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Friars Celebrate First Year in Macon

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Frank Critch, Paul Santoro and William McIntyre began staffing St. Peter Claver Parish and its ministries just over a year ago. (Photo courtesy of the parish)

MACON, Ga. — In central Georgia, three friars who arrived just 13 months ago are being praised for their contributions and spirit. William McIntyre, OFM, Frank Critch, OFM, and Paul Santoro, OFM, came to St. Peter Claver Parish in September 2015 soon after the Province announced it would be taking on a new ministry in an area it had served for many years.

In the last year, the friars have been involved in varied capacities. William, is pastor of St. Peter Claver Church, Frank is the chaplain for Mount de Sales Academy and assists Bill in the parish, and Paul works at the Daybreak homeless ministry of DePaul USA.

The friars’ joy, enthusiasm and generosity have given the community a stronger sense of unity and of the Franciscan charism. Some say they have brought new life to the parish, calling their presence a blessing – one that extends beyond the parish. The friars, in turn, have noted positive experiences.

“We have been blessed by the Macon community, those we serve and those who serve with us,” said Frank.

The ministry and the people have shown the friars “a rich diversity, enabling each of us to be present in the greater Macon community, crossing boundaries of race, language, religion, generational, culture and economic condition,” said Frank. “We are so fortunate to serve with seven Daughters of Charity, who are affiliated with the parish community, but serve the greater Macon area in numerous capacities.”

The parish, located on Ward Street, was founded in 1888 as an African-American mission parish. Moved to its current location in 1913, St. Peter Claver has been staffed in the past by foreign missionaries, and priests from Poland and Nigeria. Located in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood, the parish is a diverse community of African-American, Latino, Caucasian and Filipino Catholics.

St. Peter Claver School, offering Pre-K through grade 8 instruction, was founded in 1903 by St. Katherine Drexel to give children of every race a values-based education. The friars are also associated with Mount de Sales Academy, an independent, college preparatory middle and high school located in Macon.

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Pastor Bill McIntyre with students at St. Peter Claver School. (Photo courtesy of Patty Held)

“The people in the parish are very welcoming and seem glad to have the friars here,” Paul said. “They note a more friendly and engaging community.  I’ve heard it said that there is a ‘new spirit’ that has brought people together. The friars, in turn, have voiced their reaction to the atmosphere.

“It has been a good year,” added Paul, an engagement specialist who processes intakes for new guests and follow-up case management.

“I am able to refer them to services offered at Daybreak, including laundry facilities, showers, meals, a medical clinic and technology lab,” he said. “I also help with resume writing, job search, home search and applications for SSI benefits and EBT (food stamps) if they are eligible.

“I’ve had way too many good experiences at Daybreak.” Paul said.  “The one that sticks out so much is the encounter I had with a 30-year-old homeless man.  He came to my office one day to talk and, at the end, asked for a hug.  I hugged him and he said to me it was the first time he was hugged in his entire 30 years.  He makes it a point even to today to stop in for an occasional talk and hug.  It was a heartwarming experience for me and reminds me of the simple mission of welcoming all and helping them feel loved and cared for.”

William, who is returning this week from a pilgrimage to Italy, said, “as we celebrate the feast of Francis I have a feeling of joy. I feel some of the joy Francis experienced. I also have been aware of the joy of the people in our various Franciscan ministries in Macon.

“The parishioners at St. Peter Claver Church have been so welcoming and are anxious to learn about St Francis,” he said. “So many people and communities make the parish vibrant, not the least of which are the friars I live with.”

Bill is extremely impressed by the parish school’s excellence. For generations, many leaders of the African-American community have studied at St. Peter Claver Catholic School even though most are not Catholic.

Several staff members offered their observations about the presence of the Franciscans.

Keith Bartlett, Counselor, Mount de Sales Academy:
It has been wonderful watching the impact Fr. Frank has had on our school community.  The kids have become so attached and accustomed to his presence in the short time we’ve been lucky enough to have him.  Having his spiritual guidance at Mount de Sales has increased our Catholic identity and the spirituality of the entire campus.

