large family

Fr. Ric Schneider (center front row) was blessed with great parents and siblings.

Their stories may surprise you

Fr. Murray Bodo, OFM
65 Years Profession

boy on horse

12-year-old Murray Bodo sits tall in the saddle.

As most of the brothers know, I was born and grew up in the Southwest; and though I have lived the greater part of my life in the East, I still love the landscape and the people of my childhood. But what most probably aren’t aware of is that I love Westerns, both novels and especially movies about cowboys. When I am scanning for something to watch on TV, if there is a Western, even if I’ve seen it many times, I will usually watch it again. Many Westerns were made in Gallup when I was a boy; and because my dad owned and operated Gallup Sporting Goods Store, he was able to supply Frontier Model Colt 45s and 44-40s for some of the stars, including Jimmy Stewart and Alan Ladd. And there was usually a softball game at the end of filming between the townspeople and the actors and other workers on the film that we kids always looked forward to.

What may be surprising also is that I got my Social Security Card at age 13 by working as an extra in a crowd scene on Paramount Pictures’ film, Ace in the Hole, with Kirk Douglas and Jan Sterling, a 1951 film that was later called, The Carnival. My great uncle also owned a huge cattle ranch outside of Durango, Colo., that put me onto my other love, horses, when I was just a small child. No wonder I love Westerns and my favorite song is Tex Ritter’s version of “The Wayward Wind,” a song that pretty much defines “my wandering ways” these 65 years as a friar.

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Fr. Murray Bodo, OFM

Br. Damian Cesanek, OFM
60 Years Profession

About 30 years ago, I took some professionally administered memory tests. Afterwards, I was told that I scored in the top 2% of the nation. I never mentioned that to anyone. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing at this stage of my life.

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Fr. Damien Cesanek, OFM

Fr. Arthur Espelage, OFM
50 Years Priesthood

Few people know that either through direct or extended members, the Espelage family has provided Franciscan friars, priests, and sisters to the Catholic Church for over 150 years here in our country and in Europe.

It was no surprise to me in May of 1971, two weeks before my ordination, to be called home by my father for a family meeting. When I entered the house that evening, I found only my mother and father sitting at the kitchen table. With the customary glass of beer in front of me, my mother began. “Do you know what you are doing, what this means”? Answering her own question, she went on: “It means no grandbabies,” and then listed the responsibilities which I would assume to family and Church. I had prayed for many years that Christ would choose me to be a priest, but gave little consideration to the changes and adjustments of the next 50 years. I remember as clear as a bell her judgment: “Your father and I give you permission to do this.” I thank God today that I survived the temptations and obstacles that came my way, and as for my failures, I take comfort in Luke 23:34.

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Fr. Arthur Espelage, OFM

Fr. Ric Schneider, OFM
70 Years Profession

In our family, all the marriages were good, no divorces, and everybody went to church every Sunday all their lives. I realize how blessed I have been in having such wonderful parents who taught me how to live and love and serve the Lord, and 10 magnificent brothers and sisters who gave me such good examples. Some would call that a minor miracle. I call it a blessing for saying the family rosary each evening before leaving the supper table. I know times have changed but when I was a kid, the family ate together almost every meal. And if we forgot our rosary, no problem, mom always had a bowl of rosaries on the table. A prayer I pray almost every day is, “Thank you, Jesus, for giving me such wonderful parents and loving brothers and sisters.”

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Fr. Ric Schneider, OFM

Br. Jerry Beetz, OFM
50 Years Profession

Most people don’t know that I am a graduate of Elder High School. Purple and Brown do not always go well together. You can see that during Advent and Lent when the celebrant for Mass puts the purple vestment on over his brown habit. The blessing of 50 years is that I have been able to strive to live the Gospel with a Purple Panther Pride and a Spartan Spirit.

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Br. Jerry Beetz, OFM

Br. Louis Lamping, OFM
65 Years Profession

• I was born with a harelip and a cleft palate. In 1948 I was in a bookkeeping contest in high school. I finished my test early and the person in charge asked if something was wrong. I said, “I’m finished.” There were nine schools in the contest. I took first honors.
• I hear nothing: sound, noise, or words spoken. If the weather is OK, I’ll walk one to two hours a day, which is down from the three to four hours I used to walk. It’s hard to keep my balance and getting hard to see. [Louie is 92.]

