Spring cleaning

The question is, what should you save?


Friar Mike Chowning admits his desk is a mess.

"I don't write as much as I used to because of the clutter," he says. "Even to pay bills, I have to scrunch off space to write checks." In his previous role as pastor in Hazard, Ky., Mike had the run of the place. As a retiree in residence at Holy Family Friary in Oldenburg, Ind., "I don't have the luxury of all kinds of table space."

There's an obvious solution.

"It would be a lot easier if I just pitched stuff," he says. Problem is, "Some of it could be important if I could uncover or find it." As Mike knows, what's important to a friar has a life beyond the friar, as in, preserved for posterity at the Franciscan Archives.

Mike thought about this last month while preparing for the senior friars retreat in Cincinnati. Making the transition from active ministry to semi-retirement, "I thought of asking Mike Chowning, OFMJerry Beetz [of the Office for Senior Friars], "How do you get rid of stuff?" and, "What kinds of things do I keep?"

Turns out, not all the files at the Archives are reserved for the dear departed. There's a Living Friars section, and some guys routinely forward things when they leave a provincial post, retire, move to smaller quarters or feel inspired to do spring cleaning.

'Keep or pitch?'

Murray Bodo, OFMSometimes, 'They send things here for safekeeping," says Archivist Ron Cooper. Prolific writers like friars Pat McCloskey and Murray Bodo send copies of their books. "Some friars have sent their diplomas. Fr. Kenan Freson just did a 'spring cleaning' of stuff that was already here," sorting through some of his previously archived material. "We're happy if a friar wants to do that," Ron says. "We're happy to receive it."

Mike's concern when he left Hazard was, "What things should I take to the Archives? I tried to keep in mind what perhaps the province might want me to hold onto. Just going through the file cabinets at the parish, some of the stuff had been there since 1980 when Rock Travnikar was pastor, or even earlier. How do you make the judgment? Some of the stuff I held onto until I could talk with Ron Cooper as to whether he wanted it or not. When I found out Ron didn't need it, I got rid of it."

Photos of Mother Teresa were “a wonderful find”.Space is limited, so they can't save everything, Ron says. Take photos, for example. "We try to keep some that are reflective of the friar and their ministries." Pictures of milestone events like professions, ordinations, and major Jubilees are always welcome. "We don't keep pictures of vacations and things like that." Regardless, "We do look through everything" that comes in. Most of the photos left by amateur photographer Raymar Middendorf, who died in 2005, had nothing to do with friars. "But when I went through them, I found pictures of when Mother Teresa was at St. Francis Center" in 1981. "It was a wonderful find because at the time we only had a few photos from that."

The lesson is, when in doubt, don't throw it out - until you ask. "Something can have a lot more value to somebody else than what you think its value is," Ron says. "You may think, 'This is just part of my life,' but to somebody else there's a lot more significance."

De-clutter your life

ILLUSTRATION  BY BRENDA GRANNANSome tips on getting rid of stuff and getting things in order from Mike Chowning:

  • Clean out your computer files and file cabinet;
  • Gather up old clothes to donate to St. Vincent de Paul or for recycling;
  • As a community (friary) project, clean up the kitchen, defrost the refrigerator and discard expired food (check cans as well); sort through old utensils and pots you never use and repurpose or recycle them;
  • Clean out the attic, basement or garage;
  • Update your friar Personnel record and give to your Guardian and the Provincial Secretary (and while you're at it, update your funeral preferences).

A fresh start

  • Mike Chowning suggests we practice spiritual spring cleaning by:
  • Working on forgiveness;
  • Writing a note of appreciation to friars and others;
  • Making that long overdue visit to a sick friar, relative or friend.

Ready to move?

Mike Dubec, OFMMike thinks about "just being realistic in terms of making it easier for those who follow us to clean up my junk when I have to move to a nursing home."

For some friars, "It's just a matter of finding the time to do spring cleaning," he says. "We put it off and put it off and it's only when you move that you say, 'Am I gonna move all this or not?' There are a number of friars who are pretty frugal and they don't hang on to a lot of stuff." Mike Dubec, who served in Hazard with Mike, is one of them, he says. "Then there are people like myself who have a lot of junk. Of course, it's precious junk."  The test is, "Ask yourself, could you be packed and ready to move within two days?"

Spring cleaning has other benefits, Mike says. "It makes life easier. The less clutter there is, the less I have to clean and worry about. It's great advice for everyone.

