This is the ninth in a series of profiles of friars commemorating anniversaries of profession in 2013. The previous issue of HNP Today featured William Scully, 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.
RINGWOOD, N.J. — Robert Lynch, OFM, who turns 96 on June 15, is celebrating the unusual milestone of 75 years as a Franciscan this year.
From his bedside chair at Holy Name Friary, the Province’s skilled nursing facility in northern New Jersey, one of the community’s eldest friars said, “I’m very happy to have lived the life I lived.” The with-it friar, who stops to laugh as he recalls funny memories, and who appears to have no trouble remembering a thing, said the secret to longevity is being active.
“You know they say, ‘If you don’t use it, you lost it,’” he said with a smile, as he recalled his years of playing baseball and football in high school. “I wasn’t a great athlete. I was just equal to my classmates,” at St. Joseph Prep School in Philadelphia.
Today, his activity consists mostly of chair exercise with physical therapists, but for that, too, he is grateful. “They really keep us going here,” he said of the Ringwood staff. He recalled the words of his late sister, who died at age 90. “She said that it wasn’t the Golden Years, it was the Rusty Years.”
While his health is still fairly good for someone inching toward 100, Robert took time out recently to share the history of his life as a friar, stopping to say, “Let me organize this in my head first,” before giving dates and places.
Describing his ministry as mostly that of a parish priest, Robert was also assigned to an itinerant preaching ministry in the United States “helping to rejuvenate other churches,” he said. He also has used an entrepreneurial spirit, helping to open an innovative ministry in Boston’s bustling Prudential Center Center complex in the 1970s, and spending the last 15 years writing and distributing the Way of The Cross Apostolate, a booklet for developing countries. “No one’s ever called me entrepreneurial, but I guess I am.”
Robert always wanted to be a priest, and after high school went to St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. He was received into the Franciscan Order in Paterson, N.J., in 1937, and professed his first vows in August 1938.
He continued his education at the Province’s houses of philosophy in Croghan, N.Y., and Bath, N.Y., and then studied theology at Holy Name College in Washington, where he was ordained in 1943. After ordination, he was assigned to St. Joseph parish in Winsted, Conn., a place he stayed from 1944 to 1947. From there, he went to Holy Cross Parish in the Bronx, N.Y., where he was an assistant pastor and missionary. From 1954, his evangelization work expanded.
Ministry of Evangelization
“I was part of what was called the Eastern Mission Band, a group of friars who were artful in preaching and teaching. We went to rejuvenate parishes by preaching missions,” said Robert.
He was then assigned to work for a year in the Western states out of St. Elizabeth’s Church in Denver, Col. “The West had booked too many missions, so we were tapped to help out,” he said. Since the area is home to the Air Force Academy, Robert also ministered to military families.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “I was meeting all kinds of people and experiencing life in the West.” He recalled being impressed with the sheer vastness of open spaces, a sharp contrast for someone who grew up in the city of Philadelphia.
In 1955, he returned to Holy Cross Parish, using it as a base for his U.S. missionary work for one year until he was assigned to Our Lady’s Chapel, New Bedford, Mass. He ministered out of Our Lady’s Chapel until 1964 when he moved back to Winsted, where he served as guardian and pastor from 1964 to 1967.
Robert was assigned as rector of St. Anthony Shrine soon after. “It was a busy place,” he recalled, with 16 weekday Masses and 32 on the weekends. In 1973, he was named assistant director of the Prudential Center ministry in Boston, where he worked for the next 10 years. The church in the corporate shopping center complex was meant to make it easy for people to drop by during the workday or while shopping. “We made it convenient and easy, and the people came.” Attendees included both Catholics and non-Catholics alike, he said.
In 1983, he was assigned as guardian of St. Anthony Residence for retired friars in Boston, a role he held until he himself retired in 1996 at the age of 79. It was during retirement that he took up producing the Way of the Cross Apostolate, an inspirational booklet based on the Stations of the Cross that was mailed to India and other developing countries. He continued this ministry until 2008, when he went to live in Ringwood.
“The best part of being a Franciscan, was being a Franciscan,” he said with a smile. “I got to travel, and did a lot of things. I did what I wanted to do in life. Everything I did, I enjoyed.”
‘The Rusty Years’
He added that he wishes he “could do more,” but understands and accepts the Rusty Years.
He said he’s never bored, but dwindling eyesight makes it difficult to read. “I do watch TV news,” he said, and enjoys listening to classical music.
The jubilarian said he enjoys socializing, taking part in activities, and watching movies at the friary. He also likes seeing his niece and two nephews when they visit from Philadelphia.
Robert would like to be remembered in life as someone who “loved God in return for all he did for me.” He would also like to be remembered as someone who was happy to have lived.
He shared his simple secret to a happy life, which he said begins and ends with Jesus. “Do good. Help others. Say nice things to people. Make life easier for them. Love God. He loves you.”
Robert, who will be honored June 8 with other jubilarians at the Ringwood friary, asks for the prayers of his brothers, and said, in a quiet voice, “Please remember me.”
— 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 Henry Fulmer, OFM, William Herbst, OFM, and Barry Langley, OFM.