Steve with the SBU lacrosse team. (Photo courtesy of St. Bonaventure University)

Internship Experience at SBU Prepares Steven Kuehn for Solemn Profession

Stephen Mangione Friar News, Home Page – News

This article is the second of three profiles of Holy Name Province members who plan to profess solemn vows in August. The first was about James Bernard, OFM.

Steven Kuehn, OFM. (Photo courtesy of Steve)

ALLEGANY, N.Y. – The energy of a campus environment, coupled with the encouragement of friars, made St. Bonaventure University ideal for Steven Kuehn, OFM, when he was deciding on a destination for his year-long internship in preparation for solemn profession later this summer. His 12 months at SBU taught him that faith and Franciscan ministry stop for no one or nothing – not even the worst global pandemic in more than a century.

Steve’s arrival in June 2020 from Chicago, where he was living at the St. Joseph’s Friary in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, found the St. Bonaventure campus a virtual ghost town, due largely to government-mandated Covid shutdowns and restrictions.

“The biggest challenge was showing up in a new environment with no one around and not being able to interact – with those who were – in ways we’re accustomed to,” said Steve, who had anticipated serving in campus ministry and a chaplaincy for student-athletes with the men’s lacrosse team.

But the lockdown didn’t get in the way of what he came there to do – share faith and God’s love with students, friars, and the Allegany community. It became a matter of figuring out how to minister in a new place while navigating unprecedented limitations. He joined student and local volunteers at SBU’s Warming House in nearby Olean, one of the oldest student-run soup kitchens in the country that serves nourishment, fellowship, and dignity to more than 10,000 area residents annually.

“I am not much of a cook, but I helped out wherever I was needed in the kitchen – chopping celery, dicing onions, washing dishes and pots. Initially, it was my only interaction with students and the community. It was affirming to see God’s love in action – loving our neighbors, reaching out to all people, and being with them in communion with Christ,” Steve said in a phone interview from Mt. Irenaeus, where he and two other friars from Holy Name Province, and other friars from the US-6 provinces, were spending their month-long solemn profession retreat in anticipation of professing their final vows in August.

Steve, right, with his father, left, and Peter Schneible, OFM, after Mass at SBU’s grotto on the feast of St. Bonaventure, July 15.  (Photo courtesy of Mary Anne Kuehn)

“Being around the students and other volunteers invigorated my own faith. It gave me hope and showed me that faith continues and grows, no matter what’s going on around us,” said Steve, noting that although there was little opportunity for interaction with guests because service had switched from sit-down to grab-and-go meals, he learned much from those who dropped by for food packages.

“It opened my eyes to how we are called to live the Gospel and bring God’s love to everyone – especially the less fortunate. I want to share with others the abundance of goodness that I have been blessed with in my own life,” he added.

Ministry of Presence
When students were permitted to return to campus for in-person classes, protocols called for immediate quarantine in their dorm rooms – conditions, Steve says, that made a ministry of presence, even if it was from a distance, central to his mission.

“It became important to be a presence in their lives – to provide them with a sense of joy, hope, and encouragement in an environment of mask-wearing, social-distancing, and restrictions – all of which was anything but the normal college experience. It was a blessing for me to be part of this, walking together and being a resource for them,” said Steve, who frequently phoned and texted quarantined students to make sure they were receiving daily meals and other necessities. “We checked on their emotional well-being – how they were coping, making sure they were calling their families.”

Russel Murray,  OFM, who was SBU’s vice president for Franciscan mission during Steve’s internship, said that the connection and compassion that Steve made with the university population was evidenced by students asking when he would be returning – “for good” – to campus.

Steve with the Doino award. (Photo courtesy of St. Bonaventure University)

“During a year of face masks and social distancing, Br. Steve’s quiet presence, ready smile – which was clearly visible behind his mask – and open spirit made a deep impact in the lives of many Bonnies. Being named the recipient of the 2021 Fr. Joseph Doino Award bears witness to that. He will be well-remembered and heartily missed by the SBU community,” said Russel.

As state restrictions were being lifted incrementally and campus ministries were returning to in-person events with continued health protocols, Steve began meeting students at Masses and liturgy services. He also provided an essential presence at student-run clubs that met weekly – one of them a faith-sharing and fellowship ministry.

“In the midst of all the COVID chaos, these were important opportunities to join as a community – sharing stories about faith and God in our lives, and hearing presentations on marriage, vocation, prayer and other subjects,” explained Steve, who gave a talk on friar life at one of the meetings.

“It was affirming to be part of helping young adults grow more confident in their faith. As important as my presence was for them, their presence – showing up every week – helped me get through all of this. It was a big piece of making the most of a challenging time,” he said.

His internship experience has avowed his Franciscan vocation and love for the friar fraternity. “I have cherished the moments of gathering in fraternity and bonding as brothers – sharing meals and conversation, socializing, praying together, and attending the ordinations of other friars,” said Steve, a native of Annapolis, Maryland, and the youngest of four siblings whose mother was an elementary school teacher and whose father served in the U.S. Navy before working in the government contracting industry.

Steve views the patron of the Order of Friars Minor as central to Franciscan vocation. “When I think about St. Francis – and, really, what I have witnessed at Holy Name and other provinces – the most meaningful thing to me is brotherhood to all, the common bond that we share as people, as brothers and sisters,” he said.