"I just wish I followed it myself."

Files tell your story

"The whole purpose of our files is to paint a picture of the friar as a person, in his life and ministry," says Archivist Ron Cooper. "The importance of preserving things is that your story can be told to those who don't know it." Contact Ron if you're confused about what to pitch and what to preserve. Here are some of the items you could send to the Archives for storage:

Records from military service;

Prayer cards and Mass programs from milestone events such as investiture, first, simple and solemn profession and major Jubilees; prayer cards for the death of a parent or other family member;

Formation certificates from postulancy through professions; transcripts of grades from the seminary, college, and theology studies; doctoral paperwork; diplomas;

Correspondence from the motherhouse and letters home from friar missionaries;

Writings, including any thesis or book you've written and articles you've done for publications such as St. Anthony Messenger;

Clippings of articles written about you for newspapers or magazines; printouts of online pieces in which you are featured;

Prints of photographs, especially the more formal portraits from simple and solemn professions, ordinations, first Masses, and 25- and 50-year Jubilees. Space limits preclude the storage of family photos, although Ron sorts through every photo box or album he receives. Remember: "Pictures that don't have identification with them [name, date, place] are much less valuable than ones that do. The value increases tremendously if it has the individual or individuals identified."

Toni Cashnelli

Listening is new pastor's priority


PHOTO BY TONI CASHNELLIJeff Scheeler, Jeremy Harrington and Philip Wilhelm at Transfiguration Friary.Part of my sabbatical was participating in the Assisi study pilgrimage last fall.  One of the participants was a diocesan priest from St. Louis, Fr. Chuck Barthel.  On one Sunday afternoon walk, I shared with him that I was going to become pastor at Transfiguration Parish after being out of parochial ministry for many years.  He suggested to me a practice that he used whenever he changed assignments: listening sessions.  I took his advice.

At the end of January, over 10 days, I held seven listening sessions. Three were held in the parish center at different times of the day and on different days of the week, three were held in parishioners' homes, and one (for our middle- and high school-age students) was held in the friary.  I had questions that I published beforehand: 1) What do you like about the parish? 2) What is unique about the parish? 3) What "drives" this parish? 4) What challenges are we facing in the near future?

I billed these sessions as an opportunity to "educate the pastor."  About 77 parishioners took Transfiguration’s bell towerpart in the conversations, which I felt were highly successful.  A couple of people came back twice!  In addition to learning about the parishioners and what they thought, participants got to meet others who went to a different Mass than they did.

A few highlights:

  • The people love our facility and liturgy, and are grateful that we can serve the Southfield business community with our noon Mass.
  • Our building is modest in size and is somewhat hidden in a residential area.  We want to make known the good things that are happening here, and wonder how we can raise our profile in the area.
  • We are proud of our very diverse community, but wonder if we are serving the needs of all our diverse stakeholders.  We wondered if having a few more sessions might be helpful, one for families with young children, and another (or more) for parishioners born outside the U.S.
  • We are an aging parish, with few young people, largely due to the changing demographics of Southfield.  (I had a special session targeted to those between 18 and 30 years of age, but had to cancel it due to lack of participants!  That itself speaks to one challenge.)  Lawrence Technical University is near the parish, and some students do come here to worship.  We are reaching out to see how else we might serve the students.
  • We are very committed to serving the poor, but we can grow in the advocacy for justice asked of us by Catholic Social Teaching.
  • Like most places, many of the same people do most of the volunteering and service.  We feel the need to strengthen our adult education.

I wrote up a summary of what I heard which I presented to the Pastoral Council and Commissions (Christian Service, Discipleship, Worship, and Education).  We are asking them to surface three to five goals from their experience and perspective, as well as the results of the listening sessions.  The Pastoral Council will then use that information to fashion a pastoral plan to guide the parish for the next three years.  It was a great opportunity for me and I think for the parish.  It is helping us all get off to a good start.

(Jeff Scheeler is pastor of Transfiguration Parish in Southfield, Mich.)

A glimpse of life in poverty


Clifford Hennings, OFMLent is a wonderful time to get our house in order, to ask more of ourselves, our communities and our relationship with God.  It's our time in the wilderness.  Driven by the spirit, we follow the example of Christ - confronting those wild beasts lurking in our hearts, making room for the Kingdom in our own lives.  What do we fear? What do we long for?  What are those unspoken things that stymie authentic Gospel living? And what can we do about them?

