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Jubilarian Profile: Henry Fulmer Marks 25 Years as Friar

This is the 10th in a series of profiles of friars commemorating anniversaries of profession in 2013. The previous issue of HNP Today featured Robert Lynch, OFM. All are welcome to the Province’s annual jubilee celebration Mass which will be held June 20 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City. 

ANDERSON, S.C. — Henry Fulmer, OFM, pastoral associate at St. Joseph Church, has an interesting title before his name ­— the Reverend Brother.

Henry is one of only three permanent deacons in the Province. Christopher Coccia, OFM, and Alan Thomas, OFM, are the other two.

“I was interested in doing some sacramental ministries in the church, including baptisms, weddings, home blessings and leading services from time to time,” said Henry, who is celebrating 25 years as a friar this year.

“I didn’t want to be a priest, but part of me wanted to be able to celebrate special moments in people’s lives. I enjoy being a brother and enjoy ministry to people.” The sacramental worship reserved to priests are presiding at the Eucharist, hearing confessions and the anointing of the sick.

Henry has an active ministry, one consisting of teaching, preaching and campus ministry, and he readily acknowledges, “I choose to be busy.”

Religious life was a vocation clear to him as a young child in Catholic elementary school in Aiken, S.C. “I had a desire to serve as an altar server but I wanted to do more. At first, I didn’t know what ‘more’ was.”

Later as a teen, when people in his parish urged him to go into religious life, he realized that “it was where I should be.”

Giving and Receiving
Henry subscribes to the adage “that in giving we receive,” and calls his vocation a gift. “My ministry has stretched me in a good way. I’ve been open to people’s experiences and the things people go through in life. Those things have shaped me, especially seeing how people have such strengths and reverence for God.”

Henry says he is continually impressed with married and divorced couples who are rebuilding their lives, people battling cancer, and those facing death.

“The strength that people share with us is a gift. I look at my years in ministry as a gift. I came to serve, and right now I’m being served. It teaches me what service is all about.”

Henry became part of the Province’s affiliate program, now called postulancy, at Holy Cross Parish in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1986, entering novitiate in Brookline, Mass., in 1987. He professed his first vows in 1988 before moving to Holy Name College, Silver Spring, Md. From 1988 to 1990, he studied at Montgomery College, where he took courses in secondary education. He professed solemn vows in 1993 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City.

From 1993 to 1994, he ministered in Greensboro, N.C., where he taught religious education and computer literacy at St. Pius X Parish and School. He also served as the campus minister at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

Henry was then assigned to St. Paul Church in Wilmington, Del., where he worked at its downtown Franciscan Center in cooperation with St. Joseph Church. During this time, he did hospital visitations and Communion calls, worked with the youth group, and preached. He was ordained a deacon in Wilmington in 1996.

After ordination, he was assigned to St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., where he “did all kinds of things,” he said. “It was a wonderful place. I did baptismal preparation, worked with the altar servers, did hospital visits, preached, officiated at weddings … you name it.”

A Fulfilling Ministry
It was at St. Camillus where Henry first realized how much he enjoyed parish ministry. “It fulfills me,” he said.

After six years in Silver Spring, he was assigned in 2003 to St. Martin de Porres Parish, Columbia, S.C., where he was a deacon and teacher in the parish school for six years. In 2011, he went to St. Joseph’s in Anderson, where he serves as deacon and pastoral associate, overseeing campus maintenance, making hospital visits, facilitating the youth group, coordinating the altar servers, and working with the Protecting God’s Children program.

The best part of being a member of Holy Name Province, he says, “is our Franciscan hospitality, and being one of the branches of the Church, as Franciscans, that people can identify with. They see the simplicity of our life. We’re very down to earth.”

Henry also likes working at a parish that is just two hours from where he grew up and close to relatives in nearby Augusta, Ga. He has three sisters living in Georgia and South Carolina, and is the only surviving boy in the family of three.

He has gotten into biking recently and likes to clock some miles to round out his tennis practice. He also enjoys getting together with friends. The friar community in the region, he said, is close, getting together for dinner or to play dominoes. “We all learn from each other,” he said.

“I’m not much on TV, but I do watch a lot of news and try to catch up on movies,” said the friar, who will be honored June 20 with his two classmates and with eight friars marking 50 years since their profession.

Most of his time, however, is spent in the office or ministering throughout the community, and caring for his new rescue dog, Gavin, a whippet that was retired from the track.

Perhaps he sums up his perspective best: “Each day there’s something new. I came into religious life with overly-high ideals. Now I am more realistic. I go with the flow on day-to-day things.”

— 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 William Herbst, OFM, and Barry Langley, OFM.