Provincial Minister Visits American Friars in Japan

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

TOKYO — Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, spent five days here last month for fraternal and business meetings, in what John called a productive and pleasant trip.  He visited HNP friars working in Japan as well as the Poor Clares and also discussed ways in which Holy Name Province might better assist the Japanese province with the English-language ministry of  the Francsican Chapel Center in Tokyo.

“His visit was good for both the friars and for the Poor Clares, a group that is part of the Province’s responsibility,” said Russell Becker, OFM, the Province’s secretary for missionary evangelization. “John offered good fraternal support.”

John visited with Bede Fitzpatrick, OFM, Donnon Murray, OFM, Bartholomew McMahon, OFM, and Stanislaus Widomski, OFM, all of whom have been in Japan for several decades. Stan lives at St. Francis Friary in Kiryu, Bede and Donnon at the Franciscan Chapel Center in Minato ward of Tokyo, and Bart at the Catholic Church in Otawara. John made visits to the St. Francis Friary and the FCC.

“I found the chapel to be a vibrant ministry with great potential for expansion in the future,” John said.

After his arrival on Feb. 26, John met on Saturday with Russell, who has been doing pastoral ministry at the 40-year-old FCC since last fall. He also visited the old section of Tokyo.

That evening, John met with Fr. Paulus Hasewgawa, OFM, provincial minister of the Franciscan Province of Japan, Holy Martyrs of Japan Province. Fr. Callistus Sweeney, OFM, an alumnus of Holy Name Province, pastor and director of the FCC, shown in photo behind the picture above,  translated.

Vibrant Community
The FCC opened in 1967, with Bede as its first rector, and became the English-speaking parish for the Archdiocese of Tokyo during the 1988 to 1994 administration of William DeBiase, OFM.

Before the center was founded, Mass was offered at a school run by the friars for U.S. embassy employees and other English-speaking business people.

Holy Name Province established a mission in Japan in 1952 and 25 years later, in 1977, joined 12 other Franciscan provinces that also maintained missions in the country to establish an independent Japanese province. Fifteen members of Holy Name Province were among its 138 founding members, said historian Dominic Monti, OFM, adding “HNP’s direct role in Japan thus came to an end, although a number of other HNP friars have remained in the country as guest workers in the Japanese province.”

This was the first time in 30 years, since the Japanese province became independent in 1977, that a Provincial Minister of Holy Name Province visited Tokyo.

On Sunday of his stay, John presided and preached at the 6 p.m. Mass at the chapel, where six weekend liturgies are offered. Approximately 1,200 people attend Mass and 250 children are in religious education.

“The community members of the Franciscan Chapel are mostly transplants to Tokyo,” said John. The people are from English-speaking countries and English-as-a-second-language countries all around the world.

John said he found the center to have a strong and vibrant outreach program.

Most impressive, he said, is the rice program, founded by William, who was based in Japan for 28 years. Every morning, a team of people makes rice cakes that are distributed to the poor by volunteers, said Russell. “The rice program has many volunteers, even Mormon missionaries help.”

The FCC also reaches out to orphans, ministers to breast cancer victims and pregnant women, and provides a wide variety of programs. They are described in the parish bulletin, shown on the FCC Web site.

Train Ride to Kiryu 
On Monday, John and the friars traveled north by train to Kiryu-shi to see the friary there, the central house of the Province’s former mission in Kiryu. He made the 90-minute ride with Bede, Donnon, Callistus and Russell. “The friars,” said Russell, “were thrilled to show John the accomplishments of the last 50 or so years during the time they’ve been there.”

John recalled: “We visited the mission’s original friary, St. Francis Friary, built more than 50 years ago, which is now used for retreats.” The friary, dedicated in 1955, “has a view of mountains, river and valley, somewhat similar to the view from the Province’s St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary at Callicoon, N.Y., according to Joseph White’s book, Peace and Good in America: A History of Holy Name Province Order of Friars Minor. Stan lives there with several Japanese friars.

Later that day, the group met for fellowship and discussion over a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. “It was a nice evening of story sharing,” said John.

While in Kiryu, the group also spent time with the Poor Clare sisters at the monastery, founded by the Poor Clares of Jamaica Plain, Mass. The 16 sisters are young, John said, with several in their 20s.

The friars also visited the gravesites of friars who have ministered in Japan. John blessed the graves of eight deceased friars including Campion Lally, OFM, the third rector of the FCC, who died most recently.

On Tuesday, John attended a liturgy in the morning and conducted visitation for Stan and Bart. The group returned to Tokyo that day.

While in Tokyo, John discussed the future with the FCC parish council, focusing on resources for programs.

Page_2Planning Future
“Bart, Bede, Donnon and Stan are very energetic,” said John. “But fact is, they are getting up in age and are all close to 80.” Most have been in Japan for decades and are very passionate about their ministry, he added.

“I also had the opportunity to meet with several Japanese and foreign missionary friars who make up the plenary council of the Japanese Province, an expanded version of a Provincial Council.”

John’s visit concluded Tuesday evening with a festive meeting with some 20 friars of the Japanese Province.

John returned to the United States on March 3, in time for the Province’s fraternal gatherings and the March 16 meeting of the Provincial Council. There, he planned to discuss ways in which Holy Name might collaborate in the operation of the chapel. 

Behind the photo above is a page from the Lenten appeal letter of the HNP Franciscan Missionary Union.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.