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Br. Louis Lamping, OFM

Fr. Carl Langenderfer, OFM
50 Years Priesthood

I worked with my Dad and brothers building a home each summer from the time I was 8 until I went to the seminary at 18, and even then for a couple more summers until I entered the Novitiate in 1964. But what many probably don’t know is that I went to work for an electrician, Ed Pogozalski’s Servall Electric, when I was just out of the 8th grade, about 1958. His little shop was in Glendale, and I worked with him and his men for three summers. When I was about 16, I wired the house my Dad was building on Kemper Road in Springdale. I purchased all the materials, designed the electrical layout, and did the installation. When it was completed, the work passed the electrical inspection on the second try, CG&E installed the meter and we had electricity in the house.

Ever since then I have continued to do some electrical jobs. I wired the indirect lighting system in the library at Duns Scotus when I was a student there in 1966, and have been doing small jobs like replacing light fixtures and light bulbs and switches ever since. I’m still interested in home construction and especially the electrical installations and the changes in the electrical code and materials during the past 50 years.

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Fr. Carl Langenderfer, OFM

Fr. Robert Weakley, OFM
60 Years Profession

• I have been active in AA for 37 years. I have attended at least two or three meetings each week except when on vacation or retreat.
• I always wanted to see the Holy Land and in 1985 I did. That trip changed my life. The Scriptures really spoke to me after that. Seeing is believing.
• In 1988 I went on a jubilee trip to Europe with Art Espelage, and the day we left London for Ireland the airports were on high terror alert. After a day with the Irish friars we went to visit friar Felix Blake’s grave. (He had gone home to Ireland for a visit and died getting on the plane.) I will never forget that day. That was the last big trip I made.

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Fr. Robert Weakley, OFM

Fr. David Kobak, OFM
25 Years Profession

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One of Fr. David’s watercolor paintings of Holy Family Church’s Onion Dome

Here are some memories from when I was a potter:
• During the Clinton presidency I was approached by Hillary Clinton to create a ceramic ornament for the White House Christmas Tree. I made a spired globe with a black and gold glaze. I was selected as part of a group of American artists to do so.
• During the Reagan presidency one of the galleries I supplied with my work called me and said a caravan of black sedans drew up outside the gallery. Some men is black entered and said that the President had seen some of my work and would like one of my pieces for his collection of American crafts. It was shipped to the White House.
• On to my Oldenburg, Ind., days: After the church’s Onion Dome was completed, I painted 30 impressionistic watercolors of the Dome. A gallery owner came by one day as I was framing and said she loved them. I said, “Would you like some?” She took them all. They all sold.

friar and woman and Christmas tree

L-R: Portrait of Fr. David Kobak, OFM. Hilary Clinton points to Fr. David’s ceramic ornament on the White House Christmas tree

Fr. Jim Van Vurst, OFM
60 Years Priesthood

This goes back 80 years. For me it was very important but I didn’t fully recognize it at the time.

I’m left-handed, and if you notice when left-handers write, their wrist is kind of turned in an awkward way. When I was 6 years old in public school in Detroit, I was struggling, trying to write with my right hand like the other kids were doing. I’ll never forget the teacher, Miss Butler. Bless her heart. She saw me having difficulty. She very gently took the pencil out of my right hand and put the pencil in my left hand with the correct fingers holding it, and put my hand on the paper.

It made sense to me right away. It just worked, and became natural to me. When I went home I showed my mother and dad what I did and they knew that was a positive step for me, that I could use my left hand just like other kids used their right hand. I’m very happy the teacher took me aside and showed me how. It’s important to me to this very day.

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Fr. Jim Van Vurst, OFM

Fr. Bill Farris, OFM
50 Years Profession

I have a common schefflera plant, mounted on a small lava rock, and it sits on the window ledge at work. I’ve had it since my first year in active ministry as a friar, making it about 43 years old. I find it amazing that it has survived so many years and so many moves.

The plant began as a gift to me from a parishioner of St. Michael Parish. It was already bound by some twine to the lava rock. Soon the roots were firmly wrapped around the rock. When I trimmed a branch, one or two new shoots always emerged. Year by year the roots and trunk thickened, and it began to look its age.

