Jersey Shore Friars Visible to Community

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

BRANT BEACH, N.J. — The weather on Long Beach Island may not be attracting crowds to the Jersey Shore as it does in the summer, but the Franciscans are certainly drawing attention.

Over the past few weeks, the friars of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in southern New Jersey have been visible to the community in venues beyond the usual parish setting. Parishioners and other area residents got to know the friars a bit more on the beach and through the media.

On Feb. 6, nearly 200 parishioners and other brave souls participated in Super Plunge Sunday, the annual fundraiser that benefits St. Francis Community Center and local high school swim teams.

Community Fun
Stephen Kluge, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, which comprises four churches, said the event is very popular.

“The Super Plunge brings the community together during the off-season, when there isn’t much to do on LBI,” said Stephen, who was photographed pretending to run into the ocean. Paul O’Keeffe, OFM, who is a counselor at St. Francis Community Center, also attended the plunge.

Held on Super Bowl Sunday, the plunge “attracted hardy souls who braved the body-numbing waters,” according to an Asbury Park Press story posted online. “Despite air temperatures that reached the low 50s, making it feel more like a balmy spring day, the ocean water temperature hovered at 39 degrees, prompting several veteran plungers to agree that the ocean dip felt like jumping into a pool filled with floating ice cubes.”

“It was a beautiful day and our turnout was the highest ever,” said St. Francis public relations coordinator Joe Eidell of the seventh annual event. He posted photos on the Super Plunge Sunday Facebook page.

The plunge was “a great example of a truly community event where everybody pitches in,” said event chairman Mike Thompson, recreation director of the 40-year-old St. Francis Community Center, which hosted a post-plunge party. “Participants thawed out by sipping hot beverages and taking a dip in the center’s heated indoor swimming pool,” according to the Asbury Park Press.

Extraordinary Life Focus of Newspaper Article 
A few weeks before the plunge, one of the Long Beach Island friars was featured in a detailed article in The SandPaper, the local weekly newspaper.

The life and ministry of David Phan, OFM, who has been based at the parish since his May 2010 ordination, were recounted in “An Extraordinary Life Leads to Discovering God’s Calling.” The writer, Victoria Lassonde, describes David’s family, his early life in Vietnam, his education and jobs on the West Coast and his decision at the age of 30 to join the Franciscans. The reporter said “his incredible life story” was shaped “by the recurring themes of risk and reward.”

According to the article, the way David sees it is: “Everyone has a story shaped by unique struggles. But in the end, spirituality leads us to where we want to go.”

Lassonde said her interview with David was “the kind every reporter hopes for: a gifted storyteller that he is, he made my job easy. As I listened to him talk, I could almost imagine being on that boat, starving and afraid. I knew Fr. David from talking to him and knew his story would be of great interest to our readers.”

lbirCultural Trip
Parishioners and community members have a chance to join the LBI pastor on a trip to Great Britain later this year. Stephen is leading an “Author’s Tour of Britain” from Sept. 14 to 24 that will take participants to Cambridge, Oxford and London.

Registration and payment of a deposit for the trip is requested by March 10.  Information can be found on thetravel page of the LBI parish website.

Winter, summer, spring and fall, the friars of St. Francis of Assisi Parish are always plunging into community events that keep them involved with their partners-in-ministry.

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