Retiree Romuald Chinetsky Finally Lets Others Do the Cooking – and Cleaning, Greeting, Activity Planning

Stephen Mangione Friar News

Romuald shares a laugh with Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan during last year’s Christmas party at Holy Name Friary. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

This is part of a continuing series of profiles of the Province’s retired friars, providing a look back on their ministerial journey, and what they are doing now. The most recent article profiled Martin Bednar, OFM

RINGWOOD, N.J. – Had he not become a Franciscan friar, Romuald Chinetsky, OFM, likely would have been a sous chef or a master baker, or perhaps an executive in the hospitality industry. But as it turned out, the trades he learned and grew passionate about during a recurring summer job at a vacation resort and years of service in the military later found their way into Romuald’s religious vocation.

For more than 40 years, he served as guestmaster at St. Bernardine of Siena Friary on the campus of Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., maintaining the residence and managing hospitality, greeting visitors and arranging guest accommodations. Romuald also served for more than 10 years as the cook and baker at St. Francis College, a then-house of formation in Rye Beach, N.H., and as the cook at other formation houses.

When he retired from active ministry in 2011 and took up residence at Holy Name Friary, the Province’s skilled nursing care facility in Ringwood, it was the first time in a long while that Romuald wasn’t dishing out food and hospitality. He has been on the receiving end of the attention since moving to New Jersey.

That’s not to say during the past seven years, Romuald hasn’t felt the impulse to sneak into the kitchen at Holy Name Friary, throw on an apron, and whip up his specialties (and friar favorites of those who have experienced his cuisine) – juicy prime ribs of beef and sinfully delicious Grand Marnier cream layer cake.

But the diminutive-statured friar knows his place – content with life at the friary, kicking back and letting someone else do the cooking and the activity planning. Besides, he wouldn’t want to meddle in someone else’s kitchen.

Being served and leading a more sedentary life has certainly been a change for someone who was graced with the gift of work and a lifetime of service – performing tasks that produced results that everyone took for granted. The exuberance and humility with which he carried out his assignments was an extraordinary example of what it means to be welcoming.

“Hospitality was always part of my life and it [just naturally] became an extension of my [religious] vocation, something that I was fortunate to be able to bring into ministry,” Romuald said during an interview at the Ringwood friary.

“That’s a unique thing about being a friar – the Province allows you to do what you’re good at and to grow in your ministries,” he added.

While the summer resort and the U.S. Army provided the hospitality and culinary foundation, it was growing up in a devout family in the small coal-mining town of Throop, Penn., just outside of Scranton, that set the stage for a religious vocation.

His parents would have Romuald, the second youngest of five children, and his siblings pray in front of a crucifix before bedtime. They would attend Sunday Mass and vespers as a family.

His devotion to daily prayer continued in the military when he was stationed in California, where he attended Sunday Mass and would kneel at his bunk every night and pray – which prompted his Army buddies to affectionately nickname him “Rev.”

Romuald talks with George Camacho, a visitor from Siena College, at Holy Name Friary. (Photo courtesy of Octavio)

Education in Hospitality
He enlisted in the military not long after graduating from Throop High School. During a basic training exercise, he was randomly called out of formation and ordered to the mess hall. Whether by pure luck, or by design from above, it was a landing post that had Romuald’s name written all over it. A quick rewind tells why:

Every year after the school session ended, Romuald and many of his high school friends headed to their summer jobs at the nearby resort-rich Pocono Mountains. He advanced to headwaiter, all the while receiving an informal education and cultivating a keen interest in the hospitality industry.

“I was good at connecting with people,” said Romuald, now 88. “It was a great job because it was like being on [an all-expense-paid] vacation. We lived free in dorm-style housing, ate free and had the use of the pool – and I earned enough in tip money to buy my own clothes.”

By senior year, all Romuald wanted to do was cook and bake – an interest fueled by observing his grandmother and mother at home, and further developed at the lodge in the Poconos where he would hang around the industrial kitchen absorbing the craft from the chefs and a baker from Holland.

Since he had no formal training when he enlisted (any kitchen know-how developed up to that point was self-taught), the Army sent him to culinary school to hone his skills for the mess hall assignment. Although Romuald was deployed to Korea for active duty with the infantry division, he was reassigned to an artillery unit that was in need of a cook.

The awakening to his religious vocation came when he was stationed in California, where he met Franciscan friars who were giving missions at local parishes. One of the friars spoke about brothers and their ministerial responsibilities, which included overseeing friaries and cooking meals for large groups of 250 friars.

“I was sitting in the pew and thought, ‘I could do that,’” said Romuald, who had already met the challenges of cooking in bulk in the Army.

The day he arrived at St. Stephen’s Friary in Croghan, N.Y., with six other new friar candidates, they were all summoned to the library by the late Eugene Honan, OFM, who was head of the brothers’ training program at the formation house.

“I remember all of us being nervous because we didn’t know what to expect,” said Romuald, who made his first profession in 1957 and professed his solemn vows in 1960.

Apparently, the resident chef had left the friary, so the new group of candidates was asked if anyone had kitchen skills. Romuald, of course, couldn’t raise his hand fast enough. He cooked dinner that night, and for the next two years at the formation house in Croghan.

He was the resident chef at other formation houses, including St. Raphael’s in Lafayette, N.J., and St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. While at St. Joseph, he took on the baker position as well after a friar retired.

In addition to baking more than 40 loaves of bread at a time, including his popular raisin bread drizzled with a sweet glaze, Romuald produced a full line of desserts – cream puffs, cookies, pies and layer cakes – that rivaled any bakery.

Romuald was part of the first class of Franciscan lay brothers to complete their novitiate at the new St. Raphael Friary in Lafayette, N.J. (Photo courtesy of the Provincial Annals)

Special Honor for Go-To Guy
His culinary prowess had mouths watering during the more than 10 years he spent at the formation house in New Hampshire, where everyone looked forward to one of his specialty suppers that he called “Thanksgiving dinner in a pot” – a hearty and frugal winter stew of roasted turkey, potatoes, turnips and peas served with homemade biscuits and bowls of fresh cranberry sauce.

In 1967, he began his assignment as guestmaster at the friary on the Siena College campus, his energy and industriousness astounding everyone who came into contact with him. He was the go-to guy for most tasks and requests since he was largely responsible for maintaining the physical plant and performing daily and weekly chores.

Despite the fact that his work was considered internal ministry, he touched the hearts of students, faculty and staff – as evidenced in 2010 when he was named recipient of the St. Bernardine of Siena Medal, the college’s highest honor, for his deep commitment to service, openness and kindness to others.

Dennis Tamburello, OFM, said Romuald was a big help to all friars.

“I think of him as a living saint,” he said. “Romuald not only was a hard worker – always ready to serve the friars – but he was one of the most delightful people to live with. He had a great sense of humor and was the person who kept our friary going.”

“Romuald tries to see the good in all people,” added Dennis, who has lived at the Siena friary for 35 years. “He was both fun and spiritual.”

Dennis said that Romuald was a model of humility and fraternity. “He wreaks of goodness and is very kind. I remember him always giving people the benefit of the doubt, and always trying to see the good in all people.”

Although Romuald displays the award prominently on a shelf in his room at the Ringwood friary, he still speaks of the honor with the same reserved tone as on the day it was presented to him – saying that the work of his hands was greatly aided by many campus employees, for whom he would bake cakes and buy small gifts as a way of acknowledging his gratitude for their help and support.

“It’s something I learned in the Army – always be friendly with everyone and take the time to get to know them. Treating people with kindness goes a long way. Being a cook and a baker didn’t hurt either,” he quipped.

In 2010, Romuald received the St. Bernardine of Siena Medal for his commitment to service, openness and kindness to others. The award has a prominent place on a shelf in his room today. (Photos courtesy of The Provincial Annals/Stephen Mangione)

Romuald says that while being a friar has taught him how to help people, it has also showed him how to be accepting – and that means overlooking someone’s faults.

“Don’t try to change people but try and get along and take the time to understand them. Sometimes it’s difficult to do because you have to put in the time and you have to work at it,” said Romuald, who has never tried to avoid either – and, in fact, who used these words as the foundation of his ministries and continues to live by them.

Sometimes it’s difficult for Romuald to shed his hospitality cap. He realizes that most of the friars residing at Ringwood have been slowed by age or illness, which means that the friary is their entire world.

“I like to spend time in the recreation room talking to my brother friars because talking with someone can do a lot of good,” Romuald says.

He also enjoys the group shopping excursions and scenic drives, as well as the planned events at the friary, which include social gatherings, fitness activities, and daily Mass.

Romuald says it would be difficult to find a better place that takes care of retired and infirm friars. “Everyone here is so generous with their kindness and compassion. They take good care of you,” he said.

“I have everything I need right here,” added Romuald – whose decades of hospitality undoubtedly invoked the same feeling among guests at the resort, soldiers in the mess hall, friars at the formation houses, and residents and visitors at the Siena friary.

— Stephen Mangione is a longtime writer and public relations executive based in Westchester County, N.Y.

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