This is the first in a series of profiles about friars commemorating major anniversaries of profession this year. The 2014 silver and golden jubilarians will be honored by the Province later this year.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A friar who evolved his preaching style to keep up with the times by including new media is commemorating his golden jubilee as a Franciscan this year. John Anglin, OFM, known for his blog, The Wandering Friar, as well as giving many missions and retreats, reviews the past 50 years joyfully and gratefully.
“I’m still excited about being a friar and open to new possibilities every day,” said the resident of St. Anthony Friary in Florida, where he has lived since 2006, co-directing the Province’s itinerant preaching program, Ministry of the Word. The Boston native said he does not miss New England’s cold, snowy winters, and enjoys teasing his brother, who still lives there, about bad weather.
“My decision to become a Franciscan was the best decision of my life and I’m happy,” he said. “That’s not to say that every day is a bed of roses, but if I had to do it all over again, I would.”
‘A Vocation Within a Vocation’
His ministry has also included serving as a Catholic schoolteacher, parish priest, formation director and missionary. The nearly 27 years he has served as part of the Province’s Ministry of the Word team have been especially rewarding. John has stayed up-to-date with technology, starting his blog when it became clear that online communication was burgeoning. He is present on Facebook and Twitter, and has recently published a book called The Wandering Friar in which he tells the stories of the every day people he has met who form the Church.
He calls his MOW work a “vocation within a vocation,” an assignment for which he has been well suited. As a Franciscan itinerant preacher, John gives approximately 18 missions per year at parishes around the country. He also leads several retreats each year and assists at St. Peter the Fisherman Parish in Eagle River, Wis., during the summer when MOW work typically slows down.
John, who enjoys traveling, recently returned from a retreat in Jamaica that he gave for the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, N.Y. “I enjoy following the footsteps of St. Francis in one of the Order’s oldest ministries, itinerant preaching,” he said.
Following the Call
He knew from an early age that he might be called to religious life, and got to know the friars while attending Christopher Columbus High School in Boston, then staffed by Immaculate Conception Province. “There was always something about the friars that I could not put a finger on,” he said. “I felt they were down to earth. I felt drawn to consider the priesthood and happily looked forward to Franciscan life.”
This cheerfulness and sense of gratitude define John’s ministry. He joined the novitiate in Immaculate Conception Province in 1964, at age 19. After earning his bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1967 from Immaculate Conception Seminary in Troy, N.Y., which has since closed, John completed theological studies at Mt. Alvernia Seminary, Wappingers Falls, N.Y., and St. John’s Seminary, Boston. He was ordained in 1971 and earned his master’s degree in religious education from The Catholic University of America, Washington, in 1974. Later, he completed a certificate in homiletics from Aquinas Institute in St. Louis.
He transferred to Holy Name Province in 1974, three years after his ordination. At the time, John lived at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., while studying at Catholic University. There, he got to know the friars of Holy Name, and “the rest is history.” John is grateful to the friars of both provinces. The former inspired and nurtured his vocation, he said, and the latter has supported him and helped him to grow into the friar he is now.
Appreciating Varied Assignments
After ordination, John began a ministry of education. He taught and led the religious education department at Christopher Columbus High School in Boston, his alma mater, from 1971 to 1974. After transferring to Holy Name Province, he was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in New York City, where he served as assistant director of adult education until 1976.
He resided at the Province’s formation house in Fair Lawn, N.J., from 1976 to 1977, while ministering in the Worldwide Marriage Encounter program, and in 1977, was assigned to Holy Cross Friary in the Bronx, N.Y., as guardian and director of pre-novitiate formation. John transferred to St. Rita-St. Patrick Parish in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1979, serving as director of formation until 1982. He ministered in Bolivia for the next two years, and when he returned home, he was assigned to St. Anthony Parish in Camden, N.J.
After a year-long leave of absence, John entered the Ministry of the Word, working out of Rochelle Park, N.J. “I thought I’d do that for a few years until I could sort things out, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said with a smile.
He has been stationed in Brookline and Natick, Mass., Boston, Hialeah, Fla., and now in St. Petersburg. In June 2000, he went to Rome, where he served for six months as a confessor during the Great Jubilee, ministering at the Basilica of St. John Lateran while residing at the Antonianum.
“I heard confessions in Spanish, Italian and English,” he said. “I enjoyed living with friars from all over the world. It was a wonderful experience.” John is fluent in Spanish because of his years in Bolivia, and in Italian, because Immaculate Conception Province has an Italian-American heritage, he said.
‘Because I am a Friar’
Now, as a Ministry of the Word friar, John looks back and says that this ministry was only possible because of all the experiences he has had over the years. “MOW takes all the elements of being a friar. We’re not lone rangers. As much as I travel, I always look forward to coming home.” John invites other friars, including the younger men, to consider joining the MOW program. All they would need, he added, is flexibility, a love of preaching, and an openness to people.
In his spare time, John, 69, follows the Boston teams, from the Red Sox to the Patriots. He also enjoys the movies, gravitating to historical biographies like the Lincoln film, and riding his bike, which makes him “feel like I’m nine again.”
The oldest of three children, he often travels to see his brother in Massachusetts and is pleased to have recently become a great-uncle. Holy Name Province, he said, is family, too. “I’ve always felt a broader sense of fraternity and belonging. When I go to Provincial Chapters and fraternal gatherings, I always feel I’m with family.”
“I could only have done what I’ve done because I am a friar,” he said. From celebrating Mass, to hearing confessions, to preaching and teaching, John said he surely has had a fulfilling religious life.
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jubilarians who will be featured in upcoming installments of this series include Brice Leavins, OFM, Richard Mucowski, OFM, and Emeric Szlezak, OFM.