As Catholic Christians we understand we should care for the poor and marginalized.  But how can we truly care for those we do not understand? It's one thing to know what we should do.  It's another to feel compelled to change our own ways of perceiving others.  This is one of the many reasons why we held a poverty simulator with our college students this past week.  On Feb. 23, the St. Monica-St. George Newman Center, hosted by St. Vincent DePaul, had a group of students from the University of Cincinnati undergo a poverty simulation.

Over the course of a couple of hours, students were asked to take on a new persona.  They were given the basic information of someone living below the poverty line.  Their objective? Try to make it through one month without being evicted from their home, going hungry, losing their children, losing their job, or going back to jail.  The volunteers helping facilitate the events played various roles such as: bank clerk, case manager, landlord, doctor, pharmacist, etc. The students needed to jump from one station to the next, trying to juggle the many road blocks those in poverty often face.

They learned what it was like to live in poverty, says Clifford (top row center).It was an eye-opening experience to see the playful spirits of college students quickly devolve into frustration as they kept encountering one obstacle after another.  "No. The rent must be paid in full."  "You can't bring your children here," said the lady at Jobs and Family Services, to which an exasperated student responded, "But I can't pay for child care until I have a job!"  Those are just some of the things these students learned.

"I have a lot more sympathy for what parents are going through," shared one student after the simulation.  She is a nursing student and admitted that when parents leave their children at the hospital for long periods unattended, she is often frustrated with them.  This simulation gave her and so many others a new lens by which to see the other.

For my part, I was that cold-hearted landlord - and boy, it wasn't easy.  It is my hope that this experience, while brief, at least gave these students something new to ponder.  As they go forth on this Lenten journey, I hope they continue to change how they perceive the world around them and feel compelled to continue to walk in the shoes of those less fortunate than themselves.

Walking the walk

The City of Cincinnati Poverty Simulation is designed to help participants understand what it might be like to be a part of a family in poverty trying to survive month-to-month.  According to St. Vincent de Paul's Ozanam Center for Service Learning, "The goals of the experience are to help participants better understand the realities of living in poverty, to grow in solidarity, and to take action on behalf of our neighbors in need."

E-mail ozanam@svdpcincinnati.org for more information.

  • PHOTOS BY TONI CASHNELLIAbove, Bill Farris with Center guests; middle, the courtyard; top, Laurel Nelson with O’Dell Owens of Interact for Health. Vicar Bill Farris was one of many on the receiving end of thank-yous Tuesday when The Center for Respite Care welcomed friends and donors to a Relocation Celebration in its new home at St. Anthony Center in Over-the-Rhine. For CEO Laurel Nelson and the agency's board, staff and volunteers, the move to space formerly occupied by Franciscan Media and owned by the friars was the culmination of a 2½-year process. The Center provides holistic medical care to homeless people who need a place to heal. Its capacity has increased 40% in the new quarters and services have been expanded. "We pinch ourselves every day that we get to come here," said Laurel, who thanked more than a dozen companies, agencies and families who sponsored the renovation of the former FM space into patient rooms, a recreation area, a kitchen, and a medical suite. The courtyard now used by patients is "the shining beacon of our facility," she said.
  • Franciscan Media continues its ongoing series of reflections for Lent at: https://hubs.ly/H0b7X3k0. The prayer reflections, drawn from the words of Pope Francis, are collected in The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis by Diane M. Houdek.

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


March 1, 2018

The Clares in prayerThe early part of this week was spent having visitation with our Poor Clare sisters in Cincinnati.  Their care and attention given to prayer, to the Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharist, as well as to their common life, have always impressed me.  They teach me patience, willingness to bend, fidelity to "showing up" for prayer, among many other things. Having the opportunity to speak to each one was a genuine privilege.

I am glad that they have the practice of participating in our gatherings here in Cincinnati.  And I hope their example will be "infectious" to us.  Francis told Clare, and she preserved this saying in the heart of her rule, "because you have been divinely inspired, you know that you are daughters and handmaids of the Most High, and have taken the Holy Spirit as your husband, choosing to live according to the Gospel, I resolve for myself and my brothers to always have the same loving care and special affection for you as for them."

I am glad that we have a canonical connection to them.  But it's the heart connection to our sisters that informs and balances our life as brothers living and proclaiming the Gospel.


– Mark Soehner, OFM


Send comments or questions to: sjbfco@franciscan.org



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