I would like to age as gracefully as this simple plant. I would like to trust in the pruning that Jesus does so that new and more fruitful branches may emerge. This line from Psalm 92 comes to mind: “Planted in the house of the Lord, they shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bear fruit even in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” (Ps 92:14-15)

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Fr. Bill Farris, OFM, and his 43 year old schefflera plant.

Br. Ed Skutka, OFM
50 Years Profession

• In high school I did not miss one single day except for June of my senior year when I got the measles.
• In the 1950s before we left our old house in Hibernia, Ohio, we had pigs in the pen, chickens, lots of rabbits, 13 cats and two dogs, and one cow that my mother milked daily while I held the flashlight at night. The only creatures that really made us careful were the copperhead snakes in the woods near our home. From July to December, when I was 15 years old, our new house was built (on the same property) and it cost around $25,000. We moved in the first day of 1960. I was in my first year of high school.
• In May of 1965 when I was 21, I was drafted into the Army. I went to Fort Dix in New Jersey, then to Fort Sam Houston in Texas, then Hawaii, and then to Vietnam.

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Br. Ed Skutka, OFM

Fr. Bruce Hausfeld, OFM
60 Years Priesthood

When I was in the 8th grade at St. Clement School, the team elected me captain of the football team. (I played left tackle.) You got to flip coins and tell the other guys what to do. I was proud of that. Also, as I was growing up I always wanted to learn how to play the piano, but our family never had enough money, so I never took lessons.

During my 60 years of priesthood I have enjoyed all the different people I have ministered with: Navajo, Anglo, Cajun and Mexican people. My best time was with the Navajo people for 25 years.

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Fr. Bruce Hausfeld, OFM

Fr. Leonard Cornelius, OFM
60 Years Profession

For the last several years I have been attracted to Carmelite spirituality. I have been reading the works of St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila), St. Thèrése of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (Little Flower), and St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. I have found these writings helpful in describing the development of the spiritual life through the stages of the purgative way, the illuminative way, and the unitive way.

Presently I am reading the writings of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, a Dominican theologian who taught courses on ascetical and mystical theology for 20 years at the Angelicum in Rome. He uses St. John of the Cross as one of his main sources. Outstanding! My present assignment (as a chaplain) allows me ample time to study these writings and use them for guides in my spiritual life as I prepare for the arrival of Sister Death.

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Fr. Leonard Cornelius, OFM

Fr. Jeremy Harrington, OFM
70 Years Profession

Looking back on 70 years I realize how blessed I’ve been in each friar community I was part of and in my various ministries.

What’s unique? My immediate family stretches from the 19th to the 21st century. All four of my grandparents came from Ireland. My grandfathers each bought farmland in Indiana. My father was born in 1882 and my mother in 1886. My mother gave birth to me, her eighth child, a few days after her 46th birthday. She died in 1985 when she was 99. My two older sisters and I are still living in the 21st century.

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Fr. Jeremy Harrington, OFM

Fr. Reynolds Garland, OFM
60 Years Priesthood

Reynolds’s dedication to those suffering from Hansen’s Disease (long known as leprosy) was documented in Neil White’s book, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts. White’s 2009 memoir told the story of his incarceration for 18 months in a federal prison on the same property in Carville, La., as the Gillis W. Long Hansen’s Disease Center where Reynolds ministered.

What is not as well known is that Reynolds first approached the assignment as chaplain to Hansen’s patients with trepidation. “I had a little bit of apprehension when I entered,” he once said in a panel discussion of White’s book. “But after I entered the gate, I had a sense of peace.” That peace remained with Reynolds throughout the 20 years he served as chaplain in the country’s last containment center for Hansen’s patients.

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Fr. Reynolds Garland, OFM

Fr. Al Hirt, OFM
50 Years Profession

As a very young priest in New Orleans, I got a call at lunch one day from the FBI asking if I would come to the Social Security Office where a man named Emmett, someone I knew who had mental problems, was holding people hostage at gunpoint. He said he would talk with me. I spoke on the phone with Emmett briefly and then went by way of a police car to the office. Fortunately, by the time I arrived, he had surrendered his gun, so I didn’t walk into quite the situation I had imagined.

