LBI Friars Present Francis Medals to Four

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province

BRANT BEACH, N.J. — Two staff members and two parishioners have been honored by the friars of St. Francis of Assisi Parish for their love of St. Francis and their dedication to the people of the community.

Connie Becraft, executive director of the St Francis Center, Angelo Samartano, the parish’s director of maintenance, and parishioners Carol Ciesielski and Edna Suckow were given the HNP Francis Medal for their contributions, especially those made after Hurricane Sandy struck the New Jersey coast last October.

Each recipient assisted in restoring services to the parish and center when the storm forced their closing for months, according to pastor Stephen Kluge, OFM.

“These are good people who do what they do for love of St. Francis and the people St. Francis serves,” he said.

Dedicated Staff Members 
Becraft, director of St. Francis Center for the past five years and an employee since 1983, worked tirelessly when the friars were evacuated from Long Beach Island to ensure the continued operation of the center, said Stephen.

“Connie and her husband, Rich, housed me for a few days immediately after the storm, before the friars found temporary housing,” he said. “Even after putting in a full day of work, I saw Connie on her cell phone and laptop, working until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. It is because of her efforts and that of her staff that the center was operating two days after the storm, serving the neediest in Southern Ocean County. She continues to offer strong leadership and vision.”

Becraft, who with Samartano received her medal at a special Mass on June 14, said “it was truly an honor.”

“I was very humbled and surprised,” Becraft said, adding that she approached the storm “just like any other emergency. I did what needed to be done,” including finding temporary office space at St. Mary’s Parish in Manahawkin, N.J., on the mainland.

“It has been a privilege working for the center,” said Becraft, shown above. “I like the work we do and I enjoy representing the center.”

Becraft, who was presented with the Francis Medal certificate by James Scullion, OFM, said she admires the friars. “They are all great.”

The Mass last month that opened the renovated St. Francis of Assisi Church was “a true celebration,” Becraft said. “Everyone entered the church at one time to symbolize the closeness of the community.”   

Samartano said he was also surprised to receive the medal. “I was totally blown away,” said the staffer who has worked for the parish for 12 years. He supervises the maintenance of the parish’s four churches, the friary, a convent, St. Francis Center, a guest house, and a former church building that is now used for storage.

Samartano’s foresight helped minimize the damage to the church, and saved much money, according to Steve.

“On the day of evacuation,” Steve said, “he risked his safety and came onto the island and turned off the gas and water in all nine buildings.” The day after the storm, he managed to return to the island and open the church windows, which minimized damage from dampness.

“It was gratifying to see everyone in the church for the first time after the storm,” Samartano said of the Mass. “The best part of the day was seeing how happy everyone looked. I haven’t stopped yet with work related to the storm damage. We have a lot of work left to do.”

Samartano said he was “stunned” to receive the medal. “I just did my job.”

Concerned Parishioners 
In a separate presentation, Carol Ciesielski, a Eucharist minister, and Edna Suckow, a lector, were given the Francis Medal. They serve the LBI parish in the care ministry, are members of the RCIA team, and help in the worship department,” said Steve.

“They donated the air conditioning/ heating system which makes the common rooms in the friary more livable,” according to Steve.

“It is their actions during the hurricane that show their concern for the parish and the friars,” Steve said. “They understood the importance of our living together in fraternity.” Among the things that Edna and Carol did was finding friar housing, paying for utilities, and furnishing the house. “In addition,” said Steve, “they housed Kevin Daly, OFM, for several days, and one of the sisters for the duration of our being displaced. If that wasn’t enough, every Sunday after Mass they held an open house for anyone who wanted to come.”

The HNP Francis Medal was established in 1998 by Provincial Minster John Felice, OFM, to recognize people who have displayed an uncommon contribution to the advancement of the values and ideals of St. Francis. Earlier this year, it was presented by friars at a high school in Newark and a college in New York City.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.