By Eileen Connelly, OSU
The creation of the new Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe in October brought together more than 600 friars from across the United States, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Jamaica. Whether a friar is new to Franciscan life or has lived it for decades, the spirit of fraternity, dedication to living the Gospel and loving and serving those most in need are common values. The youngest and oldest solemnly professed friars in the province – Br. Jason Damon, OFM, 29, and Br. Irenaeus Kimminau, OFM, 102 – witness to this through their lives and ministries.
Br. Jason proclaims the Gospel in Spanish at St. Columba-St. Brigid Parish in Buffalo. Also pictured is Br. Jud Weiksnar, OFM.
Accompanying people in good times and bad: Br. Jason Damon, OFM
Originally from Buffalo, New York, Br. Jason, the oldest of three children, admits that while their Catholic faith was important to his family, it was something he often took for granted. That changed when he started college at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, New York, and met the friars.
“My faith became exciting to me. It gave me life,” Br. Jason explained. “I hadn’t encountered the Franciscans before, but was attracted to their spirit and their overall vision that God is good. Their incarnational spirituality really spoke to me. I’ve always loved and appreciated nature, so a spirituality that reverences and celebrates that is also very meaningful. The idea of a life dedicated to helping others and structured around prayer and fraternity also appealed to me.”
As much as he was drawn to the friars, Br. Jason wrestled with a call to religious life. “I tried to keep things at arm’s length, but at the same time, found myself saying to God, ‘If it’s your will I’ll give it a try.’’
Meanwhile, Br. Jason continued his studies as a history major and entertained thoughts of a political career. Summer internships with the Franciscan Action Network and Knights of Columbus served to increase his understanding of the connection between faith and public policy, with God’s call never far from his mind. “I was really on the fence,” Br. Jason admitted, but decided to give Franciscan life a chance.
He entered the postulancy shortly after graduation in 2016, with the support of his family and to the surprise of many friends. Br. Jason made his temporary profession in 2018, and professed solemn vows and was ordained to the diaconate in August. He will be ordained to the priesthood on May 4, 2024. “I’m especially grateful to the friars who have supported me throughout my vocation struggles,” he said. “They’ve always said, ‘We’re glad you’re here. We’re glad you’re with us.’ That’s been a real blessing.”
Br. Jason acknowledged that discerning a vocation “isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it. It’s important to at least consider it, to make that inquiry. Maybe God isn’t calling you to religious life, but you’ll be a better man, a better person, and hear more clearly what God is calling you to. Religious life is a witness to a life that’s devoted entirely to Christ, a life lived selflessly, and that is important in our Church today and in society as a whole. It can be a prophetic vocation if we live it well, intentionally and unselfishly.”
Since August, Br. Jason has been serving in campus ministry at Villa Maria College in Buffalo, New York, where he works to provide programing and opportunities to help a diverse student population grow in faith and connect with others through reflection and service. “Villa Maria really embodies the Franciscan tradition by reaching out to a student demographic that traditionally has not been able to afford college,” Br. Jason noted. “I’m dealing with the challenges of engaging students outside of the classroom, but have been trying to come up with fun, new ways that embody the Franciscan charism and help them live it out. A lot of students have expressed their gratitude, and I find that heartening.”
As a transitional deacon, Br. Jason also assists with liturgical and pastoral ministry St. Columba-St. Brigid Parish in Buffalo, where his ministry ranges from preaching to youth ministry and attending meetings related to the renewal process the local diocese is currently undergoing. “Many areas of the Diocese of Buffalo are in need, so I feel like my service here really embodies the Franciscan spirit to seek out and be with those who are on the margins. It’s important to me to be someplace where I’m living with and among the poor,” he said.
Reflecting on the next step on his journey as a friar, Br. Jason said, “I’m looking forward to walking with people during the most intimate times of their lives, whether happy or sad. As a friar, as a religious, people often share their vulnerability with you, and that’s something I take seriously and respect. I want to be present to them as we walk the journey of faith together.”
Br.Irenaeus celebrates his 100th birthday.
Celebrating 80 years of humble service to God: Br. Irenaeus Kimminau, OFM
Br. Al Merz, OFM, recently sat down with Br. Irenaeus of Quincy, Illinois, to help share his story. The oldest of eight children, Br. Irenaeus hails from Mount Clare, Nebraska, an unincorporated town near Lawrence (population 200). He was raised in a farming family, which lost their farm after a years of crop failure when Br. Irenaeus was in eighth grade. The family then moved to Washington, Missouri.
Feeling a strong call to the priesthood, Br. Irenaeus attended the Franciscan seminary in Westmont, Illinois, intent on becoming a priest. He professed temporary vows in 1943, solemn vows in 1946, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1949. When asked what stands out for him about being a Franciscan, Br. Irenaeus responded, “It has just become a way of being for me. I simply have been who I am with people wherever I’ve been.”
“This is exactly how he is,” emphasized Br. Al. “He is a humble, beloved servant of the people and dedicated brother to us Franciscans. The Franciscan way of life wore off on him, and he wears it well, even if he can’t define it.”
Br. Irenaeus’ pastoral ministry led him to many parishes over the years in both rural and urban settings. His last ministry assignment was at St. Anthony Parish in Quincy, Illinois, where he served as pastor, then as a part-time associate. Br. Irenaeus eventually retired, but continued to drive himself to the parish every Tuesday morning to celebrate Mass and a St. Anthony devotion until he reached the age of 98.
“All of his ministry career has been in parishes,” Br. Al said. “He really loved and cared for the people he was with, and the people really loved and cared for him. Many of his former parishioners who are still living remain in touch with him. To this day he sends and receives more Christmas mail than the rest of our community receives combined. When I asked Br. Irenaeus to tell me what ministry experience was the highlight of his many years, he said, ‘Every experience, really every moment of every experience, was its own highlight.’”
The Christmas season is particularly meaningful to Br. Irenaeus. For him, the significance of God becoming human, the Incarnation, says everything God can say about how we are loved. “After his retirement, he really threw himself into the celebration of Christmas,” Br. Al said. “He spends hours composing his Christmas message every year, adding personal notes to each letter, addressing 100 plus envelopes and getting everything mailed on time. This year, three of us will help him get this done.”
Br. Irenaeus’s 100th birthday in 2021 was celebrated in a big way.
"It all began at St. Anthony Church,” said Br. Al. “Family members, friars, parishioners, friends and news media personnel were waiting for him. He took it all in with delight, warmth and gratitude. After appropriate welcomes, commendations, congratulations and news interviews, the current pastor at St. Anthony’s gifted him with the announcement that the parish center would now be called the Fr. Br. Irenaeus Kimminau Parish Center, and a school scholarship fund would be named after him. Then Br. Irenaeus was asked to climb into a waiting fire truck, and with lights flashing, he was paraded back to Holy Cross Friary seven miles away, where he sat on the front porch and waved to 30 or so carloads of friends who drove by. His celebration was a highlight for all of us, not just him.”
Is God calling you or someone you know to become a friar? Contact our Franciscan Vocation Ministry team – we are here to support you as you discern your vocation. To get started, fill out this form.