FRANCISCAN FRIARS Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

January 25, 2018

Learning along with brothers

PHOTO BY ALVIN TE, OFMMark Soehner on a rooftop in Rome with St. Peter’s in the background(Mark has been attending the Annual Meeting of the Minister General and Definitory with newly elected Provincial Ministers and Custodes.)


The time here in Rome has been very full.  Every day the General Definitory has put together a program that introduces the various offices of the General Curia and the individual Definitors from the different areas of the world, with a focus on things one should know in becoming a provincial.  All of this has been done in an atmosphere of prayer in one of the three language groups of the Order:  English; Spanish; or Italian.

I arrived last Monday, and began to settle into this new rhythm.  The following day I went exploring with Yusuf Bagh, from the Pakistan Custody of St. John the Baptist.  We made a stop at St. Peter's as we walked to St. Isidore Church with the Irish friars.  We were given a great tour by the former General Definitor, Louis Brennan.  I ran into a friar from St. Leopold Province who entered through the PHOTOS BY MARK SOEHNER, OFMAbove, Swiss Guards at work: middle, throngs at the Square; top, Pope Francis works the crowd.Tyrol.  He called me his long, lost daughter! That, despite being 15 years younger.

Classes began in earnest on Wednesday, Jan. 17.  These days have included talks on Canon Law issues, Ongoing and Initial Formation, the Office of the Economo, Mission & Evangelization, Dealing with Conflict and Difficult Friars, JPIC, Antonianum, Mandates from the 2015 Chapter, and visits with our Minister General, Michael Perry.  We had a day of pilgrimage and prayer to Greccio and Fonte Colombo.  We had one day off, when I went to Mass at St. Isidore's and was able to connect with a friar friend in the afternoon.

My greatest learning comes from the brother provincials who are learning right along with me.  We each come with different backgrounds, cultures, languages and experiences.  Because of my limitations in language, I mostly enjoy talking with the English-speaking friars.  But I have attempted conversations with Spanish speakers, and cautiously, with Italian speakers, because there I'm only speaking either English or Spanish with a few polite Italian words.  Just being together for this time really draws us together.

The temperature during the day is warm enough to open the windows, where sun pours in with the fresh air.  The nights are cold, and even when the sun is out during the day, the chapel is always a damp cold.  So even though it is only cool outside, when entering the chapel, it's as though the walls radiate a deeper cold, like a refrigerator.  Friars generally are bundled up with a scarf around their necks to protect from drafts.  Morning Prayer and Mass are at 7 a.m.  Evening prayer is at 7 p.m.

Pranzo is the big meal served about 1 in the afternoon.  There is always wine, pasta, some kind of protein and vegetables, and generally fruit for dessert.  The final dinner (cena) is light and around 7:30, followed by a recreation time that can last for a while.  Caoimhin Ó Laoide can really sing!

Our final session is this evening, Jan. 25.  I hope to be on the plane by 8 a.m. on Friday and in Cincinnati by 4:30 p.m.  This, of course, demands everything to be on time - something I no longer expect.  I should have Jan. 27 to recuperate before the Provincial Council travels to New Orleans on Jan. 28.   I hope my time in Rome will give you a well-trained provincial!

Walking the walk

Yesterday we were able to attend one of the Wednesday audiences with Pope Francis.  There were many people in St. Peter's Square, but one of the friars managed to get a general ticket entitled "Frati Minori" for about 18 of us to get to the Square in a special section.  We were not able to shake hands with him, but he was walking in the section directly ahead of us.

What I noticed about Pope Francis was that he took time to shake hands, speak, or take selfies with almost everyone in the front row.  He didn't seem to be in a hurry, but was generous with his time.  That really was a homily all by itself.

PHOTO BY MARK SOEHNER, OFMAbove, Mark with brothers Jurgen Neitzert, Yusuf Bagh and Julio Cesar; top, Driving into Fonte Colombo, where Francis wrote the Rule Mark with brothers Jurgen Neitzert.Expanding horizons

Each year newly elected Provincials and Custodes from around the world gather for formation and training in Rome. Along with Mark Soehner of SJB Province and Thomas Nairn from Sacred Heart, this year's group of 16 includes friars from Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

Developed by leaders at the General Curia, the program was launched more than 10 years ago "to meet the felt need of the new leaders", according to Caoimhin Ó Laoide, ESC General Definitor and a planner of this year's meeting.

