The faith, dedication and humble service of 14 jubilarians was celebrated during a joyous Mass of Thanksgiving at St. John the Baptist Friary in Cincinnati on July 29, Memorial Day. The guests of honor were recognized for commitments ranging from 25 to 70 years as a friar and as long as 65 years as a priest. Collectively, their years since profession and ordination total 815, but, of course, their commitment can never be measured.
Tom Richstatter, marking 65 years as a friar, had the privilege of introducing his fellow jubilarians and sharing the biographies he composed about them, remembering their various ministries, leadership roles, personal accomplishments and lessons learned with an approach that was both factual and humorous. He recalled that Frank Jasper, celebrating 50 years of priesthood, served the province in many leadership positions. “But Frank’s heart lies with his many years of ministry as a clinical psychologist,” he said. “St. John’s Gospel records Jesus as saying, ‘I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.’ Frank has spent a large part of his 50 years of priestly ministry helping people come to a more abundant life – mentally, spiritually and physically.”
He noted that Luis Aponte-Merced, with 25 years as a friar, joined the Franciscans after a long career teaching dentistry and dental public health. “While traveling overseas to teach, he saw the health needs and suffering of so many poor people that he was inspired to investigate a new call from God to work with the gifts He had given him,” Tom explained. “After two years of discernment, Luis joined the Franciscan Friars of St. John the Baptist at the ‘young’ age of 48. His decision has, in his words, ‘brought complete peace and satisfaction to my life.’”
Homilist Jeff Scheeler drew from the readings from Genesis, 2 Corinthians and John as he remembered his own conversations and experiences with each jubilarian over the years, from one friar’s ministry to lepers and fondness for dogs and another’s always upbeat nature to the many travels and respect for other cultures that revealed the true missionary spirit of one of his brothers. Jeff recalled many inspiring and fond moments from his encounters with the jubilarians, including an angelic rendition of “O Holy Night,” Cajun food and music in Lafayette, Louisiana, a willingness to serve wherever needed and the vision and leadership that carried the province through many changes over the years,
Jeff said he received the invitation to preach at the jubilarian Mass on the second Sunday of Easter, when part of the Gospel was the same as for this liturgy. All the parables told by Jesus reveal what the Kingdom is like, he noted, saying, “If we take John at his word, there are many more parables not written down,” reminding us that Jesus continues to tell a parable today, that of religious life, and the jubilarians, individually and all together, are parables of the Kingdom.
Jesus is telling us now that “you/we are living parables, written with our lives and our stories,” Jeff said.
He acknowledged there were a variety of feelings associated with this jubilarian celebration as it is the last for St. John the Baptist Province, from letting go of what is familiar to embracing an unknown future. Like Abram in the First Reading, he reminded the friars that they must “go forward,” and concluded by praying, “Mary, Mother of the Church: Pray for us. St. John the Baptist: Pray for us. Our Lady of Guadalupe: Pray for us.”
Provincial Minister Mark Soehner didn’t make any formal comments during the celebration but shared the following message to his brothers: “Congratulations to each of the jubilarians on their continued commitment to following Christ in this way of life. I am grateful for the words of Jeff, our former provincial, during his homily. He had specific memories of each one of you that were a window into your life. I am grateful for your witness to the Gospel. Over the years of my own profession and in this ministry of provincial, I have been inspired by your lives. I feel the challenge and encouragement to discover again how to creatively live our call to be the Lesser Brothers of Jesus.”
“I wonder how we, the brothers that surround you, might also be encouraged to live more directly with the poor; to advocate for those who are seeking asylum; to live among those who have no faith in Jesus; just to raise a few questions, like, ‘What is the secret to your joy?’ Just like you have done! As we walk into a new era as the large and new Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe, can we claim the itinerancy of these brothers and follow the Lord into new adventures as Franciscans in the 21st century? Congratulations, brother jubilarians! Breathe your sense of adventure, your courage and your passion into us. And thanks for the challenge you and the Holy Spirit give us as we reverence and release our current experiences and embrace our journey ahead.”
For a full list and photos of this year’s jubilarians, please see “Jubilarians share expressions of gratitude” linked HERE.