WEST CLARKSVILLE, N.Y. — Mt. Irenaeus friars, Secular Franciscans, students and others gathered July 5 to celebrate with Robert Struzynski, OFM, 50 years of profession as a Franciscan friar with Holy Name Province. The event included a Mass as well as a cookout with music.
Bob has served richly over the years, according to the newsletter of Mt. Ireneaus, where he has lived since 2005 at the Holy Peace Friary. His varied ministry has included teaching theology for St. Bonaventure University, serving in Philadelphia, where he helped establish St. Francis Inn, missionary work in Jamaica, and most recently, working in prison ministry.
What has been his most rewarding ministry? “Everything,” he smiled. “I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done.”
One of his best experiences, he said, was his prison ministry, a program he started with Michael Oberst, OFM, in 1993 at St. Patrick-St. Rita Church in Buffalo, N.Y.
A Rewarding Prison Ministry
Named Cephas, a word that means rock, the program brought men newly released from prison into a halfway house to live with Bob and Michael. “Sometimes we would have six at a time living with us,” said Bob.
“It was rewarding for many reasons,” he added. “First, we got to experience the men who were getting a second chance and beginning to live in a meaningful way. It was quite a thing to see them learn to live on the outside, and to rebuild relationships with families.”
Bob added that he would bring the reformed men to churches to share their stories with parishioners and to be witnesses to their new lives. Over the years, he said, he has seen about 60 men successfully rejoin society. “Eight out of 10 will be successful,” he said. “Without this program, six out of 10 won’t succeed.”
He gives a lot of credit to the successful ones.
“It takes humility, courage and strength to keep working on yourself,” said Bob. “Especially, working to make sure the negative energy doesn’t trap you.” It also takes a community support.
Working with St. Bonaventure Students
Today, the interfaith Cephas program continues, he said. As chaplain of the Gowanda Correctional Facility, about an hour from SBU, Bob brings the college students to the prison to counsel with inmates. “Cephas helps nourish people in their faith,” said Bob, whether it is Christian, Muslim, Judaism or another religion.
Bob brings 48 students per semester into this experience of service and reflective learning. In programs at both Attica Correctional Facility and Gowanda, students talk with inmates about their lives and share their stories.
In 2005, Bob moved his ministry to Mt. Ireneaus. “I desired to use my talents in a new way.”
He had previously lived in Buffalo at St. Patrick-St. Rita Church, now St. Clare.
Bob was among the group of Holy Name friars who commemorated their anniversaries of 50 and 25 years of religious life June 19 at the Province’s annual jubilee celebration.
Shown in photo above, in front of St. Francis of Assisi Church, is Bob with friends from Western New York.