BRANT BEACH, N.J. — St. Francis of Assisi Parish held its 33rd Festival by the Sea last week on Long Beach Island, the community where the Francisican presence has been strong for 80 years.
Thousands turned out for the six-night festival that offered carnival food, rides, and games for people of all ages.
The parish community has an enviable summer location on the ocean, enough parishioners to fill four churches in the summer, a diverse population, and the St. Francis Community Center right in its backyard. It even has a beautiful indoor and two heated outdoor pools.
As of last September, the parish counted 2,800 families as members. It has 66 lectors, 116 ministers of hospitality, 200 Eucharistic ministers, 15 altar servers, six sacristans, five organists, nine cantors and three choirs with 120 singers. A photo directory was recently published by the parish
This is the time of year that Saint Francis is in full swing. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, as many as 18,000 people can worship at the four churches — St. Francis in Brant Beach, shown in photo,St. Thomas Aquinas in Beach Haven, and, on the north end of the island, St. Thomas of Villanova in Surf City, and St. Clare in Loveladies, according to Stephen Kluge, OFM, pastor and guardian. There are 19 Masses weekly.
The July festival is the parish’s second bigget fundraiser, next to the anual car raffle, according to staff member Juli Rosengarth. Each year, it yields St. Francis approximately $75,000 after expenses, she said.
Marking 80 Years
The parish commemorates its 80th anniversary of Franciscan staffing this summer, marking the June 7, 1928, arrival of friars to Long Beach Island. The Francisicans came at the request of Bishop John McMahon of the Trenton Diocese.
From those early beginnings, the parish has grown to be a bustling place, especially in the summer. In addition to Franciscan friars, Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, N.Y., and Philadelphia staff the four parish churches, along with more than a dozen lay people.
The community shares its venerable history in a written document that can be downloaded. It has always embraced its maritime location on the ocean, remembering the early priests from south Jersey and Philadelphia who came by boat at the turn of the century to evangelize a handful of island residents. Beach Haven is considered the center of Catholicism on Long Beach Island. In the early years, the friars served year-round missions in Tuckerton and Barnegat, N.J.
Reaching into the Community
It states as its mission, Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, for I was thirsty and you gave me drink,” because reaching out to those in need is what the parish does best.
From the St. Francis Community Center, directly behind the church, the parish is able to meet many community needs. The center was established in 1972 by the friars.
Offering child and adult day care, senior citizen and family services, counseling, violence prevention and recreation, the center meets many community needs. “The center is the focus of our outreach and social ministry,” said Steve, who has served as pastor since 2007. It is also home to church offices.
More than 600 meals are prepared at the center each day for the Meals on Wheels senior nutrition program, as well as for other programs and services in the area.
In March 2003, the center opened its St. Francis Aquatic Center, with a competition-sized indoor pool and two heated outdoor pools. The funding for the pools was provided by a variety of sources — businesses, individuals (from both the parish and the community) and Holy Name Province. The outdoor pool complex was dedicated in May 2005.
St. Francis is the only church in the parish open all year. The other three close in early fall and open after Easter to accommodate the summer visitors.
Previous LBI pastors have included the following friars: John Ullrich, OFM (2005 – 2007), Andrew Reitz, OFM (1996 – 2005), and Theodore Cavanaugh, OFM (1990 – 1996). Some long-serving members of the team ministry, that led the parish between 1970 and 1990, were friars Donnon McNally, OFM, Thaddeus Sapio, OFM, Christopher Coccia, OFM, Vincent Licursi, OFM, Alan Thomas, OFM, and Charley Miller, OFM.
Shown in photo taken at the festival, on the cover of this newsletter, are Fr. Ken Cafe, OFM, visiting from Australia, Steve Kluge, Kevin Kriso, OFM, John Ullrich, OFM, James Scullion, OFM, Thomas Conway, OFM, and Dwayne Fernandes, OFM.