AUGUST 25, 2016

For 150 years in Oldenburg, friars have been

Part of the family

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The soundtrack for Mass is a choir of babies and toddlers.

They are everywhere at Holy Family Church in Oldenburg, Ind., each trying to outdo the others in volume and pitch. Some are unhappy, but most are just enamored with the sound of their own voices. They feel comfortable enough to let loose a whoop or a shriek whenever they like.

The juxtaposition of old and new is striking here at Holy Family, and it’s especially obvious at today’s Mass as they celebrate two baptisms and the 150th anniversary of the friars’ presence in Oldenburg. Over the years many of the men in SJB Province lived here during formation or as part of the parish team. A number of them, including Provincial Minister Jeff Scheeler, have returned to be part of this milestone event. With all the excitement, Pastor David Kobak will have his hands full.

For generations, many parishioners have known only pastors and associates who were friars. Ask what they like about being in a Franciscan parish and they look at you quizzically as if to say, “Is there any other kind?”

Legacy of helping

George Doll, 69, is a lifelong member. “And she’s been here all her life,” he says, nodding to granddaughter Georgeana, 14. “We’re basically an old German community, half town people and half rural.” At Holy Family, “We have a lot of different generations, from great-grandparents to families just starting out,” so baptisms are frequent. “We have a lot of Franciscan heritage through the friars and the Sisters of St. Francis,” whose motherhouse sits across the street. “We always supported the Franciscans because they had their school of theology here [1875-1958].” For decades young friars cleaned the church, played basketball with neighbors and picked apples on George’s farm.

“They took care of all of our maintenance,” says parish activist Jeff Paul, whose family has been part of the community since the 1850s. “We were really spoiled when the clerics were here. We took them for granted.” Like everyone else, Jeff has had favorite friars. “We were close to all of them. There’s one right there,” he says, pointing to Br. Norbert Bertram, a former member of the novitiate team who came from Cincinnati for the festivities. [The novitiate was here 1870-’90 and 1967-’79.] “Fr. Sylvester Heppner …oh that laugh. He was such a people person; everybody loved him. He always remembered your kids by name and could relate to the old folks he visited in the hospital.”

When Fr. Rock Travnikar moved here in 1994, he stopped by Jeff’s IGA Village Store and said, “The church is missing a spire,” referring to the Onion Dome that was removed in 1949 after it fell into disrepair. “I’ll get to work on that tomorrow,” joked Jeff, who later spearheaded an effort to raise funds to restore the Dome. “The friars taught us how to be true volunteers. That’s what we learned from the friars.”

Sr. Pat O’Bryan, MS, joined the parish five years ago. “I have to be where I can sense the presence of God,” says Pat, the Executive Director of Edelweiss House in Greensburg, an agency that helps children whose parents are in transition. “I walked in this church and said, ‘Yes!’”

Molly and Mark Lindenmeyer, formerly parishioners in Batesville, were hooked on Holy Family when they heard Pastor Sylvester preach in the 1990s. “It was the first time we understood Franciscans. They draw you in; they make you proud of your faith.” And they’ve always been good neighbors. “Fr. Dave has owned this community like it’s his own.”

Sharing lives

Today Dave’s job is to keep things moving, starting with a homily on discipline (drawn from the readings) that will preface an anniversary meal. He speaks over the baby babble in church, reminding the audience that one definition of discipline is “things that make us stronger:  persons, trials and tribulations, fractured relationships, broken hearts.” When we get through tough times, he says, “We stand up straighter. We’re sharing in divinity, becoming better human beings. The friars have been preaching this to the community for 150 years.”

He segues to the baptisms of babies Macy and William, so cute they elicit gasps of admiration. Of course, the talkative toddlers in the crowd, bounced on parents’ knees or standing on laps for a better view, have something to say about it.

After Communion, it is Jeff’s job to put things in perspective. “Whenever I celebrate an occasion like this,” he says, “I’m reminded we’re part of a huge family. On behalf of the Franciscan friars, I simply want to say thank you for the privilege you have given us in sharing your lives for 150 years.

“This is a very special place for us because many of us spent time in formation here, where we encountered Francis and our faith was deepened.” He wonders aloud how many parishioners were baptized in this church. “Discipline is how we become disciples,” he says, evoking Dave’s homily. “We are a holy family,” with friars sharing the “ups and downs, baptizing your babies and burying your dead.”

But “we don’t just focus on 150 years. We are open to the future. May God continue to bless us all on this wonderful journey of faith and discipleship.”

