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John Hogan Marks 50 Years as a Friar

This is the first in a series of profiles of friars commemorating their anniversaries of profession this year. The Province’s 2019 silver and golden jubilarians will be honored in June at a special Mass celebrated in New York City.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – When he was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Parish-Friary on West 31st Street in New York City after his ordination, it was his first experience in faith formation – which turned out to be the beginning of a ministerial life for John Hogan, OFM, steeped in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and supporting postulants in the discernment process.

He doesn’t wonder what might have been had he joined his father’s successful graphic design firm (which counted IBM, Cornell University and a major retail footwear manufacturer among its clients), or if he had taken the basic bookkeeping and accounting skills learned from his mother to the next level.

John doesn’t give a second thought to the career pursuits as a pharmacist or language teacher he had envisioned while attending St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y., about 170 miles west of his native Binghamton. All of those plans were derailed in his freshman year when he met the Franciscan friars.

“The Franciscan movement captivated me — from the books I read about St. Francis of Assisi, to the stories that friars told me about their journeys. When you have met one friar, you haven’t met them all,” John said. “Going to St. Bonaventure crystalized everything. The friars’ perspectives, their encouragement and down-to-earth, holy nature – being a Franciscan was something that I could see myself doing.”

Although he now resides at St. Anthony Friary, the Province’s house in St. Petersburg, Fla., John’s ministerial journey continues, albeit at a less frenetic pace, as he celebrates 50 years since his first profession as a Franciscan friar.

“Spiritual direction and discernment are ‘listening’ ministries. You touch lives by listening, but you also make yourself present to people in a conscious way, being attentive and providing support – whether it’s helping a postulant in their discernment, or a married couple facing challenges,” John said in a recent phone interview.

“It has been a blessing these past 50 years to have people – often complete strangers – share with me their joys and hardships, and speak about their relationship with God, and about things going on in their families or workplace,” he continued. “This is one of those special privileges of being a Franciscan – people trusting enough to let you into their lives.”

Vocation Not Even a Consideration
John grew up in a close-knit family, a typical youngster with a paper route who went to school dances and served as an altar boy at his local church – and who spent his summers playing baseball and swimming at a cottage owned by extended family in Chenango Forks on the Chenango River, roughly 12 miles north of Binghamton.

Religious vocation wasn’t even a blip on his radar – at least he didn’t realize it at the time when he used to enjoy listening to the homilies of the diocesan priests at his parish of St. Patrick’s Church. But his interest in St. Bonaventure was fueled by a strong alumni presence on the teaching staff at Binghamton Central High School and during a college fair attended by the university’s admissions director, Dermot Collins, OFM.

In addition to Dermot’s outgoing and cheerful demeanor, many friars later became inspirational to John – among them Roy Gasnick, OFM, director of student activities at St. Bonaventure who taught a course in Franciscan charism. “He was a renaissance friar whose enthusiasm had a way of making all things Franciscan come alive,” John said. He also singled out Anthony Fedell, OFM, whom he called a “talented musician who gave an uplifting and humor-filled homily at his solemn profession Mass.

Spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and formation and vocation remain central to his ministerial life – and staying in contact with many of his pupils – even in retirement. A former student, Basil Valente, OFM, who now fills his old position as HNP vocation director, recently recruited John to interview four candidates at a discernment retreat weekend at the St. Petersburg friary.

“We have done well in the discernment process, attracting candidates of broader ethnic backgrounds and who are a little older and have experienced success in other professions,” said John, noting that they are very different from candidates entering pre-novitiate straight from high school or transferring after their first year at college – which was his experience.

He left St. Bonaventure in June 1966 after his freshman year to enter St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., where he studied Latin and Greek for two years before being received into the Order at St. Raphael’s Novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., where he made his first profession in 1969. He professed his final vows in June 1972 and was ordained in 1975, both milestones taking place at St. Francis of Assisi in Manhattan.

In 1971, John received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and later, in 1973, a master’s in theology and pastoral education at Washington Theological Union.

During his formation, he worked in several ministries, including a hospital and youth program. But spending a summer at St. Francis Retreat Center in Rye Beach, N.H., sealed the deal for John. “I knew spiritual and retreat ministry was in my future. That’s what I wanted to do,” John said. Although he would eventually answer this calling, the Provincial leadership had other ideas to start off his ministry.

From Vocation Work to Retreat Ministry
After his ordination in 1975, John was stationed for one year at St. Francis on 31st Street, which served as a launching pad to his ministries. While at the Manhattan friary, he taught faith formation and provided spiritual guidance and pastoral care to drop-ins – many of them homeless and afflicted with emotional issues, substance abusers, teenage runaways and others who simply wanted to talk to a friar.

He was then assigned in 1976 to Buffalo, N.Y., as assistant director of formation – where he served in pre-novitiate formation by mentoring and helping candidates adapt to Franciscan life. As part of the St. Patrick’s Parish team, he also provided pastoral ministry and taught scriptures and moral theology classes in the community.