Sr. Grace Calvisi, DC, Director of Spanish Ministry:
Our first year with the friars has brought new life to our parish. To quote one of our elders, “Our Franciscan friars have brought back the same spirit that St. Peter Claver parish was known for during my childhood!” Truly, they have united the parish, reaching out to all cultures and ages, thus the parish is experiencing a peaceful and joyful time. Fr. Bill’s ability to communicate in Spanish has been a great help for the Hispanic population and is so greatly appreciated. Fr. Frank is loved by all. In general, the community is more involved and participating actively in Parish life.  We now have a happy, united and spirited community!  We are very grateful and blessed with their presence and ministry at St. Peter Claver.

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Frank Critch leads the blessing of the stuffed animals with kindergarteners at St. Peter Claver School. (Photo courtesy of the school)

Kay Gerhardt, Board of Directors, DePaul Ministries USA:
St. Peter Claver is a unique parish in several respects. It was founded as a traditionally black church that over the years has become fully integrated in a way that few other parishes have. In addition, a Hispanic ministry was started some years back that has grown to the extent that Latinos now constitute a significant part of the parish membership. This diversity brings a richness and vibrancy to the parish although blending the disparate groups into community can be challenging.

The parish was delighted to have the friars, especially since it had been without a pastor for several months before their arrival. A warm and welcoming place, St. Peter Claver greeted them with open arms.

The friars did not disappoint. Fr. Bill, new to the role of pastor, stepped into the position with grace. He wisely took things slowly in order to become familiar with the feel of the place and get to know the people.

Fr. Bill has been ably assisted by Fr. Frank, who was more than willing to use his great cooking skills to attract parishioners to any gathering or program being held at the church. Working together, these friars have sparked a growing sense of community at the parish that has every sign of continuing as they infuse it with more and more of the Franciscan spirit.

Fr. Frank’s role at the parish is considered part-time because he spends part of each day at the parish school where he has warmed his way into the hearts of all the children. He has combined his efforts with those of the principal to make the school come to life in a new way. Fr. Frank also works at Mount de Sales, where he has had an extremely positive influence on the students.

Br. Paul, with training and experience in social work, particularly in working with the addicted and marginalized, was a perfect fit at Daybreak. Within a short time of his beginning work there, it was apparent he was where he was meant to be. For him it is more than a job as he exhibits a genuine sense of caring and concern for his clients and goes out of his way to do whatever he can to see that their needs are met. It’s easy to see the Franciscan charism in play as he goes about his day, even to the extent of giving the shoes off his feet to a client who had none since he had another pair at home.

In only a year’s time, the friars have made a difference in Macon. Having them here has been a blessing not only for the members of St. Peter Claver Parish, but also for all the people of the Macon community.

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Paul Santoro speaks with a client at Daybreak Ministries. (Photo courtesy of Patty Held)

Sr. Katie Norris DC, Director of Daybreak:
Since the friars came, there is a stronger sense of community in our parish despite the differences of ethnicity.  Their efforts and influence are evident and we are most grateful.

Paul has been a real blessing at Daybreak. He cares about our people and is willing to go the extra mile to help them get their lives on track.

Marilyn Robinson, Administrative Assistant /Bookkeeper:
We are blessed with three friars, now residing at St. Peter Church, who have immediately made their way into our hearts and have woven themselves into our diverse community, each with so many gifts to share.

Fr. Bill, a bilingual friar, has immersed into our ever-growing Hispanic population and has been able to continue promoting the vast cultural diversity that is so characteristic of our parish. He is extremely active visiting parishioners in the hospital, sharing with our school children, parish events, parish groups, and has promoted a Catholic presence within our Macon Community. He is a wise administrator and lovingly generous.

Fr. Frank has graced us with his charisma and his gourmet cooking. He has brought parish life back into our community and we are experiencing fellowship with his Advent/Lent classes, delicious cooking, and overall humor.

Br. Paul has blessed the Daybreak team with his patience, his kindness, humor and wisdom. His vast experience as a brother in so many poor neighborhoods is put to good use here in Macon. In the 14 years I have worked at St. Peter Claver Church, I had never seen so much joy and enthusiasm in the Masses and in the community as we have with the arrival of all the friars.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

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