Before the crowd convenes to the basement hall for a chicken dinner, Pastor Dave scoops up the baptized babies, one in each arm, and walks them down the aisle to be blessed by all.

It’s a memorable day for the whole family.

Postulants recharged, renewed


Dan Ward (SJB) and Andrew Koon (OLG) returned to Duns Scotus Friary in Berkley, Mich., the week of Aug. 15 to begin their next year of postulancy.

Andrew Koon and Dan Ward at the home of Stephen Foster in Greenfield VillageDan spent the summer with his parents in Chicago, with many different camping trips.  This time firmed up his desire to continue his Franciscan journey, and he looks forward to his time as a novice next year.

Andrew lived with the friars of OLG this summer, starting at Casa San Juan Diego, a week in Jemez Pueblo, time in Gallup with visits to Chinle, Lukachukai, St. Michael’s, and other Navajo points. Andrew learned much more about his province and also returned eager to begin again this passage towards the novitiate.

Both had some time to readjust to more formal formation.  We started formally with a “postulant check-in”, followed by a trip to Greenfield Village and a movie.  That, after a work period with Michael Radomski, was a welcome relief.  This year both will be involved in continuing their college experience at Oakland Community College.

Postulancy is a great time of learning about oneself, the Franciscan Movement, our provinces.  Please pray for them as they are in this liminal period of moving toward becoming Friars Minor.

  • Al Mascia and Steve Klaper lead an interfaith conversation.Unity Church pastor Ric Beattie posted this photo on his Facebook page Aug. 22 after the inaugural “Caught in Conversation” program presented by Br. Al Mascia and Steve Klaper of the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace. At the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., “A room full of Muslims, Jews and Christians shared a meal with a table of five or six others and actually talked to each other,” Ric wrote. “Amazingly simple and beautiful. This is how peace begins and spreads.”
  • The toll was revised upward today to 250 deaths in the wake of the Aug. 24 earthquake that left three ancient Italian hill towns in ruins. An unknown number of people are still missing following the 6.2-magnitude quake. The Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, badly damaged in the quake of 1997, was declared safe: Earthquake-shakes-central-italy
  • The Associated Press tells how three nuns survived the collapse of their convent and how a Polish priest was rescued after being trapped in his home. Read their stories at: Priest-and-past
  • Robert Seay, OFMFr. Robert Seay will serve as chaplain for a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi for the Canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Mercy is a major theme of the Sept. 4 canonization, which will feature special Masses, prayer vigils, exhibitions, a musical and a family feast for the poor, according to the National Catholic Register. The pilgrimage is Sept. 1-7.
  • Representing Mary, Gate of Heaven Parish in Negril, Fr. Jim Bok took part in the 2016 Diocese of Montego Bay Youth Rally Aug. 20 on the grounds of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Falmouth, Trelawny, Jamaica. “The day included Catholic speakers, activities, food, fun, Mass, The Sacrament of Confession, prayer, and concluded with a grand march through the streets of Falmouth,” the diocese reports


As I write this, the Provincial Council is in Techny, Ill., meeting with the other six Provincial Councils of the U.S. OFM Provinces, discussing revitalization and restructuring of our provinces. The conversation has been good, frank, and honest. It is too early to let you know final decisions since we have not concluded our process; we certainly will let you know the results in a few days.

But one thing that has become clear to me (once again), and has informed my prayer in these days, is that we are called to be in the lifelong challenging process of conversion. I sense that all the friars engaged in this process need to have the psychological and spiritual ability to say, “I am willing to change and enter into the dying and rising process.”

It may sound spiritual, pious, and even easy, but we all know how incredibly difficult it is to “let go and let God,” in a spirit of trust and minority, with a willingness to live “sine proprio.” That phrase and spirit has become part of my prayer during these days. Will you, can you, join me?


– Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM

You can’t govern without loving the people and without humility! And every man, every woman who has to take up the service of government, must ask themselves two questions: “Do I love my people in order to serve them better? Am I humble and do I listen to everybody, to diverse opinions in order to choose the best path?” If you don’t ask those questions, your governance will not be good. The man or woman who governs, who loves his people, is a humble man or woman.

– Homily from Sept. 16, 2013

Council discussions have been “good, frank and honest”.

General Minister Michael Perry addresses friars.

Talks continue.

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For 150 years in Oldenburg, friars have been

Part of the family

Andrew Koon and Dan Ward at the home of Stephen Foster in Greenfield VillageDan spent the summer with his parents in Chicago, with many different camping trips.  This time firmed up his desire to continue his Franciscan journey, and he looks forward to his time as a novice next year.


For 150 years in Oldenburg, friars have been

Part of the family