By Sr. Eileen Connelly, OSU
The life of a religious brother is as unique as the men who wear the habit. From serving the sick and homebound to creating furniture, each friar uses his God-given talents to bring the love of the Gospel to everyone he encounters. Below, several friars share their ministries as Franciscan brothers.
Furniture and faith
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 Br. John Boissy’s vocation as a Franciscan brother combined with his woodworking ministry.
Br. John fell in love with woodworking as a student in Cincinnati, Ohio. He honed his skills and applied to the North Bennet Street School, a trade school in Boston. As he bided his time on the school’s waiting list, God was at work in another area of his life.
After wrestling with his faith, Br. John found strength and healing through prayer and Eucharistic Adoration. As his faith deepened, he realized God was calling him to something more. He attended Come and See Weekends with various religious communities but found a home when he visited the Franciscans in 2014. “It was their sense of community, the ministries they’re involved in, their charism,” he said. “They were so excited about my love for woodworking and said there had been another friar who was a master woodworker.”
After graduating from the North Bennet Street School in June, Br. John returned to Cincinnati in January and has set up shop at St. Anthony Friary and Shrine in the same space previously used for woodworking. The connection between his ministry and Franciscan life runs deep. “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, Br. 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.”
John-boissy-woodworking: Br. John Boissy, OFM, in his shop at St. Anthony Friary and Shrine. (Photo courtesy of Sr. Eileen Connelly, OSU
Spiritual and emotional healing
Being a healing presence to others, assuring them they are not alone and reminding them of the reasons to be joyful. Br. Michael Radomski, OFM, feels this is what he is called to in his vocation as a Franciscan brother.
His calling did not come from a meaningful moment from childhood, nor was it influenced by contact with friars early in life. Br. 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. Contact with the friars at Duns Scotus Friary in Berkley, Michigan, affirmed his interest in Franciscan life. “They were so welcoming, down to earth and easy to be with. I felt like it was home.”
Br. Michael had 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 and praying with patients. He went on to join the staff at Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati, working with the dean of discipline and the school counselors to connect with “students dealing with difficulties. We sought to find out what was going on in their hearts. That was very fulfilling.”
Returning to Detroit in 2008, Br. Michael and a team of volunteers from St. Aloysius Neighborhood Ministries spent the harsh winters welcoming people off the street into a warming center and, through a “backpack ministry,” sought out the homeless, the reclusive, those most in need of kind word, a gentle hand, God’s healing and love.
No matter what ministry or activity he is involved in, being a Franciscan brother means “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. 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.”
Michael-radomski-backpack-ministry: Br. Michael Radomski, OFM, and a friend speak during the distribution of backpacks in Detroit. (Photo courtesy of Toni Cashnelli
A ministry of hospitality
Among Br. Eric’s earliest memories are praying with his mother and grandmother, who read him Bible stories instead of bedtime tales, and gave him his first rosary, which he still uses and treasures.
“I thank them 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 lessons set Br. 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. After high school, Br. Eric worked in the hospitality industry for 13 years and attended daily Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa, Canada. On the same day he lost his hotel job due to cutbacks, he was offered the position as caretaker of the cathedral.
Over the next five years, Br. Eric prayed and explored his call to religious life. On a two-week silent retreat at the Abbey of Saint-Benoit-Du-Lac, a Benedictine monastery in Quebec, he read the book “The Lessons of St. Francis: How to Bring Simplicity and Spirituality Into Your Daily Life – twice. “I 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 Br. Eric to the former St. John St. the Baptist Province and contact with then Vocations Director Br. Don Miller, OFM. Through conversations with Br. Don and encounters with other SJB friars, Br. Eric quickly realized that the Franciscans were home. In his current ministry at Church of the Transfiguration in Southfield, Michigan, Br. 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,” Br. Eric said. “I love visiting people and bringing Christ to them.”
eric-seguin: Br. Eric Seguin, OFM, finds joy in bringing Communion to people who are unable to come to church.
A Franciscan heart with a missionary spirit
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 during his 60 years as a friar. After serving in various roles in his early ministry, 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.”
He returned from the Philippines in 2013 and has been serving at Church of the Transfiguration in Southfield, Michigan, since then, assisting with Franciscan Outreach, as well as various tasks around the parish and friary.
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.”
Philip-Wilheim-Franciscan-Outreach: Br. Philip Wilhelm assists at Franciscan Outreach. (Photo courtesy of Br. Octavio Duran, OFM