Franciscan Brothers Minor


Friar Newsletter Issue # 5

Franciscan Sisters Minor Come to Fort Wayne

By Father David Mary F.F.M.

    Swinging from the scaffolding of the little church of San Damiano, St. Francis, new to his conversion, would cry out in French “Come and help me rebuild this humble Church which will be the dwelling place of holy virgins, brides of Christ”. Not knowing who those “brides of Christ” would be and not even knowing where they would come from, he worked tirelessly to ready that convent for whomever and whenever God would bring about this new order of nuns.
One of the most amazing parts is that St. Francis was still in the middle of his own conversion and, as of yet, had no followers himself or even the beginnings of his own religious life. God put this prophecy on his heart and he sang those words aloud as he readied the place for its beginnings.
In 1211, two years after St. Francis had founded the Friars Minor, St. Clare began.

We ourselves had a similar experience, ten years ago. Mother Mary Clement, then, a Daughter of St. Paul sister,
set out on a quest to establish a religious community of sisters, who would live after the manner of the original Rule of St. Francis. A Felician sister, speaking to one of Mother’s first vocations said “One day you will have a brothers community”. A rather prophetic statement.

I am grateful for having been there at the start of the Franciscan Sisters Minor. Over the years it was my joy to help Mother Mary Clement write the Constitutions, which are based on the 1536 Capuchin Constitutions. I have
conducted many retreats for the sisters, assisted in their formation, and I have acted as spiritual director to many of the sisters. Losing a few girls from my youth retreat team to the sisters, I’ve watched them grow from one to ten. Over those years the sisters began a long perpetual novena to St. Joseph for a brother’s community. Little did I expect how and with whom God would answer their prayers.

On November 19th, 2009 the Franciscan Brothers Minor were born. By the grace of God, the intercession of Our Lady, and certainly St. Joseph and by the unceasing prayers of the Franciscan Sisters Minor, our little community was established under Bishop Kevin Rhoades, our benevolent ordinary. However, as God would have it, the answer to their prayers would come at a great cost to the sisters. One that none of us expected, and yet, one that we were more than happy to endure.

The sisters were established in the Diocese of Worcester Ma, under a great bishop, his excellencey Bishop Robert McManus. We Friars, 9 months ago, had been established in Harrisburg Pa. At first the distance between our communities didn’t seem that far away. But, by the Will of God, our bishop was transferred to Fort Wayne-South Bend. Having promised to always remain with Bp. Rhoades, we moved. Our new home put a thousand miles between us and our sister community. Although we believe in and adhere to a healthy distance between our perspective communities, we agreed that the distance was too much. Having received the permission of Bp. McManus and the open arms of Bp. Rhoades, the sisters began to prepare for their move to Fort Wayne. 

I cannot say enough about the sisters incredible docility to God’s will! Witnessing the answer to their St. Joseph Novena, they willingly and lovingly left all to follow God’s plan. Painfully the sisters closed their three convents, handed over their ministries, and said tearful farewells to all their gracious friends, families, and benefactors. All that was common, familiar and comfortable was about to change.
In the very first days of August they packed up, boarded a truck and most to the train, the sisters headed off to a strange land, to a strange place and, truly, a new world.

Knowing how intense of a move this was for the sisters, the Friars and I began a week and a half non-stop marathon of preparing the old St. John the Baptist convent (Providence House).
Like St. Francis, with blood, sweat and tears, we worked tirelessly to make that convent, which had been empty of nuns for 17 years, ready for our sisters. We wanted to make sure that when they arrived they would feel at home.

In order to fulfill our debt of gratitude, we ripped up carpets that were laid over carpets, that were laid over linoleum, laid over a beautiful hardwood floor. We turned the old library into a Chapel, built an Alter and a sacristy.
We emptied the house of lots of old things and things that the sisters don’t use (things like refrigerators, microwaves, dishwashers and laundry machines). Sanding floors, staining floors and polyurethaning floors kept us there many a late night. The good pastor, Fr, Cyril Fernandez, kept us well fed.

