Jubilarian Profile: Jud Weiksnar Marks 25 Years as a Friar

HNP Communications Friar News

This is the eighth in a series of profiles about friars commemorating major anniversaries of profession this year. The previous issue of HNP Today featured Patrick Tuttle, OFM.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Taking a new assignment in Buffalo to do creative outreach to the poor means “going home” for Jud Weiksnar, OFM, who is celebrating 25 years in vows this summer.  The former pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, N.J., was en route to St. Patrick Friary in Buffalo when HNP Today caught up with him for his jubilee interview.

He was driving a U-Haul, saying to himself about a formation student, “Casey Cole, OFM told me that if you can’t fit all your stuff in a car, you’ve got too much.” But Jud admits to being a “boarder,” his term for borderline hoarder. On further questioning, however, his affinity for collecting is more about memories than things.

When packing to move, he gave Katie Sullivan, director of the Province’s Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, a folder from a 1990 retreat that he led with Basil Valente, OFM, and Patrick Tuttle, OFM, Katie’s introduction to the friars. Jud also found a late 1990s e-mail from Juan de la Cruz Turcios, OFM, in which Juan told Jud that he wanted to become a friar, which Jud returned to Juan. “I save a lot of things,” Jud confessed.

Though it was very difficult to leave St. Anthony’s after nine years, Jud is pleased to return to Western New York. “I’ve never been so sad and so happy at the same time,” he said. “Camden is a tough city.  When I got there, I was more afraid than when I was in Peru during the height of the terrorism there, but I came to love it, just as I came to love Peru. I loved the friars, the people and the challenges, and found that the difficult times tended to bring out the best in people.”

Youth Filled with Spirituality and Education 
As a child, Jud felt a calling to religious life when he stepped into his home church, St. Benedict’s in Eggertsville, N.Y., outside Buffalo. “I loved the stained glass windows and incense, and even at an early age, felt called to do something in the Church.”

In high school, one of the sisters explained Vatican II documents and taught him how to read the Bible. It changed his world. “She was the first person I told about my ‘call.’”

Jud studied accounting at the University of Notre Dame, where he met his first friar, Chuck Faso, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province. He then taught accounting and math and was assistant bookkeeper for two years at Holy Trinity High School in Chicago, before returning to Buffalo to get degrees in law and policy studies from the University of Buffalo. That’s where he met Matthew Gaskin, OFM at the Newman Center. Matt told Jud he could not keep his options open forever, and should choose his “master possibility.”

After following Matt’s advice to visit Mt. Irenaeus and the St. Francis Inn, Jud realized his master possibility was to join the Franciscan Order. He did, and in 1989 professed his first vows in Brookline, Mass. He professed final vows in 1993, earned his master’s of divinity degree from Washington Theological Union in 1994, and was ordained that year at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City.

For his 1991 pastoral internship year, Jud asked to work with Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines. The Province’s formation director,Andrew Reitz, OFM, advised him to “stick to this hemisphere,” so he settled on Peru. Jud taught English at Lima’s Vespertina evening school for laborers, founded by Karl Koenig, OFM.He also learned about liberation theology in base communities, visited shanty towns, started a jogging club for domestic workers, worked with the Legion of Mary, and taught the locals how to make wings, Buffalo style. He also converted many of the Peruvian sisters into Buffalo Bills fans — those were the Super Bowl years. Out of necessity, he became fluent in Spanish. He remembers the strange looks he received when at the wake of Donald Stellpflug, OFM, he kissed not just the women but the men, hearing “bésame,” meaning “kiss me,” when they were actually saying “pésame,” meaning “my sympathy.”

Outreach to Immigrants 
During Jud’s first year at Holy Name College, guardian John O’Connor, OFM, said the most challenging ministry offered was working with Vietnamese and Amerasian refugees in Project Homecoming. Jud chose to take part in this ministry and found the most challenging part of the ministry to be finding room for dessert after the refugee families stuffed him with delicious Vietnamese food.  Later at St. Camillus Parish, struggling in his ministry with Salvadoran immigrants, he recalls the advice of Brian Jordan, OFM, on how to gain better rapport: “Wear your habit, pal.” It worked. He also remembers serving coffee to Central American day laborers at 5 a.m. at the 7-11 parking lot with the simply and solemnly professed from Holy Name College.

His first assignment after ordination, St. Camillus, was a full immersion into ministry with immigrants. “I was at St. Camillus before St. Camillus was cool,” he said of his time at the large multi-cultural parish, where the words ‘Grace Through Chaos’ adorned the church van.

In 1999, he was assigned to start up the Franciscan Center for Social Concern at St. Bonaventure University.  He ran the FCSC until 2005, and enjoyed instituting a service-learning course in Catholic Social Teaching, with one of his star students being Stephen DeWitt, OFM. Jud has fond memories of the annual Snow Mass, held at midnight in the Grotto the night of the first big snow fall.

His next assignment was St. Anthony’s in Camden, where in addition to running a parish, Jud worked with middle schoolers to form the nationally recognized Student Leaders’ Von Nieda Park Task Force, who just last week spoke at St. Camillus about their groundbreaking work in youth community organizing.  He misses the Wednesday Night Walks down River Road, established by staff member Kristen Nalen and Hugh Macsherry, OFM, “not to protest, not to evangelize, just to walk.”

During Jud’s tenure, St. Anthony’s became a FVM site, and the school became one of Camden’s Catholic Partnership Schools, a model of Catholic urban education getting nationwide attention.

Now in Buffalo, he anticipates doing creative community outreach, for which he was recruited by Francis Pompei, OFM, a former guardian. Jud has a sister, brother and parents living in Buffalo, and another sister in Boston.

For fun, Jud loves anything to do with words — Scrabble, crossword puzzles, puns — and remembers being forbidden by David Schlatter, OFM, from making puns in novitiate. He plans to partake in the fun at Larkinville and Silo City, national success stories of the New Urbanism in walking distance from the friary. He enjoys live music and is still a Bills fan.

But the best part of life, he said, is being a friar and having brothers. He is extremely grateful that “in Holy Name Province, you can do just about any kind of ministry.”

When asked how he’d like to be remembered, Jud said he’d like to be known as “someone who was good to his dog.”  Alas Lupe, the friary dog, has stayed behind in Camden.

— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.