Religious Brothers Day, celebrated on May 1, provides the chance to celebrate and give thanks for the vocation of religious brothers, along with offering the opportunity to reflect on and pray about God’s call in our own lives. In honor of the occasion, we interviewed some of the friars about their ministries as Franciscan brothers.

John Boissy, OFM

Friar John Boissy in his shop

John Boissy in his shop at St. Anthony Friary and Shrine. Photo by Eileen Connelly, OSU

There is great joy that accompanies answering God’s call and using the gifts He has given us to create and share beauty. Such has been the case with John’s vocation as a Franciscan brother combined with his woodworking ministry.

John fell in love with woodworking as a student at the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati. At the time, he was considering a career as an architect. When his mother mentioned her search for a new bookshelf, John purchased his own set of power tools and went about building his first piece of furniture. “I was hooked!” he said, adding that project was followed by making a shoe cabinet for his father. “The idea of designing and creating something was very exciting to me,” he said.

His parents encouraged his interest, and requests from other family members and friends led to additional furniture making projects. John continued to hone his skills, invested in additional tools and watched YouTube videos on new techniques. He applied to the North Bennet Street School, a trade school in Boston that offers a two-year program in cabinet and furniture making. Meanwhile, as John bided his time on the school’s waiting list, God was at work in another area of his life.

After admittedly wrestling with his faith, John found strength and healing through prayer and Eucharistic Adoration. As his faith deepened, he realized God was calling him to something different, something more. John attended Come and See Weekends with various religious communities, but felt he found a home when he visited the Franciscans in 2014. “It was their sense of community, the ministries they’re involved in, their charism, definitely the creation aspect of that,” he said. “They were so excited about my love for woodworking and said there had been another friar who was a master woodworker.”

Friar John Boissy

John poses with a Queen Anne chair he made. He hopes to use it as show piece in the future. Photo by Eileen Connelly, OSU

Throughout his studies, John lived with the friars of Holy Name Province at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston. He and his fellow students studied the classics, working from a foundation of 18th- and 19th- century examples. His class projects included a Shaker nightstand made from walnut and poplar, and a splay-leg table made from curly maple. Students also built their own toolboxes. Making a Queen Anne chair that he gave to his father, along with a grandfather clock he gifted to the local friars, was especially gratifying for John. He will graduate from the North Bennet Street School on June 2.

Meanwhile, he returned to Cincinnati in January and has set up shop at St. Anthony Friary and Shrine in the same space previously used for woodworking. John noted that much of his time recently has been spent cleaning up, organizing and adding storage space to his work area. He plans to have his shop operational by June and anticipates his work will be largely commissioned-based, with a mixture of household and liturgical furniture.

For John, the connection between his ministry and Franciscan life runs deep. “Woodworking has become something that is part of who I am,” he explained “I absolutely love the feeling of creating with God while I’m designing, cutting, assembling, sanding and finishing. It’s a very meditative time for me and gives me time to reflect on creation and on myself.”

Regarding his vocation, John added, “We are all brothers, and our ministry flows from fraternity. We learn to be brothers to each other, but also to be a brother with Christ. I can be a brother to other people I meet and share that brotherly bond with Christ with them. St. Francis encouraged his brothers to use God’s gift for the good of the fraternity and others, and I’m grateful to be able to do that.”

To follow John’s ministry, visit his Facebook page, “Friar Furniture & Crafts.” A website is under construction.

Michael Radomski, OFM

Michael Radomski and a friend

Michael Radomski and a friend during his Backpack Ministry in Detroit. Photo by Toni Cashnelli

Being a healing presence to others, assuring them they are not alone and reminding them of the reasons to be joyful. Michael Radomski feels this is what he is called to in his vocation as a Franciscan brother.

His calling came not in a meaningful moment from childhood, nor was it influenced by contact with friars early in life. Michael was initially discerning the priesthood in the Diocese of Detroit in his home state of Michigan when a change in leadership and staff set him on a different course. “When people close the door, God finds another route around to His ends,” he said.