In 1979, John was needed at one of the Province’s larger residences that housed a greater number of postulants. He was assigned as assistant director of formation at Holy Cross Friary in the Clason Point section of the Bronx, which also has a parish church and school where the postulants served as volunteers and teachers. After serving in that post for one year, John was appointed as HNP vocation director, but he didn’t need to move far because the vocation office was located at the Holy Cross Friary.

But he traveled mostly to Upstate New York, to places such as Siena College and St. Bonaventure University, and through all of New England to meet with candidates ready for admission. “I would help them in the decision process and arrange a discernment weekend at one of our friaries,” John explained. “As a director of formation, you have to be supportive and understanding, but you also have to challenge people to grow. The Lord is always calling for more. It’s not that we haven’t done anything, but there is always more you can do.”

After four years of mentoring postulants and five as vocation director, his assignment in 1985 at St. Francis Retreat Center was like a homecoming. Having spent summers at the Rye Beach facility helping with guided and directed retreats, John returned as retreat coordinator – a role that included an array of administrative responsibilities such as producing marketing brochures, booking retreats, greeting guests, and supervising the housekeeping staff.

“We were so busy. We never took off a day. It was like we were operating an around-the-clock spiritual hotel,” said John, who also wore the hat of treasurer, which meant maintaining the inventory of the gift shop and bookstore. But most of his time was spent doing what he loved most – giving weekend and week-long retreats for women religious, married couples, college students and other groups.

John, at left, in 1970 at Immaculate Conception Parish in Atlanta, Ga. With him are Arthur Murray, center, and two classmates — Vincent Laviano, second from right, and David Lingelbach, a former friar, at right.

To Arch Street and Back
He moved to St. Anthony Shrine in Boston in 1994, where he helped run a high-volume spiritual companionship ministry with a friar who was his former student at Holy Cross in the Bronx. “It was for people with a desire to grow deeper in faith traditions and a life with God – a very transformative experience that makes the fruit of Christian life and Gospel values real in your life,” explained John, who also provided other pastoral ministries at the Shrine.

In 2001, he was again on the move, assigned as parochial vicar to St. Francis of Assisi Chapel and Ministry Center, an urban service church in downtown Providence, R.I., where the guardian asked him to start a spiritual direction and adult formation program. After the successful launch of what developed into a large adult faith formation program, he also taught courses in adult faith formation, Christology and the Synoptic Gospels in conjunction with the school of continuing education at Providence College.

He returned to Arch Street in 2006 when the Providence chapel’s former guardian, who had moved to Boston, asked him to serve in the fast-growing adult formation ministry at the Shrine. The timing was perfect because the Rhode Island chapel was being moved to a diocesan parish. Back at Arch Street, John taught faith formation classes, gave twilight retreats for working people, served as director of finance, and took on a number of other responsibilities, including guardian before leaving in August 2017 for retirement in St. Petersburg.

John stays active in his spiritual direction practice – which he keeps at a manageable number – through membership in Spiritual Directors International, a professional organization of other religious that help others increase their faith.

A self-taught computer geek, John often helps friars and others who are not as computer savvy navigate the latest technology. He also serves as one of the designated drivers at the St. Anthony Friary, taking residents to the barbershop, medical and dental appointments, and the local pharmacy. He often goes on shopping runs with the friary’s guardian, Vincent Laviano, OFM, who was a classmate when they were at novitiate.

Movies and Ministries
John enjoys reading, mostly books on spirituality and also an occasional novel usually recommended by another friar. But John says you can read just so many books and drive people just so many times, which is why he assists at parishes in surrounding communities, especially during Lent and Advent when services and retreats are offered to parishioners. He also celebrates Mass at local parishes and makes an occasional trip to the Allegany Sisters’ retreat house in Tampa to participate in penance services.

“Of course, it’s not the fast pace like New Hampshire, Providence and Arch Street were, but it’s enough to keep me active,” he said.

But John also enjoys his free time – which could be a walk through the neighborhood or taking in a movie at the multiplex theater, just a two-block stroll from the friary. “The movies make for good dinner conversation,” he said.

As springtime approaches, John is gearing up for the baseball season and predicts a return to the World Series by his beloved Boston Red Sox. Although he grew up a Yankees fan, he changed loyalties during the many years he spent in ministries in New England, and especially on Arch Street.

For John, a unique aspect that distinguishes the Franciscans from other religious orders is its hospitality and fraternity. “I have met friars in Ireland, France, Italy and across the United States. But the geography doesn’t matter. “Wherever I am, I always know that I am with my brothers,” he said.

“I found this hospitality and openness to be everywhere, whether at the friary on 31st Street, the campus of St. Bonaventure University, the Shrine on Arch Street – or even here at the St. Petersburg friary,” John said.

“I think it is a combination of the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi that takes hold of you, and the outreach of Franciscan ministries to people who are down and out and need spiritual direction. Those are the things that stand out for me, and I am proud to be part of that for the past 50 years,” added the jubilarian.

— Stephen Mangione, a longtime writer and public relations executive based in Westchester County, N.Y., is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.

Editor’s note: Other friars who will be featured in the 2019 jubilarian profile series include Kevin Cronin, OFM, John Jaskowiak, OFM, James Sabak, OFM, and Brian Smail, OFM.

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