“This was important to Francis, who reached out to lepers and those living on the edges of society,” Steve continued. “He showed us that God’s love is for all people, regardless of race, religion, or social status. We learn from the experiences of others and see God’s love reflected in everyone around us.”

The Franciscan Way
While professing final vows is a significant milestone in Franciscan vocation, says Steve, he doesn’t view it as monumental.

“For me, it’s not a drastic shift or change in what I have been doing, but rather a continuation of my vocation and how I live this Franciscan way of life – and, most importantly, how I can serve as a brother and share my talents in the fraternal community, as well as in the outside community,” said Steve.

Steve with his lacrosse gear. (Photo courtesy of SBU)

Prior to coming to SBU, he was stationed at the interprovincial post-novitiate formation house while studying for his master of divinity degree at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago – where he served in several ministries that include religion teacher at a Catholic high school on the South Side, chaplain at the Cook County Jail, assistant coach of a high school junior varsity lacrosse team, and volunteer at a soup kitchen.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, his classes at CTU converted to fully remote and government-imposed restrictions shut down schools, soup kitchens, and jail visits. But Steve maintained ministerial outreach at a distance, joining other friary residents in making sandwiches that were delivered to the area’s needy by a local food truck.

He found other ways to minister – communicating with the incarcerated through letter-writing and maintaining phone contact with individuals recently released from prison to arrange for deliveries of food and other necessities through Kolbe House, an Archdiocese of Chicago program staffed voluntarily by CTU students and local residents.

Changing Course
Before the start of his junior year at St. Mary’s High School, where he played on the lacrosse team as a midfielder, Steve completed a summer seminar at the U.S Naval Academy. Although his parents didn’t interfere with his career choice, his father’s military service played a role when it came time for Steve to decide on a college. He attended the Naval Academy, where he went on to play lacrosse and earned a bachelor of science degree in systems engineering.

After graduation, he went to flight school in Pensacola, Florida, and served as a Navy aviator, disclosure analyst, and catapult officer. While stationed in San Diego, California, and Washington, D.C., he volunteered at food pantries and was active in fellowship programs, prayer groups, bible study, and young adult and other ministries at area parishes. After 12 years of service in the U.S. Navy, Steve changed course.

“Faith has always been an important part of my life – in my upbringing, attending Catholic schools, and throughout my service in the Navy. I had been doing a lot of community service and became more active in the Church,” said Steve, who contacted St. Barbara Province while in San Diego and was invited to a “come and see” retreat.

“It was the experience I needed. I witnessed the fraternity and welcoming of the brothers at a time that I was discerning vocation. I was open to listening to the Spirit,” said Steve, who returned to the East Coast and joined Holy Name Province in 2015.

During his postulant year at Holy Name College friary in Silver Spring, Maryland, he helped the Little Sisters of the Poor with their community outreach ministries. He spent the following year as a novice at the St. Francis Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington, Wisconsin, where he professed his first vows in 2017 and served in ministry at assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, a parish in Milwaukee, and a donation center that provided clothing and other items to the needy.

Steve, center, facing the camera),at dinner in July with friars of the St. Bonaventure community community. (Photo courtesy of Dominic Monti)

Reflecting on Ministry, Fraternity, and More
When asked to reflect on lessons learned during his 12-month internship, Steve commented on a variety of subjects.

Ministry: “Being open and flexible. Asking others for help, knowing I can lean on my brothers. Grateful for the guidance, encouragement, and enthusiasm of Angel Vazquez.

Being Franciscan: “The biggest thing – reaching out to those in need. Doesn’t matter who, where or what. Embracing everyone, which is very Franciscan. It’s important to be there to provide encouragement for those who are struggling.”

Fraternity: “Appreciating the relationships, getting to know my brothers, the gift of their hospitality and welcome, which I will share with all those I meet along the way.”

Holy Name Province: “A supportive and fraternal community, a fraternity that is with me every step of the way as I move forward with solemn profession. Brothers being there for each other.”

Internship Experience: “Adapt to the unexpected, it’s not always going to be a perfect world. The unplanned circumstances helped me to grow personally and as a friar. It sounds cliché, but we are all in this together. The pandemic is certainly not something we asked for, but there is value in connection and bonding with others – and it’s God’s love that pulls us together. There were times I didn’t know how I was going to get through the year, but I was able to develop relationships and work through these very different and difficult times by placing complete trust in God, who ultimately is in control.”

Yourself: “Still growing, still learning about myself, and about God and others. Learning how I can best minister, serve, and be a brother. Growing and learning never stop.”

The Path Ahead
Steve feels blessed to have spent time at the Province’s Mountain retreat, particularly for the “sense of community” with other brothers preparing for their solemn professions, and for “experiencing fraternity” with the Mt. Irenaeus friars.

“Sharing this retreat with solemnly professed and ordained friars and the group of guys that has been living together in formation (at the interprovincial post-novitiate in Chicago) has been exciting,” said Steve.

After solemn profession, Steve, who also has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Maryland, hopes to complete the remaining two years of theology studies at CTU for his master of divinity degree, placing him on the path to priestly ordination. He plans to serve in pastoral, outreach, and chaplaincy ministries in the greater Chicago area.

– Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.