This is the 11th in a series of profiles of friars commemorating anniversaries of profession in 2013. The previous issue of HNP Today featured Henry Fulmer, OFM.
WILMINGTON, Del. — William Herbst, OFM, the Province’s assistant director of postulancy who works out of offices at St. Paul Friary, is celebrating 25 years as a friar this year. He was honored, along with the 10 other jubilarians celebrating 25- and 50-year anniversaries, at the Province-wide Mass and celebration on June 20 in New York City.
The self-effacing and good-humored brother has an interesting ministry — one that came as a surprise second career at the age of 38.
“Most of my life as a friar has been spent with those who most people try to avoid,” he recalled. “I ran a food program and homeless shelter. You begin to realize that the lives of these folks have no more or less value than anyone else’s. Many are in the circumstance they are in because of bad luck or because life has worn them down. Working with them and trying to help them know God’s love is something I try to do.”
Called to Serve
Prior to becoming a Franciscan, the Brooklyn native served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and worked as a refrigeration and air conditioning specialist.
Bill was introduced to the Franciscans while attending a grammar school run by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, N.Y., but it wasn’t until many years later that he felt called to religious life. “They beat the faith into us,” he said with a smile.
After attending John Jay High School in Brooklyn, he felt a sense of duty and enlisted, serving as a policeman in the Aleutian Islands and Arkansas during the Vietnam War. When he returned home, he attended Apex trade school in New York City, receiving a certificate in refrigeration and air conditioning training. Soon after graduation, he moved to Memphis, Tenn., where he attended Memphis State University in 1974.
“I was searching for what to do with my life, and I had friends in Memphis,” he said.
While living in Memphis, he became close to a community of Poor Clares. “They prayed me into the Order,” Bill said, jokingly.
“Entering religious life was something I thought about on and off, but never felt qualified to do. I thought brothers taught school and I didn’t have the education for that, or for the priesthood. So I kept denying the call. One day, I thought, ‘I don’t want to wake up 10 years later and say why didn’t I try it?’”
In his quest to join an order, he wrote to several congregations. Holy Name Province was the first to respond. “I was humbled by the fact that I was accepted and feel honored to live with such good and dedicated men.”
Bill became part of the Province’s affiliate program, now called postulancy, at Holy Cross Friary in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1986, entering novitiate in Brookline, Mass., in 1987. He professed his first vows there in 1988. He then went to live at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., studying parish service and pastoral ministry at Trinity College in Washington prior to professing final vows in 1992.
“From there, it was easy. I kept following through, the most prudent decision I ever made.”
Ministry in Formation
His internship year was spent at Holy Cross Parish, where he was able to finish his education in religious studies at nearby Fordham University.
His first assignment in 1994 was directing the AIDS ministry at St. Francis Chapel and City Ministry Center in Providence, R.I. In 1996, he was assigned to Holy Name Parish in New York City as pastoral associate. In 2001, he returned to Holy Cross, where he held several positions until 2008, when the Province turned over administration of the parish to the archdiocese. One of his assignments there was to assist the director of the Province’s pre-novitiate formation program, a role he continued when the program moved to Wilmington.
He enjoys his role as a formator, helping the incoming men to adjust to a new way of life. “It has been inspiring to journey with young men who are entering the Order. Hopefully, we are forming these men to Franciscan religious life, especially to fraternity. First and foremost, our job is to help them to see that their journey is to become a friar first — not a priest, a doctor, or a teacher.”
Men joining the Order today, he said, “have a lot more education” than previously, but they are reminded that they are primarily entering a vocation to Franciscan life. “‘Be who you are,’ we tell them. ‘We don’t want you to fit in a mold.’ It is all of us together that make up the Order.”
Bill also began a new job last year — at Mother Teresa House, a group home in Wilmington for people with disabilities. He spends four hours a day at this Capuchin Ministry of Caring, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
When he isn’t working with the postulants or at the group home, the jubilarian enjoys seeing his two brothers, who live in New York, and visiting friends in Brooklyn and Memphis.
“I’ve never been a big traveler.” He did enjoy a hobby of cutting stained glass, but doesn’t have time for it much anymore. He occasionally goes to the movies and admits to being a dog-lover.
Bill fondly recalls the teaching and inspiration of friends who have worked with him over the years, especially that of the late Thaddeus Sapio, OFM, and Jude Murphy, OFM.
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. The final jubilarian who will be featured in this series is Barry Langley, OFM.