Franciscan Influences: Remembering Brothers, Treasuring Friendships

Patricia Leyko Connelly Features

This is the 19th in a series of essays by the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The last installment, by a parishioner of St. Camillus Church in Maryland, appeared in the Oct. 10 issue of HNP Today.

Below, a New Jersey native who has known the friars of Holy Name Province since her youth describes the blessings of the friendships of these priests and brothers who are like family to her. A formative life experience for the author, who now lives in New England, was her work at Christ House retreat center in Lafayette, N.J., which HNP operated from 1969 to 1979.

“There are places I remember in my life though some have changed.” So goes the Beatles song “In My Life.”

When I was 5 years old, my parents moved our family from Cumbola, Pa., to Little Falls, N.J. Our new parish was Our Lady of the Holy Angels, and there began my lifelong connection and relationship with the Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province. It is amazing to look back and think of all the friars who have been part of my life.

I was blessed with two “blood” brothers: my older brother Don Leyko, who passed away in 2008 after his battle with pancreatic cancer, and my younger brother George, who now lives in California. I have always loved my brothers dearly and over these many years I have considered the friars my brothers, too.

November is a month of remembrance. We recently celebrated the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. It is in this “spirit of remembrance” that I “remember my brothers,” my longtime, long-loved friar friends.

What have the friars meant to me over these years and how have they influenced my life? The friars have been a source of inspiration and creativity, care and support in times of need, great joy in times of celebration, a shared love of creation and all of God’s creatures, a commitment to the poor and marginalized. The friars continue to live their lives following St. Francis and day by day trying to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “sometimes using words.

All these friars have shared these qualities in their unique way, true to who they are as men of faith being true to their Franciscan charism.

Although I no longer work with the friars, having moved to Vermont, I know that we continue to share our journey in life together. I always look forward to seeing and hearing from my dear friar friends for they truly are my brothers.

Our Lady of the Holy Angels Parish
In my teens, I became interested in music, which, by the grace of God, led to my involvement in music ministry. This led me to be a part of the early “folk Masses” at Holy Angels.

I sometimes laugh when I think of some of the songs we used to sing at Mass, like “Put Your Hand in the Hand.” Thank God liturgical music has evolved over these years. I remember Leonard Kelly, OFM, the celebrant at some of these liturgies. Whether he liked it or not, he waited for me and the other guitarist to tune up before he rang the little bell on the side wall outside of the sacristy to signal the start of Mass.

I can fondly recall some of the other friars there, like Melory Collier, OFM, and dear Giles Bello, OFM, with his ever gentle smile. Little did I know then that years later my husband and I would see him as we visited the friars in the infirmary in Ringwood, N.J.  He remembered “me and my guitar” and called me “Patty Leyko” again with his big smile.

And of course I remember Reginald Redlon, OFM, who died just this month. I saw him years later while visiting the friars at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston. I think I used to be afraid of him, but when we met again on Arch Street, he was so happy to remember me and was as sweet and gentle as could be. May he rest in peace.

Christ House Retreat Center
After my years at Holy Angels Parish, I participated in a retreat at Christ House retreat Center in Lafayette, N.J.  It was in this place that my life changed, and it put me on a new path where I met more friars who truly became my brothers. I even met my husband Joe there. He was thinking of becoming a friar himself.

Dear Boniface Hanley, OFM, shown in photo above, was a later addition to the Christ House team and a great gift. I was thrilled to have Boniface be the celebrant at our wedding at Christ House and he sure danced a mean jitterbug at the reception. My friend Beth Crocker, a former Christ House team member, and I went to Margate, N.J., to say our goodbyes to Fr. Boniface at the end of his life journey.

Charles Miller, OFM, who now lives in New York City, was also was a Christ House team member. He, too, was at our wedding and he received our wedding vows.  Thirty-four years later, Charley is still a good friend and recently came to visit us in Vermont.  These are friendships that last!

And some of friars from the early days such as Michael Harlan, OFM, have been around to see our two children grow up and are like family to us.

After making a number of retreats there and sharing some of my music, I was invited by Richard Husted, OFM, to sing at the Sunday liturgies at Christ House. Richard is a very gifted and talented friar who has a great vision for creativity in liturgy and community life.

Eventually, I was asked to join and be part of the “open community” at Christ House, where I lived with 14 friars and two religious sisters — Sr. Miriam Duchesne and Sr. Carol Heller. A few other single lay people also moved in. Now that was community! We also ministered with an active extended lay community.

As part of the retreat team, I had the opportunity to meet many people and felt blessed to live and work with an amazing team of friars and sisters. I will never forget the friars there.

I can still see Terence Cauley, OFM. He was the organist and, wow, could he play and raise the roof at some of those liturgies!  I will never forget his sense of humor.  He would get me laughing right before Mass started. Of course, he could hide behind the organ while I was out in front to help lead the music.

Depaul Genska, OFM, was a great retreat team member, a unique friar and a loving, funny and dedicated man. Depaul’s motto was “pray, struggle.” Years later, I reminded Depaul of his motto when we visited him in the infirmary. I had the privilege of singing at his funeral.

Richard not only invited me to be part of the Christ House community, but he also encouraged me to finish writing the songs I was working on. Low and behold, we recorded two albums at Christ House — “On the Road to the Kingdom” and “Chanticleer.”  I will always be grateful to Richard for his vision.

There are so many friars and so many memories of this time, not only people with whom I lived but those who came through the doors at Christ House. I remember, too, the young men — many now professed friars — who came as part of the vocation program.

What wonderful liturgies and prayer experiences, what great laughs and tears we shared over those great years. What a gift!

St. Mary’s Parish    
After Christ House closed, my husband and I moved to Pompton Lakes, N.J. where my husband was hired as music director and I served as music minister at St. Mary’s Church. That began yet another chapter of amazing friars and good friends and more brothers to love. I fondly remember those days of always feeling welcomed by friars like Michael Carnevale, OFM, Kevin Downey, OFM, Angelus Gambatese, OFM, Ronald Stark, OFM, John Ullrich, OFM, Dennis Tamburello, OFM, who I have known since he was an affiliate, and the late Francis Gunn, OFM,among many others.

Former friars such as Bob Hudak and the late Michael Conad and Steve Garnet also remain strongly in my memory. And let us remember some of these religious friends who have gone before us: Justin Bailey, OFM, Victorin Gehring, OFM, James Haggerty, OFM, Conall Hart, OFM, Sr. Carol Heller, and Alphonse Humm, OFM.May they rest in peace.

My life with the friars has been like a tapestry — people woven in and out over the years, connecting one place to the other. It includes friars who came and went, and friends who stayed. I’ve got memories that last a lifetime, just like family.

I have truly been blessed to call these dear men and wonderful friars “brother.” As the song I started with continues, “some are dead and some are living, in my life, I love you more.”

Today, I am fortunate to continue many of these friendships “through the years” and continue the gift of making new memories. My husband Joe and I have retired and moved to Weston, Vt., in June 2012. Many of our friar friends come break bread with us once again in our new home near yet another monastery and community, and the story continues.

 Patricia Leyko Connelly retired recently from St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Hamburg, N.J., after 27 years in music ministry and working more than 40 years in the Paterson, N.J., Diocese in music and retreat ministry.