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

October 11, 2018

Welcome home — to America


PHOTOS BY TONI CASHNELLISr. Luisa Bayate, center, with Judge Litkovitz, friends, friars and Poor Clare sistersFor millions of Americans, citizenship was not bestowed at birth. They had to work for it.

We are reminded of this as Poor Clare Sr. Luisa Bayate, a native of the Philippines, takes a seat in the courtroom of U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Litkovitz. Since landing on these shores in 2010, Luisa has pursued the same dream as the 68 men and women surrounding her in United States District Court in downtown Cincinnati. She wants to be an American.

When she takes the Oath of Allegiance at today’s Naturalization Ceremony, she will have the rights and privileges that most of us take for granted, including the right to vote. To ensure that 69 new Americans are ready for the Nov. 6 elections, the League of Women Voters is here to register them on the spot.

Watching proudly from the audience are some of Luisa’s friends and her Franciscan family, Poor Clare sisters and friar brothers Tim Sucher and Max Langenderfer. For Sr. Pia Malaborbor, also from the Philippines, the process is familiar: She’s been a citizen since 2014. For all of them today’s date is fortuitous, cosmically consequential. Luisa will become a citizen on Oct. 4, the Feast of St. Francis.

But there’s a last-minute problem.

Last in line

Top, their mom, who is from Bhutan, is becoming a citizen; above, cell phone cameras capture the big moment“We are asked to go [to the courthouse] at 12:30 for the final processing of the ceremony,” Luisa says. “Good thing that we arrived on time because when it is my turn to be checked on the list to be naturalized, the court clerk can’t find my name on the list. I am not on the list! How it happened, I don’t know.”

They consult another clerk who responds, “How did I miss it? I can fix this,” then leaves the room in a hurry to make Luisa’s Certificate of Naturalization just one hour before the ceremony. “They asked me to be Number 69 and be seated on the last chair of the line,” Luisa says. “They said, ‘We will call you when your certificate is ready.’ It was a nerve-racking moment for me.” At the last minute, “I finally saw the clerk show up in the courtroom again with my certificate. I am IN! It was like a ‘perfect joy’ moment for me.”

Meanwhile, in this wood-paneled courtroom where conflict and drama are more typical, kids of every nationality bounce up and down or play peekaboo as their parents turn and wave from the seats up front. Grownups move about freely, striking up conversations with families they’ve never met. Today they have something in common – pride in how far their loved ones have come.

69 journeys

In 2016, 752,800 people became naturalized Americans. Ceremonies like this happen in almost every county and city in the United States. They are poignant, powerful reminders of civic responsibility.

Top, trying to catch a glimpse of Luisa; above, playing peekaboo with the flagToday is about the 69 people from 32 countries whose journeys took years and brought them thousands of miles from the places they were born, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from Bhutan to Togo. To get here they applied, studied, underwent interviews and passed a battery of oral, reading, writing, history and government tests that would flummox many of us. Most seem happy but nervous as they wait to stand and introduce themselves. Some are grinning from ear to ear.

“This is a wonderful afternoon,” says Alberta Hemsley of the League of Women Voters, welcoming the future citizens and their families. Passing out forms, she walks them through the process of electoral registration. In a few minutes, all are registered to vote. And you can bet they will.

The striking of a gavel signals the presence of Judge Litkovitz. The naturalization clerk hands each applicant a tiny American flag provided by the Federal Bar Assn.

“We welcome each of you to the American family,” says the judge. “By being here today you have shown your commitment and willingness to take responsibility for American citizenship. American citizenship is a great gift ….we must remember the sacrifices of those who’ve gone before us.”

Interrupted by a toddler yelling “Mommy!”, the judge laughs along with everyone else.

One by one the applicants rise to state their name, country of origin, and number in line. They finally reach the end: “My name is Luisa Bayate, I’m from the Philippines, Number 69.”

Top, Tim Sucher with Sons of the American Revolution who attended the ceremony; middle, soon-to-be Americans in the courtroom; above, Judge Litkovitz congratulates Luisa.Judge Litkovitz announces they are “qualified in all aspects to be granted U.S. citizenship,” and administers the Oath of Allegiance. Right hand raised, all of them promise that, among other things, “I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same… help me God.”  Even the smallest tykes stand as the judge then leads the room in reciting The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.

Representatives from Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman convey their good wishes. “It isn’t just a ceremony, it’s a celebration,” reads the letter from Sen. Brown. “We are a nation of immigrants. All of you here today embody one of our nation’s greatest strengths. It’s not where you come from that makes you an American; it’s your dedication to America. I would like to congratulate each and every one of you and welcome you home.”

Before distributing certificates, Judge Litkovitz shares her own story. “I am the granddaughter of Italian immigrants who came here in the early 1900s.” She holds aloft their well-preserved immigration papers. “I can only imagine how proud they would be to see their granddaughter preside over a ceremony to naturalize citizens.”

‘What a day’

The judge hands each new citizen a Certificate of Naturalization and invites their families and friends to come forward for photos. When his number is called, a young man from Italy throws his arms in the air. Afterward, Tim Sucher says to him, “I didn’t see the faces of all the people, but you seem to be the happiest person in the room.” The new American assures him, “I am SO happy! I am SO happy!”

