friars and children

Friars Max Langenderfer and Tom Gerchak in Savanna-la-Mar

They listened, they learned, they served

Twenty years ago, four friars were asked:
“Are you willing to serve as missioners in the Church of Montego Bay, Jamaica?”

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Friars Humbert Moster and Louie Zant outside the friary in Savanna-la-Mar

They answered, “We are,” a response that would change their lives, and the lives of the people they were privileged to serve. For Louie Zant, who would spend 17 years in Jamaica, it was the start of a journey he never planned – but is glad he made.

Sept. 3 was the 20th anniversary of the first missioning ceremony of SJB friars to the Diocese of Montego Bay. Louie, now stationed in Detroit, recalls how it unfolded. “I remember it very well, all the excitement of that day” at St. Clement Church, he says.

Provincial Minister Fred Link sent forth the “First Wave” – Louie, Humbert Moster, Mark Gehret and Henry Beck – with the words: “Go among the people of Jamaica humbly aware that they will be your first and best teachers. Listen to their stories and learn from their lessons. Begin your life in Jamaica with hands empty and hearts open. It is the gift of brotherhood lived among the poor that will open up their eyes to their own dignity and will surely bring them hope.”

Some friars dream of serving in exotic locales. Louie wasn’t one of them. “I remember the novices talking about it in the novitiate, ‘Would you want to be a missionary?’” He ruled out one place where the province had ministered since the 1950s. “The Philippines was too hot. I thought, ‘Maybe a domestic mission, closer to home.’ When the discussion about a possible Jamaica mission came up [in 1999], I thought, ‘This is something I could do. That’s not very far away. We could get back home once a year.” He read the initial information. Fellow friar Rock Travnikar, who himself thought of going, assured Louie, “You’d be good at this.”

With his family’s blessing – “That’s not very far away,” they conceded – he and his three brothers arrived in Montego Bay on Sept. 12, anxious to man their mission. But, “There was a challenge,” Louie says. Because Bishop Charles Dufour asked them to serve two parishes, “We had to split up,” with Mark and Henry in Negril and Louie and Humbert in Savanna-la-mar, 17 miles away. The second challenge was learning to navigate roads that were notoriously serpentine and scary. That, “and driving on the left side of the roadway.”

beach

“It was a bery beautiful country,” Louie says.

First impressions? “We discovered it was a very beautiful country. For the most part, the people were welcoming and gracious.” Humbert was the pastor at St. Joseph’s in Sav-la-mar, but to many, Louie was the face of the friars, the one who responded to the heart-wrenching needs of their neighbors. “A lot of people were poor and didn’t have access to regular food,” let alone proper housing. “There were a lot of father figures lacking, a lot of single-mother households.” He listened, he cared, he did what he could. “We always assumed they were honest,” Louie says. “Not many were deceitful.”

Once he and Humbert were settled, “I did my major thing of doing repair work, trying to keep equipment going, cutting the grass all year long, helping the local maintenance man, working around the parish. I always enjoyed visiting the sick and shut-ins, helping take communion, especially out of Revival,” one of several satellite missions. As he learned about Jamaicans, he learned about himself, “that I could adapt to a different living situation, and I realized that all different cultures have many good traits, and some not-so-good segments, like here in the U.S.”

Humbert returned to the States in 2003, but Louie stayed on – and on, as others came and went. “At first I was thinking, maybe I’ll stay five years. As it went along every time we went for renewal, I thought, ‘I could do this again.’” Along the way there were “happy changes,” he says. “When we first got there, there were a couple of outlying communities, like Grange Hill. We friars helped them build a church there and in Little London.”

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US Friars Vince Delorenzo, Mark Gehret, with Felix D’Souza from Pakistan

As for Bishop Dufour, “He was glad friars came because of the stability they brought, a group commitment to serve rather than the individual friars” he had recruited. “If one friar left, another friar came to take his place. I think people saw that individuals would change, but the Franciscans were hanging in there.”

Back in the States since 2017, “I miss some of the people and the relationships there,” Louie says. “I never really did enjoy the hot, humid weather, but it was tolerable – and comfortable in the winter months. It makes me happy I was able to participate,” he says of his ministry in Jamaica. “All experiences make you who you are, and this was a good experience.” If other friars asked for his advice, “I’d be very encouraging for them to go.”

What he prays for now is what he and his fellow missionaries prayed for as they set off in 2000. “I hope more people will embrace the Catholic faith,” he says. “I hope the people of Jamaica will continue joyfully serving the Lord.”

A Pakistani presence

In the past 20 years five Pakistani friars traveled 8,500 miles and faced daunting differences in culture and language to join SJB friars in serving the people of Jamaica. For that and more, Mission Office Director Vince Delorenzo offers thanks.

The Custody of St. John the Baptist in Pakistan was responding to an invitation from St. John the Baptist Province that had its origins in a General Chapter conversation from 1993. “That’s where it was initiated that we could interact in various ways,” says former Provincial Minister John Bok. The result was the missionary presence in Jamaica of Patras Sardar, Felix D’Souza, Bernard Bhatti, Ken Viegas and, most recently, Saleem Amir Maseh.

“The friars of SJB Pakistan have been generous in assisting us with the Jamaica missions over these many years,” Vince says. “Even though they are a small custody and had needs for their ministry in Pakistan, the friars responded to the needs that we had for our presence in Jamaica. We are certainly grateful.”
In the past 20 years five Pakistani friars traveled 8,500 miles and faced daunting differences in culture and language to join SJB friars in serving the people of Jamaica. For that and more, Mission Office Director Vince Delorenzo offers thanks.

The Custody of St. John the Baptist in Pakistan was responding to an invitation from St. John the Baptist Province that had its origins in a General Chapter conversation from 1993. “That’s where it was initiated that we could interact in various ways,” says former Provincial Minister John Bok. The result was the missionary presence in Jamaica of Patras Sardar, Felix D’Souza, Bernard Bhatti, Ken Viegas and, most recently, Saleem Amir Maseh.

“The friars of SJB Pakistan have been generous in assisting us with the Jamaica missions over these many years,” Vince says. “Even though they are a small custody and had needs for their ministry in Pakistan, the friars responded to the needs that we had for our presence in Jamaica. We are certainly grateful.”