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Post-novitiate Community Settles into Chicago

The interprovincial post-novitiate fraternity at Christmas, minus HNP’s Abel Garcia, who moved to Chicago this month. (Photo courtesy of the interprovincial post-novitiate Facebook page)

CHICAGO — It’s been nearly half a year since Holy Name Province’s post-novitiate formation program moved from Holy Name College in Maryland, where it had been located for decades, to join the existing interprovincial fraternity in Hyde Park.

Since August, 10 Holy Name friars have joined the community of 16 men living at St. Joseph Friary – Joseph Rozansky, OFM, vicar of St. Joseph Friary and co-director of the interprovincial post-novitiate program, John Ullrich, OFM, treasurer, and Javier Del Angel De Los Santos, OFM, Eufemio Dimas, OFM, Abel Garcia, OFM, Abraham Joseph, OFM, Aaron Richardson, OFM, Roberto Serrano, OFM, Angel Vázquez, OFM, and Jay Woods, OFM, who are all at various stages of their education at Catholic Theological Union, and DePaul and Loyola universities.

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to live, study and minister here in the great city of Chicago,” said Jay, who is studying for his master of divinity degree at CTU. “In addition to the rich traditions of our four provinces – Assumption, Holy Name, Sacred Heart and St. John the Baptist – our friary is a diverse home of men from many different cultures and countries, as well as a wide range of previous occupations and lived experiences, all of which make for a talented, joyful and exciting fraternity.”

The other friars in residence in this diverse community include Fr. Charles Smiech, OFM, (St. John the Baptist) guardian of St. Joseph Friary and co-director of the interprovincial post-novitiate program; simply professed friars Brothers John Boissy, OFM, and Eric Seguin, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province; Fr. Jerry Bleem, OFM, a provincial councilor for Sacred Heart who is also involved with its postulancy program; Fr. Phil Hogan, OFM, (Sacred Heart) who works as needed in local hospitals and parishes; and Fr. Leslie Hoppe, OFM, (Assumption) a distinguished professor of old testament studies at CTU.

“The friars here have various backgrounds: from the American Midwest, South and West Coast to Canada, Cuba, Haiti, Mexico and El Salvador,” said Abraham, who is also studying in the master of divinity program at CTU. “Many cultures and ethnicities are represented. The friary is also intergenerational. The oldest member is 82 and the youngest is 23. Despite all of these differences, we see each other as brothers, and we function as one community. We pray, eat, entertain, and laugh together. We share the work and we help each other.”

After midterm exams in October, the friars had a recreation night to unwind with a friendly game of “Heads Up.” (Photo courtesy of the interprovincial post-novitiate Facebook page)

The Benefits of CTU
Living in an interprovincial fraternity is not a new experience for the simply professed friars, all of whom spent their novitiate year in Burlington, Wis.

“The younger guys living here view the interprovincial nature of the friary differently than some of the older guys in the province,” said Joe. “Their classmates are from all over the OFM world in the United States and the English-speaking Conference.”

The decision to relocate Holy Name Province’s post-novitiate formation program was prompted by an analysis provided by an ad-hoc committee of HNP friars as follow-up to the closing of the Washington Theological Union four years ago. The committee recommended Chicago because of the solid interprovincial post-novitiate formation program that was already in existence, as well as the strong Franciscan identity and presence already found at CTU, and the diversity of ministerial, apprenticeship, and other educational possibilities in the area. Besides the master of divinity in preparation for ordained ministry, CTU offers a variety of other courses and general preparation for ministry, other degrees with a focus on particular areas of interest, resources for students with English as a second language, and certificate and sabbatical programs.

“The program here at CTU is a wonderful integration of academic and practical application,” said Jay. “CTU, with its strong dedication to Catholic Social Teaching, reminds us from our philosophy classes to studies in moral theology, that all that we study and learn has its practical application toward ministry in the Church and to assist those who feel abandoned by the Church and greater society.”

Added Abraham, “The school makes a great effort to prepare us for active pastoral ministry. The professors are all great scholars who teach in today’s context.”

The commute from St. Joseph Friary to CTU is an easy one – a five-minute walk spanning two city blocks. The friary itself is a three-story pre-war building built in 1903 that sits on the corner of a tree-lined street. The surrounding neighborhood is very walk-able, with a plethora of restaurants, grocery stores, and a fitness center located nearby. A bus stop located directly in front of the friary is serviced by four lines, and the nearest metro stop is only a 10-minute walk away.

“The major difference between Holy Name College and St. Joseph Friary is that we really feel like we are in a big city,” said Abraham. “We can do everything by public transportation, which is very convenient. Also, the house in Chicago looks less institutional. We don’t feel separated from the people of the neighborhood.”

Becoming a part of the local community and getting to know the neighbors was something that was very important to all the friars who were new to Chicago, according to Jay.

“Most of us in the house have chosen to do our ministry on either the south or west sides of the city, which has been an important part of coming to know and integrate ourselves into our new neighborhood,” he said. “These are areas of Chicago that have seen a lot of anger and sadness in the last decades, but they have also been and continue to be neighborhoods of great growth and self-revitalization. While the media and politicians have been telling America that this has been one of the bloodiest years here in Chicago, we have had the humbling and grace-filled opportunity of getting to know the faces and families that are living and striving to make better lives for themselves and their children. It is a very special time to be a small part of the diverse communities here in Chicago.”

St. Joseph Friary is located on a tree-lined street in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Hyde Park, Home of President Obama
The Hyde Park neighborhood, where the friary is located, is bordered by two of the city’s most significant cultural institutions – The Museum of Science and Industry to the east, and to the west, The University of Chicago, which is located a short distance away from the home of President Barack Obama – and Blessed Giles Friary, the interprovincial friary for solemnly professed friars where John Aherne, OFM, Daniel Horan, OFM, and John Aherne, OFM, are living. St. Joseph Friary is only a few blocks from The Harper Theater and the Museum of Science and Industry, as well as the miles of trails that run along the shore of Lake Michigan and into downtown Chicago.

“Chicago has so much to offer both academically and culturally,” said Jay. “We are so blessed in that Chicago has so many wonderful museums, opera, live theatre, and new plays and musicals that are always being developed here. And of course, sports teams – Go Cubs! In addition to the stunning art deco architecture in our neighborhood of Hyde Park, the architecture in the city proper is breathtaking and the architecture boat tour is a must for all visitors.”

“Chicago is a wonderful city, and I enjoy living here,” said Abraham, who was born in Haiti. “I used to ask myself, ‘who had the crazy idea to build a city in this cold location?’ Then I learned that the first settler in Chicago was Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who built a farm at the mouth of the Chicago River in the 1780s. It is said that Point du Sable was originally from Saint-Domingue, which is now Haiti. So for me, there is some historical connection.”

Joe encourages friars to visit. There are several guest rooms available, and the friary has the potential to house seven more residents.

“Just as with the novitiate, the guys appreciate getting visitors,” he said. “We would love for people to visit and lead Franciscan reflections or workshops for us.”

Jay echoed Joe’s sentiments.

“Our friary is always open to visitors,” Jay said. “We welcome our brother friars to stop by and enjoy the culture and sites here in Chicago. When you come, stay until Monday. Sunday night is our community night where we pray and enjoy a delicious meal together prepared by a few of our friars.”

Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.

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