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Profile: Ignatius Harding Marks 50 Years as a Friar

This is the third in a series of profiles of HNP friars commemorating anniversaries of Franciscan profession in 2016. They will be recognized by the Province at a special Mass in June. The last issue of HNP Today featured Alfonso Guzmán, OFM

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Ministry can take a person anywhere around the world. For golden jubilarian Ignatius Harding, OFM, that place was South America.

The friar, who speaks English, Spanish and Aymara, has spent nearly his entire religious life serving people outside of the United States, far from his hometown of Hartford, Conn.

Ignatius is the second of six children born to Robert Leon and Mary Catherine Fitzpatrick. After graduating in 1963 from Holy Trinity High School, where he was taught by Sisters of St. Francis, he joined a Secular Franciscan fraternity that worked with the American Red Cross and ministered to the poor, the elderly and the blind, among others. It was there that Ignatius decided to dedicate his life to his faith. In addition to liking service work, he felt inspired by the idea of leading a simple prayer life and following in the footsteps of St. Francis. This year, Ignatius is marking his 50th anniversary as a friar.

Education and Experience
After receiving an associate’s degree in liberal arts from St. Bonaventure University in 1965, Ignatius entered the Province’s novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., and in 1966 professed his first vows there. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from The Catholic University of America in 1968, made his final profession of vows in 1970 in Washington, D.C., and finished the coursework for a master’s degree in theology from Washington Theological Union in 1972. On Jan. 15 of that year, he was ordained to the priesthood in Winsted, Conn.

Though Ignatius’ assignments have taken him all over the world, since 1972 he has mainly worked at locations in Bolivia, including Sorata, Caranavi, Cochabamba and, most recently, La Paz. He currently serves as director of the Franciscan Social Center in Cochabamba, treasurer for St. Luke’s Integral Rural Health Foundation in the Archdiocese of Cochabamba and coordinator for Franciscans International-Bolivia. He also has been active internationally in the Franciscan Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Movement in the Order as well as the Franciscan family and is a long-time board member of Defense of the Children International. On the local level, he serves in all the ordinary ministerial duties at the St. Francis Fraternity and Basilica in La Paz.

Crossing Cultures
Ignatius said that spending his life in Bolivia has given him a unique intercultural experience with his ministry, and he appreciates how it helps encourage the world vision and mission of the Franciscan Order.

“Dealing with all different cultures, languages and experiences with God makes it a very enriching experience that perhaps you don’t get by staying in the country where you came from,” he said. “Intercultural living and ministering opens a person to new ideas and different relationships and ministries.”

Throughout his time in Bolivia, he’s done a wide variety of service work. As Ignatius has gotten older, he said it’s become more important to influence the fraternity groups so they understand the fundamental roles that Franciscans portray in the church, such as being instruments of peace and mercy. His three most satisfying experiences have been in Sorata, an Aymara rural mission parish with seven towns and 248 communities; the House of Prayer dedicated to living the Gospel as a witness fraternity; and the inserted fraternity in a Villa Busch barrio neighborhood on the outskirts of Cochabamba.

An accomplishment of which Ignatius is proud is his role in establishing a new diocese in Coroico after just a few years in Bolivia and, a few years later, re-establishing the national Franciscan province in the country.

“The basic fundamental piece of a Franciscan mission is to build up the Church and build up the local friars so we can move on to other places and other things,” he said. “Of course, one of the great gifts of being a friar is that we have a world mission, so there are always new frontiers. There’s always openings for having new opportunities for anyone that’s interested in the new challenges that come up.”

Ignatius said he is proud of the Province’s support of service ministries such as St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia and St. Francis Farm in western New Jersey. He admires the Province’s commitment to justice, peace and integrity of creation and “its exceptional communications networks and its prophetic promotion of real partners-in-ministry.”

Reflecting Back
Ignatius said several friars have been inspirational to him because of their simple lifestyles and their devotion to responding to the needs of the times and places where God has led them. They include the late Cassian Corcoran OFM, Theophane Larkin, OFM, and Alexis Mulrenan, OFM, along with Martin Bednar, OFM, Xavier de la Huerta, OFM, Michael Duffy, OFM, Charles Finnegan, OFM, Andrew Giardino, OFM, Thomas Kornacki, OFM, and Joseph Rozansky, OFM, as well as Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, the Order’s General Minister. 

After spending half a century as a friar, Ignatius said one realization stands out. “The phenomenal communal and personal ministries realized by so many exceptional men and women that embody the Franciscan spirit and witness in many varied services and apostolates are all fundamentally based on simple love and mercy, relating to the experience of what it means to be an instrument of peace,” he said.

Whenever he has a moment to relax, Ignatius likes to read, listen to music and visit friends and family. He used to paint, but said he has little time for it now because even after 50 years, Ignatius’ life isn’t slowing down. His current assignment in La Paz is very recent, and despite having only three friars there, he hopes to develop the services offered by the center.

“A goal for me is to encourage the Provincial Administration and the friars to try and spend extra time in that center so we could develop a lot of the wonderful things like adult education, formation, dealing with specialized music programs and the other social services to the poor,” Ignatius said. “I would really be overjoyed but there’s such a shortage of friars everywhere. It’s going to be a tough battle to try to build a real witnessing team and center in La Paz, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Ignatius will be returning to Bolivia after he has finished recuperating from recent surgery. He is currently residing in Connecticut.

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

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