We asked the 2023 jubilarians to reflect on the question:

“After all these years as a friar, what are you the most grateful for?”

Here are their responses:  


Luis Aponte-Merced, OFM 

25 Years Profession   

After 25 years as a professed friar, there are many things I am grateful for. After having entered the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor at the young age of 48, I had a lot of discernment struggles in answering God’s call to religious life. It was a call I always knew was there, but I had ignored because of different circumstances I had to face and my complete dedication to work and education. After having achieved many goals and having a wonderful job with many benefits, I finally realized that there was something in my life that felt like a vacuum. I was not feeling the peace and complete satisfaction I was expecting to be part of my life. It took some significant experiences and a toll on my health, due to having become a workaholic, to make me face the fact that God’s call had become stronger as time went on. I had doubts, fear and anxiety as I decided to begin my discernment and look for a religious fraternity to consider joining. I visited many religious groups, but it was not until I met the Francians friars that I knew this was what God and I wanted for me to become part of for the rest of my life. I left a very comfortable life and wonderful job I am proud of having been part of. What I have found is peace and fulfilment in following Jesus in the footsteps of St. Francis as I began to live the vows that allowed me to live and proclaim the Gospel in many different ways and circumstances. Many times, I have been asked if I did not regret leaving my previous life and profession, but I have never felt the need to go back, even though I am proud of all the work I did and my achievements. So the one thing that I am most grateful for after these past 25 years is the many opportunities God has given to feel the peace and satisfaction in a life that has made some difference to those that I have brought the Good News by words and actions and becoming part of their life. May God and my Franciscan brothers continue to give peace and joy to my life as I continue to follow Jesus in the footsteps of St. Francis. May the Lord give us peace as we now begin again as members of the new Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe.


Gabriel Balassone, OFM 

60 Years Profession  

I’m grateful to be part of this community because my brothers are a very important part of my life. That’s what the other friars are: my brothers. It means not doing everything myself, knowing I’m not on my own, that we support each other and share everything, including our wisdom. I just turned 90 years old (on May 24) and have never had to go to the hospital, so I’m grateful to be healthy. I credit that to being Italian. I’m also grateful for the good care I receive here (at St. John the Baptist Friary). Being around the other friars, my brothers, makes me happy and I’m happy to share whatever I can with them. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 60 years. I thank God every day for my brothers. I can’t think of a single thing I would change.  


Juniper Crouch, OFM  

65 Years Profession  

I’m grateful for a lot of things, especially my vocation, even though it wasn’t always something I was enthusiastic about. A lot of people have that lightbulb moment when they know what God wants them to do. For me, my vocation was more of a slow realization, like the fog descending from a mountain top down to a valley, then eventually lifting. It wasn’t until 2019, when I was talking to my younger sister, that I found out that my mom, after having a couple of miscarriages, prayed to God and told Him, “You can have my firstborn.” Then I was born. I knew she had made some kind of vow to God about me, but didn’t know what it was until then, but here I am. That’s where my vocation came from. It was a roundabout gift of God to my mother and it became my responsibility to be faithful to it. I remember when I entered the order, I thought, “What the devil have I gotten myself into? I guess I’m willing to try this.” Then, after solemn profession, I thought, “Well they’re stuck with me now.” God has kept His word to be faithful and I’m grateful for that.  


John Paul Flajole, OFM 

65 Years Profession  

I’m grateful because I’m in the right place as a friar. This gives me tremendous peace and happiness. I have so much love for a lot of people. I’m a person who has been blessed by God with finding my place in His plans. What I’ve been able to do has matched up with what He has wanted me to do. I’ve been blessed to be able to work for God, to be able to give back in every place I’ve been assigned, from being involved in pastoral care or serving in a parish. I’m grateful to have grown spiritually and personally through so many types of ministry. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn to speak Spanish and continue to learn and use it by helping with Spanish speaking RCIA at St. Clement. In the Franciscan Order, we aim to be humble and compassionate, which is all part of living in the presence of God. I’m grateful for 65 years as a friar among all my brothers. I am happy and blessed.  


Reynolds Garland, OFM 

70 Years Profession 

I’m grateful for my vocation and thank God for this calling, in addition to all of the people I’ve met along the way. There have been so many good people. I remembering growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, and watching a movie about St. Francis of Assisi in the fourth grade. I was so impressed and could not get over what this man did: how he gave up all he had and God became everything for him. That moved me so much, even in the fourth grade. A local priest gave me the address to the Franciscan seminary in Cincinnati and I started writing. When I was in the eighth grade, they said, “come,” so I went. I’m thankful for this life and so many great friars I’ve met. And I’m thankful for Br. Tom (Gerchak) for taking such good care of me. 


Marcel Groth, OFM 

60 Years Profession  

My whole life has been one of service, so I’m grateful for that. It’s that one word: service. It’s important to me to be able to do what I can for someone else. I can’t imagine living my life any other way and I’ve loved it. That’s what it is to be a Franciscan: to say, “I’m here for you.” That is what God calls us to do, and what St. Francis asks of us.  


Bruce Hausfeld, OFM 

70 Years Profession  

I’m most grateful for being assigned to the Southwest when that was part of our province. I was there for 55 years in ministry to the Navajo Indians and Mexican people. The people were the poorest of the poor in our country and very good, good people. They were very responsive to the friars’ presence. The fact that we didn’t require the Navajo to give up their native religion was important to them. They knew we loved and respected them. They are very patient people and I learned to be more patient from them. My love for the people is what kept me there for so long. I’m also happy and grateful to be a friar. I’ve never doubted my vocation at all. I can’t believe it’s been 70 years. I had a massive heart attack at 46 and am grateful the Lord let me live. I’m thankful to still be kicking.  


Frank Jasper, OFM 

50 Years Priesthood  

Fifty years! I can’t believe it! I treasure the wide variety of experiences I’ve had in my life and ministry as a friar. However, I’m most grateful for the people I’ve had the privilege to serve along the way. I still have friends from my first assignment in Oldenburg who remind me of things I did as a “baby priest.” I volunteered for many ministries over the years, most of which were ignored or rejected. So I spent my ministry in the inner-city jungles of Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis. I did administration, although I prefer working directly with people. Thirty plus years of counseling has allowed me to enter the intimate struggles and hurts that people deal with. That experience let me know how truly blessed I am. I’m grateful to my dad for introducing me to the healing profession. I often wonder how folks I worked with progressed, especially the kids. I’m also very grateful for my family and friends who supported me during some rough times in my life. You helped me to hang in there. I pray for you daily, along with all I’ve had the privilege to minister with over the years. I am deeply grateful. 


Dennet Jung, OFM 

60 Years Priesthood 

Having enjoyed 68 years as a friar and 60 years of ordained ministry, I find it difficult to choose any particular time or place of assignment where I can say it was “most” memorable or “most” fulfilling. All these years together have been a time of grace, favorable times, pieces of a sweeping and colorful jigsaw puzzle that makes me who I am. Every piece locked in its special place is the design that God has made for me. The pieces fit together like a mosaic that depicts the story of my life. For a number of years in my Christmas mailings, I have been telling the people I met in Santa Fe, New Mexico, years ago that I left my heart in Santa Fe. More recently, I have written the message, “I discovered my heart in Santa Fe!” And so the story goes on that in all my places of assignments, I have little by little discovered my heart, my soul, and I am still growing, learning, maturing, adjusting and being transformed by the God who loves me. God is good; my 85 years of life have been good. My only concern is that I was not always able to “let go” of myself during these years to let the light of God’s goodness be seen through me because of my ego. I’m still trying to see more clearly beyond myself, to appreciate and applaud the people with whom I live and with whom I minister. Serious contemplation confirms for me that I have received much more from others than I have given to them. Thanks be to God for every moment of every day! It is the Spirit of God living and speaking and smiling through me that now gives me fulfillment and peace. This I am coming to feel and to experience as I draw closer to the final “letting go” that I will need to face. These thoughts may sound to some people like a spiritual nosegay or an apology or disclaimer for my weary and restless and sometimes ego-driven past. However, I write these thoughts and feelings from my heart, which moves me to proclaim with our fragile yet strong friar founder, St. Francis, who experienced “perfect joy” in the ordinary, yet extraordinary love of God. 


Daniel Kroger, OFM 

50 Years Priesthood 

Most of all I am grateful for my family and the loving care showered upon me. They were my inspiration and my first teachers. Mom and Dad, four brothers and five sisters. Without them, I could not have been a good kid, at least most of the time. They taught me well and kept me growing in faith and love. They have been supportive to me and I to them as we have faced life and death together in faith. 


Max Langenderfer, OFM  

50 Years Priesthood 

I am extremely grateful to SJB Province and to Franciscan life for a vast experience of the world. 

For much of my 38 years as a missionary, I spent what felt like an endless 33 straight months at a time in very remote parts of the world. While American tourists typically bring their American culture of comfort and convenience with them, I tried to leave my American ways of doing things behind and enter into the world of the people where I was living. On Biliran Island, Philippines, I was fortunate to learn the local Cebuano language well enough to think and feel in that mountain barrio world. I identified myself as taga bukid from the mountains. In Imfayatonse. Malawi, I lived in a traditional African village in a mud-brick and grass-roofed house and ate nsima nkwani ndi nymba (corn meal pumpkin leaves and beans). In Kenya, I traveled in African busses and stayed in rural Franciscan Sisters’ communities. I was welcomed into a Maasai boma and ate githere and drank chai from a single cup. I learned from many indigenous friends what life in vastly different parts of the world was like and how they lived the spirit of Francis of Assisi. 


Thomas Richstatter, OFM  

65 Years Profession  

I am most thankful for the awareness of how blessed the past 65 years have been!  Looking back, the main feeling that comes to me is gratitude. I like to say with St. Bede the Venerable: “My delight has ever been to learn, to teach and to write.” I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do all three: the opportunity to study in Europe, Egypt, India and Guatemala. Forty years of teaching and 150 published books and articles. I am especially grateful to have studied under several of the men who formed the documents of Vatican II and who directed the writing of our current liturgical books. My memory of these professors is not only of their exceptional knowledge, but especially of their humility and holiness. What a blessing to have studied under living saints! 


Robert Seay, OFM 

60 Years Profession  

I am grateful for the brotherhood I’ve shared with the other members of the Order. Franciscan life has given me opportunities for ministry and the experience of different cultural situations. I’m thankful for the way of St. Francis in bringing peace. Because of my Franciscan demeanor, I’ve been blessed to be able to diffuse the anger present in many situations and bring peace. I feel that being a Franciscan and my family background meld together. My parents were very peace loving couple and I saw my mother do a lot of peacemaking. The Peace Prayer of St. Francis has been very inspiring to me. I think it really shows how we are called to respond: to bring peace, to bring hope to hopeless situations. I’m grateful now to continue to work on issues related to racial and cultural harmony. I continue to serve on the Worldwide Council of Mayors. We speak to mayors all over the world and our goal is to bring peace to the world.  


Thomas Speier 

65 Years Priesthood 

I’m grateful for the ability and gift of being able to minster to the sick and Hospice patients, to be able to bring that peace that comes from opening their hearts to Jesus because He is waiting for them with open arms. It’s a blessing to have been a comfort to them. I’m thankful to have helped bring comfort to a nurse who reached out to me when she had a stillborn baby. I’m happy to be baptizing her newborn baby soon.