"Almost all the presenters are friars here at the General Curia who have expertise in the areas being dealt with," he says. "Among other reasons, this is to connect the new Provincials and Custodes with the people who manage the offices here at the Curia so that if they need help or advice in these areas they can easily contact the friar that they have met and whose presentation they have heard during the course. Other presenters included a psychologist from a treatment center who spoke about the accompaniment of friars in difficulty, and the Rector (President) of the Pontifical University, Antonianum, Sr. Mary Melone."

Interpreters and translators are present to provide Spanish, Italian or English translation. This year Polish was added for one of the participants.

What do they hope the new leaders will take home with them? "Besides learning about aspects of the accompaniment of the friars and facilitating the living out of our way of life in their entities, to have a greater sense of clarity and confidence in their ministry and an ability to connect with the General Curia in the exercise of that ministry," Caoimhin says. And beyond that, "To be more aware of their belonging to a world-wide fraternity, and to have a 'memory bank' of good memories of warm fraternal relationships with the other new Provincials as well as with all of the friars of the General Curia who are at the service of the Order world-wide."

-Toni Cashnelli

An action-packed day at Friars Club


PHOTO BY SCOTT OBRECHT, OFM“The kids are here to have fun,” Scott says of the 7- to 12-year-olds.Do you have any idea what it is like to spend a Saturday with between 650 and 800 kids?

Let's do the math: 10 kids on a team, 20 kids on a court and 80 kids on four courts, every hour on the hour from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. That makes for one long day.

Welcome to the world of basketball at Friars Club in Cincinnati. There are two leagues. Our Friars Winter League consists of 250 children - boys and girls - in grades 2 to 6. Ages: 7 to 12 years old. This league began the first weekend in December and ends the last weekend in February. It is a long three months. With another league playing at the same time, add another 550 kids to the mix.

Recently a friend of mine wrote, "I think you are staying very young by being with all of those children." If I am "staying very young", then why do I feel "so very old?" It is exciting, though, to be around all these kids. They are so full of life and energy that it does rub off. The kids are here to have fun. They smile and laugh, learn the basics of the game and the value of good sportsmanship. We like to think that at this age it is not about winning or losing, but about being part of a team and developing friends.

One of the volunteer coaches huddles with her team.The crowd roars

So what do I do on a typical Saturday at Friars Club? Behind the courts and next to the Learning Center, where we tutor the kids, is my office. Changing into my "work clothes" - my Franciscan habit - I drink the last of my White Castle coffee and check out my camera. I am ready to go. I'll return to the office a little later to put my feet up and rest awhile before the next hourly match.

As I enter the main lobby, there are tons of parents and kids coming and going. With the game over, the next game begins. This is the pattern for the next 10 hours. Most of my time is spent taking photos of the kids "in action," and visiting with their parents. One cannot spend a lot of time visiting with them because they're all screaming and cheering on their team.

I thank them for being here for their kids and encourage them to continue the cheers. It is so important for people to be cheered on, affirmed, and told they PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMScott Obrecht’s official title is “The Friar” at Friars Club.are good. So I do that with the families and they, in turn, do it with their kids.

When I first arrived at Friars Club in September of 2014, I was asked what I wanted on my business card. Since a big part of my being here was to be a "Franciscan presence,' it seemed only right that my official title should be, "The Friar" at Friars Club. Being present to those who come here - Catholics, non-Catholics and, probably some non-believers - is important. They need to know that they are welcome and that it is great to have them here. And, I find, they seem to like my being around to offer a handshake here and a smile there, an affirming hand on the shoulder and a "How are you doing today?" They are little things that I think, or at least hope, make a difference in the lives of the people who come here.

Friars Club has many great people who make a difference in the lives of our kids. Our coaches practice two nights a week with the kids and are at their games on Saturdays. They PHOTOS BY SCOTT OBRECHT. OFMAbove, double-teaming the opposition; top, they’re ready to rumble.are the ones who instill our Friars Club values of Respect, Responsibility, Leadership and Good Sportsmanship in the children who come here. Our Education Administrator, Tim Taylor, coordinates the 32 volunteers who tutor our 35 Friars kids who need to improve in school. Parrish Ozias, who coordinates all of our sports programs, is a master at scheduling. Annie Timmons, the Executive Director, has dedicated her life to the kids. Each one of these folks is a positive influence to all we serve at Friars Club

Part of a tea

Four years ago I had no idea what I was getting into when I moved here from our retreat house in Pennsylvania. I knew that Friars Club had a new building, that it had been 25 years since we had a friar on staff - although some had served as chaplains since then - and that Annie needed help. It was a good decision to be "The Friar" at Friars Club. We have great kids who will only become greater and a dedicated staff, volunteers and generous benefactors who continue to support us. We are blessed.