In our tiredness we got a bit silly. Break times were spent before out Lord in the Holy Eucharist, and
some time spent in a tree. Br. Leo made a large basketball of tape that had covered the molding during staining. This ball worked great for “Poverty Bowl”.
That’s when we set up old bottles on the sidewalk and used the Tape-ball as a bowling ball. Not only did we get silly, but, one night, having worked till 2:30 am, we left Br. Solanus behind. We all went home thinking that he was in the other car, only to discover that he was still at the convent. By 3:15 am he was back at home.

Sr. Mary Clement and Sr. Margaret Rose were the first to arrive. They came in a rented truck hauling a bunch of Alters, stools, and statues. The most precious cargo was their driver, Jose Lara, who, just yesterday was welcomed into our postulancey.
We had a blast watching the sisters faces as they saw their newly renovated convent. Once they were settled, and the sacristy unpacked we celebrated the first Mass in the new Chapel.

On August 3rd, myself, Fr. Cyril and a couple of fellows from St. John the Baptist parish traveled up to waterloo in order to meet the inbound Amtrak train from New England, You would have thought it was the 1920’s as eight fully habited nuns discarded from the train. They were welcomed by big smiles, warm hugs and that wonderful Fort Wayne humidity. After 12 hours on the train the sisters were geared up and ready to get to their new home. I must mention that, although the sisters rested on the train, they never rested from the evangelization. Many Miraculous medals and Rosaries were gifted to those who had the privilege of speaking with the sisters.

I had a bit of fun introducing the sisters to the mid-west. Wide open fields, the fresh farm fields and “the city” of Fort Wayne. I love Fort Wayne, but as a New Yorker, and the sisters coming from the Boston area, a “city” to us, is a bit more, well…..more bigger. When we hear of a city, we think skyscrapers, fast pace, and crazy nightlife. One thing I joyfully learned, and as I introduced it to the sisters, a city can be small, easygoing and even pleasant. Fort Wayne is proof of that!

After a good half hour drive, the sisters arrived at their new home. The brothers were patiently waiting at the convent.
They couldn’t wait to welcome our sisters and introduce them to the new convent. Also, since we last saw all the sisters, we added four new friars, and, seven of the brothers became novices receiving new names. So it was a time to meet the new brothers and learn the names of the friars they had already known. It was such a joyful encounter.

The sisters eyes and jaws were opened wide as they beheld the new Chapel, the refectory and other parts of the house. Because two of the sisters had arrived two days before the whole group, their new cells (bedrooms) had already been issued out. So there was a lot of joyful commotion upstairs as the sisters went in search of their new cell. The Friars were pleased to continually hear “this is beautiful”, “it’s perfect!” “we’re home!”

All together we gathered in the small Chapel and celebrated the Mass of St. John Vianney. I preached my homily on having our prayers answered and the willingness to embrace everything that comes with that answer.
I got a bit choked up, o.k. I cried a little, as I reflected on the Friars being an answer to the sisters St. Joseph novena and how that answered prayer led them to leave home and familiarity for Fort Wayne, I expressed my deep gratefulness for how the sisters so lovingly and freely embraced this great change in their lives. I also expressed my sincere gratitude for the brothers, who so lovingly worked to make sure that the sisters, upon arrival, could just put their stuff down and be at home.

After the Mass we celebrated with a delicious communal meal prepared by some of St. John’s parishioners. Quickly the sisters learned what we have come to know, that the people of Fort Wayne are incredibly kind, good and generous.
Also, the sisters got all the fun stories of what it took to get that convent ready. We jokingly told them that we even cleaned up the neighborhood for them. An actual true story is that the night before the sisters arrived, the house across the street from the convent was swarmed with Police officers and all the residents taken off to jail, an A.K. 47 and a few pit bulls were taken off as well.

What a great joy it is to have the sisters across town. Knowing their continual prayers for us gives us even greater strength to carry on. I am sure that they will have a huge impact on their side of town. Their faithful witness, prayer, penance and love of Jesus will be a great light in the darkness.

Welcome Franciscan Sisters Minor!