SAR Directorate’s Aging with Grace Series: Bart McMahon Says Growing Old Gracefully Is All in the Smile

HNP Communications HNPNow

In the latest video installment of the Aging with Grace series, Bart McMahon, OFM, shares his secret to growing old gracefully. Apparently, it’s all in the smile!

Bart McMahon, OFM (right), shown here visiting Frank Waywood, OFM, who died in hospice care at St. Cabrini Nursing Home in Dobbs Ferry, New York, in March 2020.

“Just a smile goes a mile. S-M-I-L-E – small, meek, innocent, loving – that’s what it means to grow old gracefully,” Bart says in the video recorded from St. Anthony Friary in Butler, New Jersey, his residence since 2014, when he returned to the States after more than a half-century as a missionary friar in Japan – where he preached and evangelized, provided spiritual guidance to the incarcerated, cared for patients in a hospital for lepers, served as a mission superior and parish pastor, taught English to high school students, and brought Communion to families in rural villages, home-by-home, often navigating rough terrain on a motorbike.

Bart McMahon, OFM.

“Growing old gracefully – it is a wonderful joy to grow old. I will be 88 on Dec. 2. What a joy it is to be here at St. Anthony Friary with my brothers, growing old gracefully – which means full of life, full of joy, full of peace, full of happiness – and always smiling. That’s so important today,” says Bart in a gentle and engaging voice.

“Just a smile will go a million miles. Just a smile – say ‘good morning, good afternoon, good evening’ with a smile. You don’t have to ask if they’re a Christian, or not Christian. Let’s greet everyone today with a smile. Peace to you all,” Bart adds in the video recording, which is the August 2022 release of the monthly video series, A Moment With… Aging with Grace, that is produced by HNP’s Sick, Aged and Retired Directorate, whose chair is Matthew Pravetz, OFM. 

The series, launched last summer by the SAR Directorate, highlights elder friars in 2-to-5-minute videos sharing their wisdom and personal stories and experiences about Franciscan life, vocation, ministry and retirement. Joe Juracek, OFM, is the series videographer, and Kevin McGoff, OFM, edits the videos.

As he did throughout his decades as a missionary abroad, Bart continues to wear a smile on his face – often referring to his pastoral work in Japan as simply following the itinerant nature, kindness, gentleness and inclusiveness of St. Francis of Assisi, who was known to care for lepers and evangelize town-by-town to introduce Jesus into the lives of everyone he encountered, no matter their religion.

In a 2017 interview published in the Province newsletter, Bart said fraternal living was a blessing – a place he was needed and where he belonged – after spending more than 50 years in ministry in the Pacific Rim. Although he officially retired the year after he returned to the U.S., he continues to model his friar life after St. Francis, bringing compassion, joy, companionship, and pastoral care to his elder and infirm brothers, helping them to grow old gracefully, always with a smile on his face.