This is the second in a series of profiles of friars commemorating anniversaries of profession this year. The 2017 silver and golden jubilarians will be honored by the Province at a Mass in June. The last newsletter issue featured John Capozzi, OFM.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – For some, it is the sound of church bells. For others it’s searching for meaning in life. Whatever the reason that brings a person to confession, Eric Carpine, OFM, says administering the sacrament of reconciliation has been one of the greatest gifts of his religious life.
“It is a very beautiful human encounter that brings real life change and builds God’s kingdom, brick-by-brick. People are trusting and loving when they come to confession; they bring the honesty and simplicity of a child,” said Eric, adding, “and it’s the only time the Church works fast! A person’s spiritual well-being is restored within minutes.
“It is a joy and privilege to hear confession. People come to you for healing and compassion. No one who comes seeking forgiveness leaves without it,” said Eric, who is celebrating 50 years as a professed Franciscan friar this year, and since 2016 has been stationed at St. Anthony Friary, the Province’s retirement house in St. Petersburg.
“People are yearning to love God and find Him in their lives. I’m there to give them a nudge and a companion along the way,” said Eric, whose compassion for people inspired him to pursue a master’s degree in social work.
Born and raised in Dorchester, Mass., in a devout Catholic family, Eric attended grade school at St. Margaret’s School. He served as an altar boy, read books about saints, including the life of St. Francis, and attended daily Mass as early as second grade. He even had his own missal with facing pages in Latin and English.
“I prayed to God every day, saying, ‘Here I am, Lord. If you want me, and if I’m worthy.’”
By the time he was in eighth grade, he wrote to the Franciscan vocation office and other religious orders. Although he knew nothing about the habits worn by any of the orders, Eric distinctly remembers telling his mother: “I think I am supposed to be a priest, and wear brown and go barefoot.”
The Jesuits, by virtue of responding first, had a leg up on the competition. In fact, Eric was committed to attending the Jesuit-operated Boston College High School, set to start his freshman year in September 1962, until an unexpected telephone call that summer changed his plans.
“I was supposed to go to a dance at BC High School, but that morning I received a call from the Franciscan recruitment office. Instead of going to the dance that night, a friar came to my house to interview me and meet with my family,” recalled Eric, who days later received a letter of acceptance to St. Francis Seraphic Seminary, conducted by the Immaculate Conception Province friars, in Lowell, Mass.
“The Franciscans came through in the eleventh hour. Although the Jesuits had my mind, the Franciscans had my heart,” Eric said.
After completing high school at the seminary, Eric entered St. Anthony’s Novitiate, Catskill, N.Y, in 1966, where he professed his first vows in 1967. He then attended Immaculate Conception College, Troy, N.Y., and later received a bachelor’s degree in Latin and Greek at nearby Siena College, Loudonville, N.Y.
Eric’s experience at Siena led him to request a transfer to Holy Name Province. From 1971 to 1974, he lived at Holy Name College in Washington, D.C., where he studied theology at Washington Theological Union. For his ministry, he tended to the spiritual needs of the poor, elderly and disabled in a nearby mostly African-American community.
Eric professed his final vows in 1973 and was ordained in 1975 at St. Francis Church in New York City.
Passion for Counseling
After a brief stay at the 31st Street church, he went to the province’s ministries in the South. Eric was first assigned to the Franciscan parish of St. Anthony of Padua, Greenville, S.C., from 1975 to 1977. For the next two years, he served as campus minister at the University of Georgia in Athens. Then, he was assigned as pastor of St. Joseph Church, Bainbridge, Ga., from 1979 to 1985.
While in Southwest Georgia, he also served on the advisory team to the bishop of Savannah, using his organizational and community-building skills, he said, to develop important lay leadership ministries addressing the needs of the poor.
In 1985, he was assigned to the Shrine of Immaculate Conception Church, Atlanta, Ga., where he also served as campus minister at Georgia State University and Catholic chaplain at Grady Memorial Hospital. Eric then returned to St. Francis in the Big Apple, serving as associate from 1987 to 1999.