Let me close with a story. Two years ago our Junior Dribblers, grades K, 1st and 2nd, were playing a game. Usually the scores are low and when a child does score, everyone in the bleachers cheers them on. A little girl dribbled down the court, shot and scored. The place went wild. The players raced down the court and took their defensive positions. The coach noticed that only four of the five teammates were in position. Where was the fifth player? Instead of running down the court, the little girl who scored the basket was running toward her mom in the bleachers to receive a big hug. Then she ran back to be with her team.

That is what Friars Club is about: giving people hugs; telling them they did a good job; encouraging them to be the best they can be. We all need someone to be present who believes in us and calls us to greatness. That is what I try to do; that is what all of us at Friars Club try to do.

Help us celebrate

Save the date: The 46th Annual Community Dinner, a major fund-raiser for Friars Club, is Friday, April 27, in Cincinnati. Cocktails at 6 will be followed by dinner and an awards program. For more details, contact Ben Klayer at:

The case against the death penalty


(Jim's column originally appeared in St. Clement's parish bulletin on Jan. 21.)

PHOTO BY ISTOCK.COMAn unknown number of innocent people have been executed.It is well known that the Catholic Church opposes the use of capital punishment in any form. It is part of the cluster of pro-life stands that it takes which includes opposition to abortion and assisted suicide.  And the basis for that stand is the conviction that God alone is the source of all life and no creature of God has the right to take human life.  Of course, God alone knows the hearts of all people, and that is why we and the Church who oppose the acts against life are not in a position to judge any person's heart.

In regard to the death penalty, there are two other factors that oppose it. One is that for all practical purposes, the issue of protecting the lives of others can be accomplished with "life in prison without a chance of parole." Secondly, it is revolting to imagine executing people who are innocent of the crime. Note that since 1973, 150 condemned persons were eventually proven innocent of the crime and set free. So it is reasonable to state that there have been an unknown number of innocent people who were actually convicted and executed.

Since 1973, there have been 1,448 executions in the U.S. The U.S. ranks 6th in standings in the number of executions following China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and then the United States.  Most people hearing this fact are shocked that our nation is linked to the above countries regarding deaths by execution.

What has already been said reveals some of the reasons the Church opposes the death penalty in the U.S. The chance of executing an innocent person is the worst miscarriage of justice one can imagine.

We know that using the death penalty to protect society is no longer necessary with a sentence of "life without parole." Then, too, there are prisoners seeking to overturn their sentences who have been on death row for as long 25 years before a determination is finally reached. The expenses for the state are monumental.  Another powerful reason is that many of those condemned to death have received totally inadequate defenses because of lack of good attorneys and finances.

But one of the main reasons in the eyes of the Church is that the death penalty is sought "out of revenge", which is something contrary to the spirit of the Gospel and the mercy of God we all depend on.  One can understand the family of a victim having those feelings and emotions. But for the many who vigorously support the death penalty, it is the revenge motive which a Christian who accepts the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel should not have. There have been celebrations of groups of people outside prisons when an execution takes place. It is difficult to understand how a thoughtful Christian would participate in such a gathering and then talk about his belief in a merciful God.  "Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" is not at this time in history a valid biblical proof. Such criminals can be isolated from the rest of society.

There is continued pressure from various groups to put an end to capital punishment in all the states. Unfortunately, given the rise in violent crime in the U.S., such a goal will likely be a difficult one to achieve.

(In a major speech Oct. 11, 2017, Pope Francis declared that the death penalty is "contrary to the Gospel."  Read more at:

Numbers tell the story

Some other startling statistics reveal:

  • 32 U.S. states employ the death penalty. Of the 1,448 executions since 1973, 807 have been Caucasian (55.7%), 498 black (34.4%).
  • In 1999 there were 98 executions, the highest number since 1973.
  • As stated above, 150 convicted of murder have been found innocent and released.
  • Currently there are 2,905 people on death row in the 32 states with capital punishment. Just 2% are women.
  • Finally, a survey of professional criminologists revealed that 88% said they did not believe the death penalty deterred the crime of murder.  A new study believes the figure is 1 in every 25 - or 4.1 percent

Send comments or questions to:


FRANCISCAN FRIARS Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

PHOTO BY MARK SOEHNER, OFMAbove, Mark with brothers Jurgen Neitzert, Yusuf Bagh and Julio Cesar; top, Driving into Fonte Colombo, where Francis wrote the Rule Mark with brothers Jurgen Neitzert.Expanding horizons

One of the volunteer coaches huddles with her team.The crowd roars

FRANCISCAN FRIARS Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist