RINGWOOD, N.J. — A common phrase among Franciscans, “we are family,” is never more apparent than at the Province’s Holy Name Friary here, which 29 senior friars call home.
In fact, the words “extended family” might be more appropriate. For more than a decade, the friary, which provides skilled nursing care, has opened its doors to residents of other Franciscan orders, including the Society of the Atonement and OFM Capuchin.
“We are family,” Xavier De La Huerta, OFM, said, during a recent visit to Holy Name Friary.
Xavier, William DeBiase, OFM, Matthew Conlin, OFM, and other friars took time out from a retreat they were attending in nearby Butler, N.J., to visit their confreres in Ringwood.
“We’re here to see old friends,” said William. “We want to let them know that they are not forgotten.”
Retired but Not Forgotten
It would be almost impossible to forget this lively group of senior friars. While some are retired and quite elderly, and others are ill, they still manage to be true to the spirit of their Franciscan roots.
“The Franciscan spirituality is known for its lightheartedness,” smiled Fr. Boniface Riedmann, SA, who at 92 is one of the oldest residents and newest non-OFM member. Holding a theological book that he was elated to find in the friary’s extensive library, Boniface joked, something for which he is well known.
“There is a certain flavor of humor that runs throughout this place,” he said. “We have a contagious good time.”
While Boniface needs knee replacement, he avoids surgery, preferring to get around with a walker and calling his new residence independent living. “I think this is a good example of assisted living,” he said.
Whatever level of care is needed, Holy Name Friary can accommodate it.
Boniface’s friend and colleague, Br. Steven Hanley, SA, 80, spends most of his time in a wheelchair now, because of complications from a lifetime of polio. He asked to be transferred to Holy Name Friary from a large nursing home in New York. “It was much too big,” he recalled, and with about 240 beds he was miserable. “I am so happy here. We lift each other up. It’s tremendous.”
In the past year, Boniface and Stephen have joined Atonement friars Fr. Owen Murphy, SA, and Br. Kieran Cullen, SA, who was not feeling up to talking the day HNP Today stopped by.
Staying Busy & Independent
Owen, 85, however, told us he feels well and is treated well.
“It’s nice here,” he said. He especially liked the fact that friars can be somewhat independent. “I don’t have to do anything if I don’t want to,” he laughed. “They leave you alone.” He also said that he did not miss the daunting task of having to organize and manage things for himself.
Boniface, who has visited people in a lot of nursing homes in his lifelong ministry, most recently in Brockton, Mass., is a good judge of quality care. When it was time for him to seek a helping hand, he wrote to guardian and directorA. Francis Soucy, OFM, asking to be considered as a resident. “We all knew that the general impression of this place was very, very positive.”
Fr. Robert Grix, OFM Cap., took a minute from his Rummikub game in the friary community room with his daily opponent, Fintan Duffy, OFM, to agree that the place was “just great.”
“I know a good thing when I see it,” smiled Cassian Miles, OFM, who at 79 became a permanent resident of Holy Name Friary early this year. He has spent the last eight months here recovering from hip replacement after a fall last April while walking home from the bus to his former friary in Wood-Ridge, N.J.
“I know that I’m well taken care of here,” he said, alluding to the onsite medical staff, barber, exercise room, solarium, outings, and other services at his fingertips.
St. Francis’ Care for Others
How does Holy Name Friary compare with other skilled nursing facilities? “There is no comparison. There is a fraternal dimension here,” said Cassian, the former communications director for the Province. “It is part of the Rule of Life that St. Francis gave us,” he said, “to take care of our sick and aging brothers, like a mother cares for her children.”
The friars see this more like a home than a facility, never calling it a nursing home, according to Francis. Unlike other elder-care facilities, this friary is considered their home, and nurses and staff members are asked into a friar’s home to care for him, he said. The state of New Jersey has consistently given this facility the highest rating with no deficiencies, he added.
The 20-year-old building’s attractive look, surrounded by pine trees, rolling hills, and a park-like rural setting, also make it feel more home-like. A large-screen TV and bookshelves are focal points in the main living room area where friars gather. A floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace is the dividing wall between living room and dining room, giving the open space a contemporary feel.
Staff is trained, said Francis, to both understand and embrace the Franciscan spirituality, and the friary runs a parallel schedule with any Franciscan house, with daily Mass, Vespers and prayer.
Even the subject of food, which one might expect to elicit jeers, was praised. “I’ve gotten overweight,” laughed Boniface. The ravioli lunch enjoyed by Cassian that day was called, “as good as any finest New York restaurant.” The staff even got a special type of horseradish to satisfy Boniface’s palette for spicy foods.
The friars were also complimentary of their many activities. On Thursdays, they go by van to restaurants such as Red Lobster, and when they are not going out, they enjoy themed meals for holidays and events. For example, said Cassian, they recently celebrated Mardi Gras with the Creole flavor, Chinese New Year with an Asian menu, complete with spare ribs and egg rolls, and spent Super Bowl Sunday around the TV in the lounge with pizza, chili and assorted snacks.
Last year, the Society of the Atonement marked the centenary of its founding by Fr. Paul Watson, a former Episcopalian priest. Four members of the SA community have previously lived at the Ringwood friary.
Friars from Graymoor, home of the SA community on the Hudson River in upstate New York, frequently drop by Ringwood to have lunch with their compatriots and share news of their community.
It is never dull or quiet at Holy Name Friary. On any given day, one will find the voices of visitors, often children; the cheers of competition during board games; rooting for a favorite sports team on TV; joking during an outing; praise for special meals, and laughter in the air. The friary gets quiet and reflective once the evening shadows fall with occasional sounds of “Jeopardy” or TV news drifting down the corridors as the nurse makes the final rounds.
And there’s even a house dog. Cadfael, Francis’ Welsh terrier, seemingly conscious of St. Francis’ teaching on proper hospitality, politely greeting guests at the door.
In photo behind, Cassian chats with Fr. Boniface and Br. Steven at a table in Holy Name Friary.
— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.