As part of the formation process, prior to his solemn profession of vows, each Holy Name friar completes a yearlong internship, immersed in a Province ministry. This is the third in a series of profiles of those student friars currently in their internship year. The second, about Stephen DeWitt, OFM, appeared in the March 23 of HNP Today.
POMPTON LAKES, N.J. — For Frank Critch, OFM, his internship grew out of a summer assignment. He began his service St. Mary’s Church in June 2010.
A day in the life of a St. Mary’s intern is varied, Frank said.
“One of the joys of parish life is that it changes every day. It is never boring. Mass in the morning, communal prayer, go to the school or minister within the parish … there may be a funeral, hospital visit or called to be present to a parishioner or family that is undergoing some crisis. You respond to the need. It’s always different, and I like it that way.”
The Canadian native, 49, said he enjoys United States parish ministry and working at the Pompton Lakes school for students in pre-kindergarten through grade 8. “I love having the opportunity of serving in a parish where a school is part of the ministry.”
Frank finds himself, at times, a mediator, a counselor and “a shoulder” for the parents and teachers. “Some of the kids talk about home life. Some are from broken homes,” he said.
Vibrant Parish, Diverse Role
Because the northern New Jersey community of St. Mary’s draws from nearly 40 zip codes, the school and parish reflect a wide diversity, according to Frank. The parish is vibrant, with “an amazing staff and friars who work in partnership with one another,” said Frank, who assists with youth ministry both on adolescent formation and service projects for confirmation classes.
He finds working with diverse students a good match for his background. Before joining the Franciscans, Frank was a family support and mental health worker with the department of child protective services in two Canadian provinces, Newfoundland and British Columbia.
He first experienced parish work during the summer of 2009, while serving at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C.
Although Frank first felt called to religious life as a teenager, it wasn’t until he was in his early 40s that Frank left his job as a restauranteur and joined the Order.
Frank studied with the Christian Brothers at age 19 and then at St. Paul’s Seminary in Ottawa for four years. Though he may have left his religious studies, the calling remained, he said. In 2005, he joined the friars and has not looked back.
“Cooking continues to be one of my passions. It is preparing meals and cooking where I am at my calmest, most organized and most at peace. It is a pure joy.”
In 2007, Frank transferred to Holy Name Province from the Province of Christ the King, based in western Canada, where he had begun his postulancy. “I felt that I could live out my calling more fully within Holy Name. I was inspired by the ministry and openness of the friars. It wasn’t an easy decision, but one that was the right fit for me.”
Valuable Lessons, Deep Gratitude
“I have learned so much this year from the staff, the parishioners and the school community as well as from the friars,” he said. “It is amazing how God works in people’s lives and it is such a gift to be a witness of this here at St. Mary’s.”
Parish work also includes preaching each week and being present to people and getting to know them by listening to their stories, their joys, sadness, their loves and losses, said Frank. “It is from here that one is able to see that the needs of the people and individuals don’t get lost in the crowd. I have learned more from these people about faith than I would ever learn in a classroom. It has been a total gift.”
Speaking quickly with a Newfoundland brogue, Frank says that he is often asked to slow down. “I have a tendency to speak fast,” he said. “People have no problem asking me to slow down, especially when they have that quizzical look on their faces.”
He added: “The parish and the school have taught me much about my gifts and also my limitations. This has been a great learning experience. I will miss the friars here, for we formed a tight-knit community with only three of us (and Louis the dog). Kevin Downey, OFM, our pastor, and Lawrence Anderson, OFM, have been a gift to me.” In June, Frank will be going to Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., to continue his studies for the summer.
Religious life is a familiar concept to Frank, who grew up in a family of nine children — six boys and three girls. “One of my brothers is a diocesan priest in Naples, Fla., and another is finishing studies at Holy Apostles Seminary in Connecticut and will be ordained in June for the diocese, home in Newfoundland.”
Frank, who professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 2008, expects to be solemnly professed in 2012.
This year has strengthened Frank’s calling to ministry as a friar within the Province, he said. “I love the fraternal life and the parish community life, for both continue to challenge me, deepen my faith and strengthen my ‘yes’ to living as a Franciscan with all its struggles and hopes. For this, I will be always grateful.”
— Wendy Healy, a freelance writer based in Connecticut, is a frequent contributor to this newsletter.