Reflection: 50 Wonderful Years of Fraternal Life

John Anglin, OFM Features


This year’s jubilarians, from left to right: Patrick Tuttle, Jud Weiksnar, Thomas Conway, Francis Kim, John Anglin, Richard Mucowski and Brice Leavins. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

On Nov. 12, Holy Name Province honored friars marking their 25th and 50th anniversaries of profession, with a special Mass at St. Francis Church in New York City. Below, one of the jubilarians commemorating 50 years as a friar writes about how grateful he is for the support and the love of his fellow friars.

“The Rule and Life of the Friars Minor is this: to live the Gospel of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without property, and in chastity.” This begins the rule of St. Francis, approved in 1223, which we strive to live eight centuries later. This is the rule that I have professed to live for the past 50 years.

We friars, like all Catholic religious, take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but we do not take them in a vacuum. We live the vows in the context of fraternity. Two things that I can say after 50 years are these: first, that I would do it all over again, and second, that without having brothers to live the vows with, I couldn’t have done it. I am grateful to God and to the many friars who have supported and challenged me in living the Franciscan life.

In this brief essay, I would like to reflect on what I call “the different faces of fraternity.”

The word friar is derived from the Latin frater and means “brother.” I learned early on that, while brotherhood is a wonderful ideal, it is not always easy. Like most friars of my generation, I was a teenager when I joined the Order and had not really negotiated the waters of forming adult relationships. Also, unlike the younger friars today, we were thrown together, as it were, and had to figure out how to live with other men from different backgrounds, ethnicities and the like. Today, fortunately, friars in formation have workshops that assist with developing communication skills and negotiating the waters of the variety of people they are living with.

What did emerge early on, however, was the fact that, while I had brothers who differed from me in many ways, when difficult times arose such as sickness, death in one of our families, or if one was suffering emotionally, my brothers were there for me and I was there for them. We had each other’s backs, to use a popular expression.

With the Second Vatican Council, religious were called to go back to the spirit of their founders. For us that meant taking a new look at St. Francis. It became clear, not only in Holy Name Province, but throughout the Order, that while we called ourselves friars or brothers, that much was lacking in living up to that name. Prior to the council, priests and brothers lived in a kind of Franciscan apartheid with separate recreation rooms and separate means of common prayer. During formation days, this division was heightened because various groups were not even allowed to mingle with each other. For me the fact that we had to say, “Hey, we’re all brothers, whether we be priests, lay brothers, formations students, we’re all in this together,” is the most important change in the Franciscan family that was motivated by the council.

As I left formation and began a life of active ministry, it was a real blessing to minister together with my fellow friars. As I met the challenges of growing in ministry, I knew that I was not alone. There were older friars who shared the wisdom of their experience with me. Whether it was dealing with the challenges of the classroom in my days as a teacher, or learning how to approach situations in the confessional as a priest, I knew that I didn’t have to go it alone.

In a Province as large as ours, it is impossible to know every friar well. There are various levels of relationship among all of us. On the one hand, I have been blessed in having several friars that I count as close friends. We know each other well. We know each other’s secrets and we challenge each other.

It is a different kind of blessing to experience brotherhood on a wider scale. When I attend provincial chapters and other friar gatherings, there is clearly a sense of family, a sense that “This is where I belong.” At times like this, it is always great to meet new friars or to get to know better a friar that I had never really been close to. It is also a hopeful sign to see the younger friars, and though they are fewer in number than we were at their age, they are good men and make me feel really positive about our future.

Finally, at the present time, though not retired myself, I live in a community made up mostly of elder friars who are retired. I am touched by the fact that when we have visitors, or when a new friar comes to live with us, they invariably comment on the way we care for each other and the way the Province cares for all of us. That is truly a blessing in a world where so many elderly people live lonely lives and have no one to care for them. I am what I think of as a young, nearly 70-year-old man and in reasonably good health. I hope to live for a while yet, but I am very grateful that when the time comes, I will meet “Sister Death” in a caring fraternity who will love and pray me home to God.

Fr. John, a member of the Ministry of the Word, lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. He frequently posts his reflections on his blog, The Wandering Friar.