“Life at St. Francis put me in the midst of people – celebrating Mass in the morning, transitioning to hours of hearing confessions, and then working the reception desk in the late afternoon,” said Eric, who also ran the Franciscan Youth Apostolate at the church, and enjoyed preaching to the crowds who came for novenas and special presentations.
While in New York City, Eric graduated from Hunter College with a master’s degree in social work, making him a licensed clinical social worker. His degree was immediately put into action when he was assigned director of St. Francis Counseling Center in Providence, R.I., which had five satellite locations that offered psychotherapy to clients and connected families with food assistance, affordable housing and other social services.
“It was a life-saver for people who walked through our doors – receiving counseling they otherwise would be unable to afford. This work really touched my heart,” said Eric, who often worked 60-hour weeks.
In 2005, he was assigned as parochial vicar to St. Stephen of Hungary Parish on East 82nd Street, returning to the trenches of ministry – preaching, coordinating adult faith formation, establishing an interactive men’s spirituality group, preparing children and adults for first Communion and Confirmation, enrolling adults in the RCIA program, and supervising postulants in their ministry. He also found time for a private practice, counseling individuals and couples.
In 2010, Eric was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which prompted a return to the Boston area, living at the 103 Arch St. residence so he could be close to his sister and other family members while receiving treatment at respected medical facilities.
Once the illness was brought under control, Eric resumed ministerial activities in 2012 at St. Anthony Shrine. In addition to performing regular ministries, he assisted the development office in fundraising efforts, established a men’s spirituality group, served as spiritual assistant to the Emmaus Ministry for grieving parents, and supported the Shrine’s music ministry, the Arch Street Band. He also served as chaplain to the Sisters of St. Joseph at Fontebonne Convent in nearby Milton.
Gratitude for Health and Diverse Ministries
Eric was dealt an even more serious health-related blow in January 2016 when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, which required equally aggressive treatment. It drained his health, but not his spirit.
With the fraternal help and support of Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, Eric’s request for reassignment to St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg was granted. With support from the friar community, he recovered from cancer and, later that same year, open-heart surgery.
Eric was grateful to regain his health and return to active ministry. “I am tireless when it comes to ministries because they are so diverse, and because we must always be committed to these ministries as friars,” he said.
Although residing at a retirement house, Eric (and his schedule) makes it clear that he is not retired. Most days he drives to nearby St. Joseph’s Church to help the pastor minister to parishioners. Once a week, he drives to Tampa to celebrate Mass at the retirement residence of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, and to meet with spiritual directees at Sacred Heart Parish in downtown Tampa, which the Province has served since 2005.
In addition, Eric is a team member with Retrouvaille, a ministry for couples in broken marriages – and, on top of all this, he manages to volunteer at other local parishes when they request help from the friars to celebrate Mass and assist in parish reconciliation services.
“The spirit and love in this community has been uplifting. I feel the presence of God healing and strengthening me,” he said.
For Eric, the attraction to the Franciscan Order was the diversity of ministries, and the freedom to find the will of God in his life. “We are all brothers wearing the title of Franciscan, but each of us has different gifts. Our Franciscan ministry enables us to use these individual gifts to touch lives – and collectively we help the Province be a shining light in the Church.”
— Stephen Mangione is a longtime writer and public relations executive living in Westchester County, N.Y.
- “Province Congratulates Friars Marking Anniversaries in 2017” – Jan. 4, 2017, HNP Today
- “Four Things Millennials Can Learn From St. Anthony” – June 1, 2016, HNP Today
- “Love, Mercy Guide Vocation Retreat in Boston” – Dec. 22, 2015, HNP Today
- “Friars Celebrate St. Stephen Parish History With Mass of Thanksgiving” – Dec. 16, 2014, HNP Today
- “Grieving Parents Find Hope at Boston’s St. Anthony Shrine” – July 23, 2014, HNP Today