown” my first weekend was not as alien as it was to some of my classmates. It’s funny, now that I think back on it, that some of my classmates really didn’t know what to make of those friars. “Are they priests or brothers?” some would ask. “Teachers or administrators? Friend or foe?” As we would get to know in a few short weeks, the answer to all of those questions was “yes.” They were all those things — and more.

Over the next four years at college, we would find that these men (young and old) were intelligent professors; wise and tough administrators; counselors (on and off “the clock”); athletic teammates and opponents at the gym; friends and an integral part of the Siena family.

Matthew Conlin, OFM, was president when I arrived. I did not know him as a student. He stepped down as president the end of my freshman year. I vividly remember Fr. Hugh, Kevin Mackin, OFM, Capistran Hanlon, OFM (Fr. Cap), Julian Davies, OFM (“D” for Davies; don’t ever take him I was told!), and Blaise Reinhart, OFM(toughest “A” you will ever earn.)

And of course, you immediately got to know Cyril Seaman, OFM, who ran the Fr. Dawson Library. Fr. Cyril was the perfect person for this job. He was the most helpful person you ever met when you needed help finding reference materials. And, he could kick you out of the library with a smile when he knew you were only there to meet the girls after you had just been kicked out of Serra Dining Hall at closing.

Freshman year was also my first introduction to the “Fr. Ben Show,” which you quickly found out, was offered in many forms and on many stages. “The show” happened almost any time you ran into Benjamin Kuhn, OFM — “How’s the boy?” “The more I get around the rounder I get,” “I teach under a handicap” and the like. He was a Johnny Carson act every time you saw him.

Sunday night at 10 p.m. was “the” time for weekly Mass. It seemed like everyone who lived on campus attended that Mass. It made Sunday nights special. The parade of students began walking from the dorms to St. Mary of the Angels Chapel around 9:45 p.m. Two by two, roommates would walk out of their rooms, knocking on other doors as they went by, and gather in a packed chapel for “the message” that would set the tone for the week.

Each friar who celebrated Mass gave a better homily than the last. It was at Mass that you truly got to know a special side of each of the friars. They may have been economic, philosophy, English, religion and history teachers by day, but on Sunday nights they were doing what they really wanted to do — delivering God’s message to our family. I still remember those Masses fondly.

And I’m happy to say that a similar tradition continues on our campus today. My daughter, Lauren, is a freshman at Siena this year. She loves attending the Sunday evening Mass celebrated by Gregory Jakubowicz, OFM, in their hall lounge. Fr. Greg, she says, is connected to the students in so many ways.  Having this Mass in the student lounge shows that the friars are open to the changing times of campus culture and are continuing their welcoming ways.

Through all my student years, there were many other friars who touched my heart and soul — Liguori Muller, OFM,Peter Fiore, OFM (one of my favorites; I worked on two independent studies with Fr. Peter my senior year, although he might question my definition of “work”); and Richard Mucowski, OFM, who helped me get to “spring training” without missing a semester. I loved Vianney Devlin, OFM, and Evan Roche, OFM, was pretty tough for philosophy, as was Michael Perry, OFM, for math.

In my last few years as a student, Mychal Judge, OFM came to Siena to serve as assistant to the president under Fr. Hugh. Fr. Mychal was a man about campus and seemed to be everywhere, always with a smile and quick wit.Richard Flaherty, OFM, and Tom Burns, a former friar, headed campus ministry.

Admiration for Colleagues
In 1981, two years after graduation, I returned to Siena to accept my first administrative position as director of alumni relations. I was young and now was a “colleague” of these wonderful friars who taught me and mentored me as a student. That year, Jerome Massimino, OFM, was appointed chaplain and he has been a wonderful friend ever since.

I won’t go though all of the next 30 years here, but other friars who are memorable to me include John Frambes, OFM, William Mann, OFM; Dennis Tamburello, OFM, Kevin Tortorelli, OFM, Michael Harlan, OFM, and William Beaudin, OFM. Of course, Dennis and Bill are still here and are extremely active and loved by the students. Fr. Kevin and Br. Michael are our New York City stars and help us with alumni gatherings.

Following Fr. Hugh, I had the wonderful pleasure of serving under two other Siena presidents — William McConville, OFM, and Kevin Mackin, OFM — and currently I serve as vice president for development and external affairs for Kevin Mullen, OFM. I cannot tell you how much I admire each of these men for the work I have witnessed each of them do, every day as a college president.

Until you witness one of their weeks, no one can appreciate the demands they placed on their time when they serve in that capacity. In addition to serving their ministry — their primary goal in life — they have to daily address the demands of running a major Catholic and Franciscan educational institution. This means, daily, being responsible for 3,000 students and being the leader, and addressing the needs of, hundreds of faculty, administrators and staff. Then, in their “spare time” they must travel thousands of miles each year to fundraise for the institution and speak at more alumni and parent gatherings than you could ever imagine. Their work on behalf of Siena College was, and is, tireless.

I truly thank HNP Communications for allowing me to submit this piece. Writing it has allowed me a nice trip down memory lane. As I typed each friar’s name, many, many memories of each gentleman went through my mind. Each of them has touched my heart and soul and shaped me into who I am today — administrator, Siena alumnus, husband, father, brother, son, friend, Catholic.

Pax et bonum!

 David Smith, a 1979 Siena graduate, is vice president for development and external affairs at Siena College, where he has been instrumental in promoting Siena’s fundraising efforts. He speaks fondly of many friars part of both his current and past roles at the college — who are not all listed in this article.