Province Marks 50 Years of Ministry in Bolivia

Jocelyn Thomas Features

NEW YORK — This year, Holy Name Province is celebrating 50 years of the founding of the Coroico prelacy in  Bolivia.

To mark that long history, Martin Sappl, OFM, provincial minister of the Saint Anthony Missionary Province of Bolivia, and Ignatius Harding, OFM, treasurer, and founder of Bolivia’s Justice and Peace movement, traveled from South America to Holy Name Province Offices in New York earlier this month. They presented Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, with a plaque on Sept. 9 to commemorate the Province’s work in Bolivia since 1957.

Holy Name Province’s presence in Bolivia stems from 1946 when Sebastian Rabin, OFM, started working in Bolivia at the invitation of  Mathias Faust , OFM, the General Delegate for the Americas.  HNP founded the Saint Mary of the Angels Friary and Parish on Aug. 2, 1957, in the isolated area of El Alto La Paz, Bolivia. Soon after, it opened the Prelacy of Coroico, said Fr. Sappl. The town, which is 13,000 feet above sea level, is one of three locations in which the province serves, according to Clement Comesky, OFM, who has served for more than 30 years in Bolivia.

A Thriving Ministry

What started out as a ministry to less than 200 families is today a thriving program with more than 65 full-time religious pastoral agents and 600,000 members, according to Fr. Sappl.

The Prelacy of Coroico is now a diocese with a Bolivian diocesan bishop formed in the Seminary of the Holy Spirit. Over the years, the Province has been very active in ministry, sending 47 friars to serve.  Clement said the province has men from all over the world, and that “retaining friars in Bolivia can be challenging.”

Fr. Sappl recognized among the accomplishments the following:
• Protecting the Bolivian Province of Saint Anthony from disappearing, by giving the friars canonical status as the Custody of San Antonio de los Charcas when their numbers had diminished.

• Establishing a clear support for the process of integration and consolidation of the new Bolivian Province through Finian Kerwin, OFM, while Provincial Minister and later Promoter of the Missions, in the formation of the Franciscan Federation of Bolivia, the OFM Vicariate, the Vice Province and the new Missionary Province of Saint Anthony.

• Renouncing the interests of “your own mission” in Bolivia for that of the whole Order.

• Coordinating directly with the new government of the new province, not only with their own friars.

• Sensitivity to the extreme impoverishment of the Bolivian people and forgiving the debt of Saint Francis Friary La Paz in 1992.

• Permitting Holy Name Province friars to join the new entity as founding members.

Recognizing Contributions
The following friars who have made significant contributions were recognized in the presentation:

Thomas Manning, OFM, first bishop, who made it a full-fledged diocese in 1982

Patricio Hanlon, OFM, founder and rector of the diocesan Holy Spirit Seminary

Martin Bednar, OFM, first president of the Franciscan Federation of Bolivia

Joaquin Mahler, OFM, first treasurer of the vicariate and then province

Dunsten Dooling, OFM, founder of OSCAR integral development road building project that still forms all initial candidates to the Order in Bolivia

Thomas Kornacki, OFM, 13 years as master of novices and 11 years as prefect of formation

Ignatius Harding, OFM, treasurer and founder and promoter of the Bolivian Peace and Justice movement in Bolivia, as well as Franciscans International-Bolivia

• James McIntosh, OFM, communications coordinator for the Bolivia Province, Provincia Franciscana Misionera de Bolivia, and first director of the recently-established Franciscan Social Center in Cochabamba.

Fr. Sappl closed his presentation by expressing to John “our eternal gratitude for all of these accomplishments and asking for God’s blessing for all that you do to continue to promote the mission  of the Order of Friars Minor in the USA and around the world.”

Shown in the photo is Fr. Martin, left, with John, Dominic Monti, OFM, and Ignatius.