This is the 11th in a series of profiles of Holy Name Province friars who are marking major anniversaries as Franciscans in 2015. The last article featured Andrew Reitz, OFM, of New York City. Patrick and the other jubilarians commemorating 50 and 25 years of profession will be honored by the Province on June 24.
PHILADELPHIA — Life’s many twists and turns have landed Patrick Sieber, OFM, back in his hometown of Philadelphia, ministering just 10 blocks from where he grew up.
The jubilarian, who celebrates 50 years as a friar this year, serves at St. Francis Inn, the Province’s soup kitchen in the Kensington neighborhood, and as a chaplain at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, N.J.
“What goes around comes around,” he said, “and now I’m back in Philadelphia.”
His religious life has included working in a parish, assignments at the Inn, and as an overnight hospital chaplain for the past 28 years. Patrick may be best known for his passion for peace and his anti-war convictions, something he feels so strongly about that he has been willing to be arrested during demonstrations. He writes about his experiences on his blog.
Patrick said he protests the fact that weapons are being produced in “the name of all United States citizens” and he is against this “violence, made legitimate by the government, that is blessed by many mainline churches.”
“The government of the United States does everything of, for and by the people — all people — so all bombs and drones have all our names on them,” he said. “We citizens have to make it known that these acts, these sins, are not done in our names. You do not have a blessing from Almighty God.”
Before joining the Franciscan Order, Patrick attended a Catholic grammar school named for a Franciscan saint — St. Bonaventure — and then graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia.
He became interested in the Franciscans when he saw a friar — the late Stephen Hartdegan, OFM — celebrating Mass. “The Hartdegan family was from my parish and I was friends with his nephew.”
“I remember seeing Steve Hartdegan saying Mass one day in his habit and I was interested but too shy to actually talk to him,” Patrick said. “Soon after graduation from high school, I was working the night shift in a paper box factory in Kensington, trying to decide what to do with my life. It would be too dramatic to say that I looked around and decided something had to be better than this.
“The only saint that meant anything to me was Francis and that was because of his love of animals,” he added. “The story of the wolf of Gubbio was especially meaningful to me. That’s all I knew about Francis or the friars but being kind to animals was good for openers, so I worked another year and gave it a shot. I remember almost chickening out on way to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., but my mother said ‘just give it a week’ and I have been giving it a week ever since. Thank God for mothers.”
Patrick was received into the Franciscan Order at St. Raphael’s Novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., in 1964 and professed his first vows there in 1965. He continued his education at the Province’s house of philosophy, St. Francis College, in Rye Beach, N.H., earning a bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. He continued his education at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, earning a master’s in sociology in 1975. Following his ordination to the priesthood in 1971, he was assigned to St. Anne’s Parish in Fair Lawn, N.J., where he spent nine years as assistant pastor.
In 1979, he began a two-year assignment working on justice and peace issues in Washington D.C. As part of a peace group, he protested at the Pentagon in 1980, joining groups from around the country in non-violent civil disobedience.
In 1981, Patrick began his first assignment at St. Francis Inn. During his time there, Patrick began participating in demonstrations with the Plowshares Movement, an anti-nuclear weapons and Christian pacifist group that advocated active resistance to war. He and his brother Rick were arrested when they trespassed onto the Warminster Naval Air Development Center in Pennsylvania and damaged a P3-Orion Navy jet. It was Good Friday 1987 and the two Siebers were charged with damaging government property. They told officials they were making a statement for the poor. The act was called “Pauper Plowshares,” named for a neglected paupers’ field in Philadelphia, after the government funded military actions and cut programs for the poor. Their trial ended in a hung jury, Patrick said.
“After initially being charged with three felonies, the charges were reduced to time served. I spent the next 10 years caring for my mom.” In 1996, he began serving as part-time chaplain at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden. He returned to St. Francis Inn in 2007.
This was not Patrick’s only brush with the law. In 2013, he was arrested for a protest at Lockheed Martin in King of Prussia, Pa., which happened again, earlier this year.
“My life seems to be a series of non-violent protests at the various local bomb factories: General Electric, RCA, Martin Marietta, Lockheed Martin, interspersed with annual demonstrations at the Army-Navy football game from 1980 to 2004, and various boardings of Navy vessels as they visit the port of Philadelphia.”
He said he believes it is important to continue protesting the manufacture of weapons. “The companies act as if they are doing this for you and me, but they’re not.”
Patrick said he has felt grateful to be part of the Franciscans, and says, “As a family, I have been blessed with people who have helped me to identify with the needs of the poor. I have tried to address these needs found in all men, including myself.”
“Whether I will have succeeded is still up in the air,” he said. “My journey is not over.”
In his spare time, Patrick likes to watch TV and movies. “I need a fantasy life,” he said with a smile. He is close to his brother, who he says he sees almost every week, along with his niece and nephew.
For Patrick, the best aspect of being a member of Holy Name Province has been fraternity with the brothers, especially his classmates, Thomas Ennis, OFM, who he calls a “co-conspirator on many occasions,” and Xavier De La Huerta, OFM, who Patrick says is his “inspiration.”
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.