Contact with the friars at Duns Scotus affirmed his interest in Franciscan life. “They were so welcoming, down to earth and easy to be with,” Michael said. “I felt like it was home. His certainty about what God was calling him to was reflected in a conversation with the late Frank Geers, then director of postulants: “I told Frank, ‘My heart is here, and here it will be.’ It’s been that way ever since,” he said.

Michael had initially spent some time in medical school and realized God was calling him to a different kind of healing. While in formation, he served in hospital ministry and enjoyed visiting with the patients, listening to them and praying with them. He also experienced parish and retreat ministry and is grateful for those opportunities. Michael went on to join the staff at Roger Bacon High School, working with the dean of discipline and the school counselors to “feel out the students dealing with difficulties, whether it was something interfering with their education or impacting their life in general. We sought to find out what was going on in their hearts,” Michael said. “That was very fulfilling.”

Returning to the Detroit area in 2008 to help care for his aging parents, Michael became involved with St. Aloysius Neighborhood Ministries. Amid the city’s harsh winters, he and a team of dedicated volunteers welcomed people off the street into a warming center, where they received “food, clothing and whatever they needed,” Michael said. “After that, we moved things out to the streets with our Backpack Ministry,” seeking out the homeless, the reclusive, those most in need of kind word, a gentle hand, God’s healing and love.

Michael currently resides at Duns Scotus Friary in Berkley, Michigan, and lends his skills to addressing a variety of maintenance issues at Our Lady of La Salette Parish. He also provides behind the scenes help with Al Mascia’s one-friar, one-act musical inspired by the life of Blessed Solanus Casey, OFM Cap.

No matter what ministry or activity he is involved in, what being a Franciscan brother means to Michael is: “being a brother to other people. That’s what we friars are about. I just try to be as available to other people as I can, rejoicing in the good times with them and helping them through their difficulties,” he said. “When you relate to people at that level, it offers them reassurance. That’s what people are in need of: spiritual and emotional healing. That’s what God is asking of me: to be with people to help bring them healing of heart and spirit.”

Eric Seguin, OFM

Eric Seguin headshot

Eric Seguin

Among Eric’s earliest and most fond memories are praying with his mother, Jeanne, and grandmother, Marie Anne, who also read him Bible stories instead of bedtime tales, and gave him and taught him how to pray his first rosary, which he still uses and treasures.

“I really thank my mother and grandmother for instilling in me that you don’t have to be afraid to pray, to be mindful that our vocation is a gift from God, and how important it is to be mindful to what God is calling us to,” he said.

Those childhood lessons in faith set Eric on the path to religious life, while he also learned that God’s call for us is always a matter of timing: His, not ours. Eric grew up in Porcupine, Ontario, the youngest of 10 children in a family that spoke both French and English. In the fourth grade, he became acquainted with the Capuchin friar who served as his local pastor. The friar’s stories of his 30-year ministry in India among the lepers fascinated Eric, as did his brown habit and sandals. “He was quite special in the way he devoted his whole life to others,” Eric said. “He really took me under his wing and became an extended member of our family.”

As inspiring as the friar was, Eric could not imagine himself as a Franciscan, so after high school, he went on to study culinary and hotel management. He worked in the hospitality industry for 13 years, while always making his faith a priority. Every morning on the way home from his overnight shift, Eric stopped to attend Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa. On the same day he lost his hotel job due to cutbacks, he was offered the position as caretaker of the cathedral. As he cared for the sacred space over the next five years, Eric also had plenty of time to pray and explore his call to religious life. “It really rekindled my vocation and gave me the chance to go deeper to consider what God was calling me to,” he said.

That call became more obvious while Eric was on a two-week silent retreat at the Abbey of Saint-Benoit-Du-Lac, a Benedictine Monastery in Quebec. One day, the book, The Lessons of St. Francis: How to Bring Simplicity and Spirituality Into Your Daily Life, nearly leapt off the shelf and onto to Eric’s lap. “I read it twice and was inspired by how St. Francis gave up everything he had to follow God and live simply and spread the Gospel,” he said. “I thought, ‘maybe this is something I can do.’”