A few weeks later, I was called to try to talk a young man off a roof who was threatening suicide. Among the friars in the house, we began to joke: “Who you gonna call? Call Fr. Al.”

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Fr. Al Hirt, OFM

Fr. John Joseph Gonchar, OFM
65 Years Priesthood

On a visit to Slovakia in Eastern Europe, my oldest sister Mary and I accompanied my mother in visiting her childhood friend living in Prague at the time. My sister and I decided to go out and see some of the city. On our return, we found ourselves stranded on the trolley in the trolley yard. Those trolleys were through for the day. We should have gotten off at the prior stop. A lack of understanding on our part was the culprit. Apparently the operator thought the trolley (two trolleys joined as one) was free of passengers. He didn’t bother to check. Fortunately we were able to extricate ourselves from the trolley and return safely. I could just imagine the scenario that might have ensued had we been forced to spend the night in that trolley, nobody knowing where we were. Thank God, all things worked out well.

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Fr. John Joseph Gonchar, OFM

Fr. Jim Bok, OFM
50 Years Profession

My brother, John, loves to tell people how much we are alike in theology and politics. And then he is quick to add how different we are in personality. He shies away from the spotlight “and my brother, Jim, loves to be in it.” There is some truth to that. Gregarious might apply. There was a time in my life, however, that I abhorred the spotlight. Growing up I was a shy kid. All through elementary and high school I was never on a team or in a club. I feared being called on in class. And asking Janet to the Senior Prom took every ounce of courage I could muster. People who have known me over these 50 years find this hard to believe.

At Moeller High School my senior homeroom teacher, Br. Elmer Lang, SM, appointed me President of the homeroom. GASP! During my tenure 4A had to host a football pep rally. There I stood on the gym floor in front of 800 teenage boys, faculty, and staff — beet red and sweating profusely. But 4A and I got the job done. Something happened that day. Thank you, Br. Elmer!

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Fr. Jim Bok, OFM

Fr. Joe Ricchini, OFM
65 Years Profession

When any electrical item stops working at the friary, I look for another friar to fix it. No one would ever believe that I took a two-month electrical course in the Air Force [before joining the friars]. I was supposed to know everything about electricity, but I didn’t know anything. I don’t know how I got through it. My father died when I was in the Air Force, and I was able to leave the service on either a hardship discharge or to enter the seminary. I talked to my wonderful sister and she said, “You go to the seminary; I’ll take care of Mom.” My sister was a saint.

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Fr. Joe Ricchini, OFM

Name this Jubilarian

Can you guess who this is? You may not recognize the person based on these stories his mother might tell.

  1. At 5 years of age he picked the neighbor’s tomatoes and sold them back to the same neighbor.
  2. At 12, he worked at his father’s restaurant and outed the produce supplier who packaged 40-pound sacks of potatoes as 50-pound sacks. He weighed himself on the backroom scale and then asked the salesman to hand him the sack of potatoes.
  3. At 13 (after his father sold the restaurant), he canvassed the wealthier homes across town armed with a bucket and rags on his bicycle, counting windows, ringing doorbells, and handing the homeowner a self-addressed, stamped postcard with a quote to wash their windows (inside and out). “Mail it to me, if today is not a convenient day for you.” It was a lucrative enterprise.
  4. At 14, he responded to a newspaper ad to sell a boxcar of Christmas trees (yes, a real train boxcar) on consignment. To do so, he convinced the owners of the corner gas station to let him use their side lot to sell the trees. It was a huge success.
  5. At 16, when a gas station was having a grand opening, he asked for a job, but the owner had all the employees he needed. While the owner was busy with the grand opening, there sat all the unopened stock, supplies and tools in the open bays of the gas station. The teen proceeded to stock the shelves, stack the supplies in the storage room, and place the tools where the mechanics could easily access them. At closing time, the owner told him, “Hell, I have to hire you. I don’t know where anything is!”
  6. At 18 years of age, he entered the Seminary, and according to his five blood brothers (Marines), he hasn’t worked since!

CLUE: This Jubilarian has a street named after him in honor of his years of service on a non-profit Board of Directors. CLICK HERE for his identity.