The Franciscans of St. Joseph Parish in Anderson, S.C., held a “Meet the Friars” event last month to answer queries from parishioners about the men in brown. In this article, a participant recounts the humorous way the friars shared information about the Order, the Franciscan tradition, and their way of life. The following report originally appeared on Nov. 23 in The Carpenter, St. Joseph’s newsletter, and has been edited for style.
ANDERSON, S.C. — As people began assembling at Father Friend Hall last month for the “Meet the Friars” event, Gerald Hopeck, OFM, set up four folding chairs — for himself, Henry Fulmer, OFM, Stephen Kluge, OFM, and Ignatius Smith, OFM — at the front of the room. One attendee was overheard commenting, “It looks like they’re setting up for improv night at The Funny Bone.”
His assessment proved to be accurate. As the 50 people in attendance posed questions to the Franciscans friars who serve St. Joseph’s Parish, a picture emerged of four very different men united by a deep spirituality and a love of life and laughter.
“My job is to wash the pans. They always stick me with washing the pans. But that’s okay — I’m going home soon.” — Ignatius, reflecting on his advanced age while describing household duties
Among the first questions asked was whether the friars do their own cooking. Steve, pastor, explained that they split this duty, and that Gerald and Henry are both good cooks. In what has become a bit of a joke around the parish, Ignatius’ cooking was described as leaving much to be desired. Said Steve, “I always put Tums under the napkins as ‘after-dinner mints’ whenever Ignatius is cooking!”
Question: “Do you have to be able to sing in order to be a friar?”
Ignatius: “No! You have to be breathing!”
Singing is a big part of Franciscan life. Gerald, who is interning at St. Joseph’s, explained that weekly voice lessons were part of his novitiate training. The Franciscans sing the Ultima, a Marian hymn, after the death of one of their brother friars or on special occasions.
Question: “What does OFM stand for?”
Gerald: “Order of Fat Men.”
Henry: “Out For Money!”
“OFM” actually stands for Order of Friars Minor, the name of the religious organization commonly known as the Franciscans. The Order consists of a number of sub groups, including the OFM Observants, the OFM Conventuals, OFM Capuchins, the Secular Franciscans, and the Poor Clares.
“Simply stated, our vows are ‘No money, no funny and no honey!’” — Ignatius
More accurately, the Franciscan vows are of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Steve serves as the “guardian,” or head of house, for the Franciscans living in the Anderson, Greenville, Clemson, and Athens areas. These friars gather on Wednesday for a meal and fellowship.
The friars must go where they’re assigned, which can lead to some unexpected twists along life’s road. Ignatius explained that he resisted when he was asked by his superior to serve as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. After much discussion, he relented after receiving the superior’s promise that his assignment would be for no more than three years. The assignment lasted 23 years.
“I swear I didn’t know these things had side pockets until a couple of months ago!” — Steve, talking about the Franciscan habit
Attendees had many questions about the friars’ clothing and accessories. The Franciscan habit is tied around the waist by a cord with three knots that represent the three vows. Some of the friars wear rosaries, while others do not. Father Ignatius said he wears his because “that’s the way I was taught.” The Franciscan rosary has seven decades in commemoration of the seven joys of Mary. The friars can choose whether or not to wear their habits when out amongst the general public.
The audience was treated to many other facts and stories during the hour-long event. Everyone was particularly amused by the story of how Steve’s mentor, Sr. Kate Murphy, OSF, forgot to announce an upcoming parish Alzheimer’s Walk while serving as a lector — and then forgot about it again at another Mass later that day. A poignant moment occurred when a lady stood up and described how she had known Ignatius for many years, dating back to their days in New York. “Iggy says the best homilies,” she said. “I know you’re all good, but he’s the best.” Ignatius replied: “Thank you! Your check’s in the mail!”
In conclusion, Steve noted how friars tend to be unique individuals with different backgrounds, personality traits and quirks. In spite of their differences, Franciscans are able to pray together, eat together, and live together in their communities because they are all united by their love of God and commitment to Franciscan ideals. “Our greatest witness,” he said, “is that we are four very different men, but we live together well.”
— Steve Newton is a member of St. Joseph Parish’s publications committee. To subscribe to The Carpenter, send an email to Evelyn Beck at email@example.com.