An Internet search led Eric to the St. John St. the Baptist Province website and contact with then Vocations Director Don Miller, who responded to his inquiry in record time (10 minutes). Don followed up with a visit with Eric at the cathedral, where he also concelebrated Mass. Thanks to that visit, further conversations with Don and encounters with other SJB friars, Eric quickly realized that St. John the Baptist Province was home. In his current ministry at Church of the Transfiguration in Southfield, Michigan, Eric wears a variety of hats, including serving as facilities manager for the parish. Whether he’s scheduling or setting up for functions, meeting with the organizers or lending his culinary skills to an event, he said, “I really it enjoy it. It’s the hospitality side of me.”

He also assists with Franciscan Outreach, the parish’s food distribution ministry, when needed, helps with day-to-day life at Transfiguration Friary and takes Communion to the homebound, a ministry he finds to be especially meaningful. “It’s such a little thing that I’m doing, but it brings people such joy,” Eric said. “I love visiting people and bringing Christ to them.”

Of his vocation as a Franciscan brother, he said, “It’s been a great blessing from God in terms of the freedom that I have experienced to interact with a wide variety of folks and access a wide variety of ministries.”

Although his grandmother passed away years ago, Eric still thinks of her often and pictures her smiling and giving him a thumbs up. “I think she’s grateful and proud knowing that God had a plan for me and that I was brave enough to follow His path. I can hear Grandma saying, ‘You did it!’”

Philip Wilhelm, OFM

Friar pushes cart of food at Franciscan Outreach

Philip Wilhelm assists at Franciscan Outreach. Photo by Octavio Duran, OFM

As Philip Wilhelm reflected on 60 years as friar in 2020, he said, “…I am most grateful to God for calling me to serve as a Franciscan brother. I appreciate that my parents gave us 11 children examples of prayer and devotion to the Mass and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, as well as attending the novena to the Blessed Mother in our parish. I have truly been blessed in giving service to my Order and society through working with my hands.”

Philip’s call to life as a friar was inspired, in part, by a pamphlet he found on the floor of Central Catholic High School in Toledo, when he was a student there. “I still remember the pictures of St. Francis,” he said.

In addition to a having a Franciscan heart, Philip has a missionary spirit, both of which have compelled him to live outside of himself and be deeply concerned for the welfare of others. After serving in various roles in his early ministry as a friar, he requested, and was granted, an assignment in the Philippines. “I wanted to be active in ministry with the people,” he explained.

Over the course of his 46 years there, Philip was involved with opening a school for lay brothers, working with seminarians and members of the Secular Franciscan Order and serving and being present to Hansenite patients (those with leprosy). “It was so rewarding being with them,” Philip said. “I remember one man telling me, ‘Don’t ever say leprosy is something terrible from God.’ They taught me that there is blessing in suffering. I learned so much about faith from them.”

Jobs were scarce and salaries low in his adopted country, Philip noted, as the poor struggled to survive and secure adequate housing. The separation of island settlements and diversity of dialects made cooperation among the Filipinos themselves an ongoing challenge. Over the years, Philip stayed in touch with the friars, family members and friends in the United States via a series of detailed letters that reflect his love and concern for the people of the Philippines, the joys and the challenges of his vocation.

He returned from the Philippines in 2013 and has been serving at Church of the Transfiguration since then, assisting with Franciscan Outreach and various tasks around the parish and friary.

Among those from the Philippines that Philip has remained in contact is Clare, whom he first came to know when she was an infant and her mother needed a babysitter. The kind friar volunteered and became known as Clare’s “Lolo” (the mostly commonly used Filipino word for grandfather). Clare, now the married mother of two and an accountant by profession, has visited Philip’s family, along with the friars at Transfiguration, and thoroughly enjoyed her time with them.

Philip expressed gratitude for the gift of his vocation, saying, “It has been a blessing to work with the poor as their brother, to be a companion to people and to have the chance to work with my hands,” he said. “That comes from my family. I’ve enjoyed going into someone’s home and repairing things. I also enjoy doing what I can for the priests here at Transfiguration so they can be free for the sacraments. Fr. Jeremy (Harrington) is still very active, and Fr. Jeff (Scheeler) is so busy, so it’s wonderful to have things ready for them when they get home. It’s wonderful to hear what they’ve been doing.”

Most of all, Philip reflected: “As I think of years gone by, I thank God for His mercy and patience, and especially, His love.”