Profile: Alfonso Guzmán Marks 50 Years as a Friar

Mary Best Friar News

This is the second in a series of profiles of HNP friars commemorating anniversaries of Franciscan profession in 2016. They will be recognized by the Province at the jubilee celebration on June 23 in New York City. The last issue of HNP Today featured Michael Duffy, OFM.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — While the assignments of many friars take them away from their hometowns, the ministerial life of Alfonso Guzmán, OFM, has kept him close to where he grew up — in Puerto Rico.

Alfonso, who is marking 50 years as a friar, was born the eldest of three children to Gilberto Guzmán and Blanca Alfaro. It was during his childhood that he first felt called to religious life. While in high school, one of his teachers, a Sister of St. Joseph, helped him to discover his vocation, he said.

“She introduced me to a friend of hers, a Franciscan friar from our then-mission in Puerto Rico,” Alfonso said. “I was impressed by him and by the book he lent me, ‘The Little Flowers of St. Francis.’”

Holy Name Province had a mission in Puerto Rico from 1954 to 1973, Alfonso said. The mission included three parishes in metropolitan San Juan. Alfonso grew up as a member of one of those parishes, Madre Cabrini.

He became an altar server in the parish and was accepted into St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., after graduating from high school, becoming the second Puerto Rican to enter the Province’s formation program. The first, Jaime Vidal, is no longer a friar and the third is Roberto González, OFM, archbishop of San Juan.

Education and Inspiration
After two years at the Callicoon seminary, Alfonso and his class entered the novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., professing first vows after one year, in 1966. He studied philosophy for a year at St. Francis Friary in Rye Beach, N.H., before moving to Holy Name College in Washington, D.C., where he completed his philosophy training at The Catholic University of America before beginning theological studies at the Washington Theological Union. He made his solemn profession on Aug. 22, 1970 in Caparra Heights, Puerto Rico. The next year, he received his master’s degree from the WTU and on Sept. 11, 1971, he was ordained to the priesthood at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington.

In 2009, he received a doctorate degree in history from the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, located in San Juan. Alfonso has written two books on Puerto Rico and its Catholic and Franciscan history: “Iglesia Humana y Divina: Bibliografia para el Studio de la Historia de la Iglesia en Puerto Rico” and “Memoria y Profecia: La Familia Franciscana en Puerto Rico.” He has also penned several articles about historical and Franciscan themes that have been included in numerous publications.

Alfonso believes Holy Name Province is unique because of the diversity of its ministries, which include parishes, schools, retreat centers, and shrines. He said he is proud of “its openness to new theological and Franciscan currents and its wholehearted implementation.”

Alfonso said many friars — including Fr. Joseph Michael Byrne, OFM, and the late Arnold Brown, OFM, Gerald Carr, OFM, Cassian Corcoran, OFM, Alban Maguire, OFM, Alexius Mulrenan, OFM, and Anthony Schnieder, OFM — have inspired him.

Ministry in Puerto Rico
In the last half century, Alfonso has served at various Provincial ministries such as St. Camillus and Holy Cross parishes, in Silver Spring, Md., and the Bronx, N.Y., respectively, St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon,  where he served on the faculty, and San Jose Parish in Bonao, Dominican Republic, a parish staffed by the Custody of the Caribbean. However, the majority of his 50 years as a friar has been spent in his native Puerto Rico, holding a variety of positions including pastor, associate pastor and director of formation for ministries in Puerto Rico staffed by a custody of the Basque Province in Spain. He has served as the personal secretary to Archbishop Roberto since 1999, is in charge of the Commissariat for the Holy Land in Puerto Rico, assists at one of the custody’s parishes in Puerto Rico and acts as contract civilian chaplain at the Fort Buchanan Army Base.

As a priest-secretary, his main area of responsibility is dealing with issues and complaints pertaining to the clergy, in addition to handling the archbishop´s correspondence: reviewing mail and drfting answers for his consideration and forwarding mail to other departments. Alfonso also attends meetings of the Executive Council that deal with personnel assignments and other issues concerning parishes. He organizes the agenda for meetings, takes notes, follows up on the decisions made and handles other tasks for the archbishop.

Alfonso is also the Episcopal Vicar for Consecrated Life, where he handles issues pertaining to religious men and women as well as the relationship of each congregation with the archdiocese.

“I like these jobs because, as a Franciscan, they give me the opportunity to serve one of our friars who is a bishop and to deal with sensitive issues while attempting to maintain a low-key and discreet demeanor and striving to do the job efficiently,” Alfonso said. “I also like to interact with people and that gives me a personal satisfaction when I am able to contribute what I can for the benefit of the archdiocese and the Church.”

Alfonso said he has found satisfaction through a mixture of ministries, including parish work, office work for the archbishop, and teaching church history part-time at the seminary in San Juan and at the Dominican School of Theology in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

“I have done all three at the same time since 1999,” said the jubilarian. “I have also enjoyed being Commissary for the Holy Land in Puerto Rico and the opportunity to serve as spiritual director in pilgrimages to the Holy Land. I have been to the Holy Land 11 times.”

When he’s not performing  ministerial duties, Alfonso enjoys reading, listening to music, going to the movies and traveling.

“I try to do some physical exercise — like walking — on a regular basis. In the past, I have enjoyed bike riding,” he said. “I have also gone into genealogy research as a hobby, but now I don’t have much time for that.”

After 50 years as a Franciscan friar, Alfonso said he has two observations that stand out: “The joy of having been faithful to my commitments as a friar and sadness when I have failed to live up to them.”

Mary Best is a Western New York-based writer and a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.

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