This is the second in a series of profiles of HNP friars commemorating anniversaries of profession in 2013. The previous issue of HNP Today featured Louis Canino, OFM.
BUTLER, N.J. — Bernard Creighton, OFM, vicar of St. Anthony Friary, is a book of knowledge about all things Holy Name Province.
Though he does not hold any formal historian title, his years of working as the librarian and as executive secretary of the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y., in addition to his time as the editor of The Provincial Annals, has imparted Bernie with many facts — facts that he is happy to share generously with anyone who asks.
He is an extremely detailed person, a trait needed to manage the business of running an institute filled with volumes of scholarly materials. This keen attention to detail also earned him the role of vicar at the friary, a job he assumed in 1998 under Frederick McKeever, OFM.
“What does a vicar do?” asked the friar in a witty tone. As an assistant to the guardian, he “takes care of the day-to-day little details,” he said with much expression in his face. Assembling Mass and prayer schedules as well as keeping track of birthdays, feast days, and the like is easy for someone with a logistical mind. He also writes the obituaries when a fellow Butler friar dies, and celebrates the 7:30 a.m. Mass each day at St. Anthony Church, next door to the friary. On Thursdays, he celebrates the 8 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in neighboring Boonton.
At 5-feet, 3-inches, Bernie admits to being short, and comically refers to himself as a “low-level administrator.” But his height, he says, is pretty darned good for a baby born two months early, at just over two pounds. As a preemie, Bernie, an only child, spent five months in the hospital until he was strong and healthy enough to be taken home. But this small detail of his life would never get in his way.
In conversation, Bernie often stops to spell the names of people who he fondly remembers who inspired him in his religious life, and refers to himself as “yours truly,” rather than “I.” “Yours truly doesn’t like to talk about himself much,” he said with a smile.
He’d much rather discuss classmates who’ve gone before him or his philosophy of ministry which, he said, is “to welcome the people of God.” The best part of his 50-year ministry, he said, has been the opportunity to “work with the people of God and helping to bring the Spirit to them.”
Bernie grew up in Elmira, N.Y., in a family that ran a milk processing and delivery business. The area was somewhat rural, he said, recalling that he attended first and second grade in a one-room schoolhouse. After graduation in 1957 from Notre Dame High School in Elmira, attended St. Bonaventure University where he met the Franciscans. He received his B.A. in journalism in 1961. Deciding to join the Order, he studied at St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., for a year. He was received into the Franciscan Order at St. Raphael’s Novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., in 1962 and professed his first vows there in 1963.
He continued his education at the Province’s house of philosophy, St. Francis College, in Rye Beach, N.H., for a year and went on to study theology at Holy Name College in Washington, D.C.
Following his ordination in 1967, Bernie was assigned to edit The Provincial Annals, the Province’s historical annual, a job he did from both St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City and the Callicoon seminary. In 1972, he was assigned to the Franciscan Institute at SBU, where he remained through 1994. There, he took care of the business aspects of running the institute and did some proofing of the scholarly materials. He also managed some of the institute’s printing, often overseeing development of brochures and assuring that manuscripts were correct. He also welcomed the scholars and experts who would travel to Western New York from around the world.
He thoroughly enjoyed this job, and calls the institute “a jewel in the crown of the university.”
Although he described his religious life as “varied,” it mostly has been in the educational setting of SBU. For the past 19 years, he has called the Butler friary home.
Enjoying Cars and Conversation
As an automotive enthusiast, Bernie is the person most called upon to drive his aging brothers at the northern N.J. friary to doctors’ appointments and other commitments. “I have a high interest in cars, trucks and buses,” he said, admitting to reading Car and Driver magazine. Part of his duty as vicar is to make sure the friary cars are serviced on time.
He enjoys telling a good story and during a conversation will take what he calls “sidebars” and “diversions” to add a fact or two, or to give an anecdote.
Bernie decided to become a friar and a priest while at St. Bonaventure, and said he was somewhat inspired by a distant cousin, the late John Gus Richardson, OFM, a missionary in Brazil and a pastor in Obernburg, N.Y., who died in 2010. “The idea to become a friar-priest jelled in my senior year,” he said.
Joining Holy Name was a decision he never regretted. “What a marvelous group of friars I’ve had the privilege of working with,” said Bernie who will be honored in June at the annual Provincial jubilee celebration that recognizes friars marking gold and silver anniversaries of profession.
“They are holy, dedicated, devout, affable and very approachable. I think that’s what makes Franciscans different — we are approachable.”
Ending his interview, Bernie did an imitation of famous radio newscaster and commentator Paul Harvey’s distinguished voice and says, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
— Wendy Healy, a freelance writer based in Connecticut, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today. Upcoming issues of the newsletter will feature jubilarians John Felice, OFM, Richard James and Michael Madden, OFM.