When they eventually get to No. 69, a small army accompanies Luisa to the judge’s side, including her immigration lawyer and a friend from the TSA she met one day when they struck up a conversation at airport security. Her contingent is by far the largest of the day.

After nearly an hour of photos and conversation, the judge, still smiling and gracious, asks which Franciscan Order they represent. She says presiding at this ceremony never gets old. “This is the best part of my job.”

As the courtroom clears, Luisa clutches her certificate and thanks guests for sharing this amazing experience. “What a day to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis.”  She also has a request: “Please pray for me that I may be faithful and be a good citizen to my new country that God has given me.”

For one Poor Clare and 68 others, this isn’t the end of a journey. It’s just the beginning.

Do your part: Vote!

The phrase “voter apathy” should never be used in a sentence about democracy.

But when it comes to exercising our rights as citizens, we are pathetically indifferent. During the last midterm general election in 2014, voter turnout was 36.4 percent – the lowest since World War II.

This year, with control of Congress in the balance, voter registration is higher than normal. But numbers are meaningless if we don’t show up at the polls. In many parts of the country, early voting for the Nov. 6 midterm election is underway. To learn more visit

This year, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men is offering a reflection guide for exercising your right to vote. Not intended to be exhaustive, it is meant “to invite deep reflection on priority issues” supporting a consistent ethic of life and dignity.

“A Call to Holiness: A 2018 Guide for Voters” can be printed out as a folded pamphlet here. “We encourage our members to download and use this guide in town meetings, candidate forums, and other ways to communicate with candidates in preparation for voting on November 6th.”

  •  Cyprian Berens is part of a touching video honoring 19 women and men religious from six Orders who are celebrating their 75th Jubilee in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Produced by Jennifer Schack, it can be found at on the Home Page under Videos. Watch for a biography of Cyprian being posted on the Archdiocese Facebook page next Tuesday, Oct. 16.  The Archdiocesan Jubilee Celebration is Oct. 27 at St. Julie Chapel at Mt. Notre Dame in Reading, Ohio. Details to follow.
  • Al Hirt of St. Monica-St. George is on deck for the next installment of the Theology on Tap series, starting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 17 at Mecklenburg Gardens, 302 E. University Ave. in Al Hirt, OFMClifton. The October series gives young adults an opportunity to meet, listen and discuss the topic, “Learning to Love the Scriptures.” Al’s reflection is on “How Homilists Help Scripture Come Alive.”
  • OLG friar Joe Nelson shares an adventure that was intensely physical and intensely spiritual in his new book, The Appalachian Trail: A Franciscan’s Spiritual Journey (Tau Publishing). Joe began walking the Trail in 1996, the same year he started working in Hispanic Ministry in Cincinnati. “From the beginning I was thinking about writing a book about my experiences,” he says in the Prologue. In a way, writing it “was like walking the trail a second time as the memories came flooding back.” You can buy the book this weekend and ask Joe to sign it in  the vestibule of Holy Family Church in Oldenburg following Masses (5:30 Saturday, 8 and 10 a.m. Sunday).It’s available for the special price of $14.95 (the cover price is $16.95).
  • Grief offers opportunities for growth, as Tom Gerchak learned when he attended the workshop “Through Grief to New Life” Oct. 8-10 at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat Center in Detroit. One section of the program in particular stuck with Tom.  “The story was shared that, many years ago, a fellow friar came to a workshop to talk about his life history and broke down crying, saying that nobody had ever asked him about his life, or seemed to care,” Tom says. “This teaches me that we all need to listen and be receptive to brothers’ losses and grief in order to transition and deal with the changes in our lives in a freeing and healing way. It is important to talk about our feelings and open up to our fellow friars and friends to help us deal with all the change in our lives. ‘Change’ won’t change, but we can! It is our response to change that can make it a challenge and teach us to grow in life, as we accept God’s grace and action in our lives.” Also attending the workshop, sponsored by the National Religious Retirement Office, were Tom Speier, Jerry Beetz and Province Nurse Michelle Viacava.
  • This picture-postcard scene comes to you from Franciscan Media President Kelly McCracken and Dan Kroger, Publisher/CEO, who connected with supporters of their publishing ministry during their recent visit to Rome. They shared this photo on Facebook Oct. 5.
  • Dan Kroger and Kelly McCracken in RomeEight years after St. Francis Seraph Church in Over-the-Rhine hosted the first free clinic for pet owners with limited means, Pet Health Day is still going strong. Mounted and staffed by United Pet Fund with support from Blue Buffalo pet food, this year’s clinic on Oct. 7 saw another strong turnout. Thanks to generous donors and volunteers, pets received checkups, flea treatments, food and vaccinations at no charge. The event, coordinated by Dr. Zeke Zekoff of Towne Square Animal Clinic in Blue Ash, takes place on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Francis.

‘May they find loving humans’


PHOTO BY TONI CASHNELLITim Sucher hugs Bumper. Every animal has a story. That’s what five friars learned Oct. 6 when they volunteered for the province’s first-ever pet blessing at Cincinnati’s SPCA adoption center in Sharonville.

Tim Lamb and Bill Farris set out that morning to bless as many of the 800 rescued dogs, cats and small animals as they could. Along the way they heard tales of abandoned and abused cats and dogs in all stages of recovery, including Jordan, a 4-month-old gray kitten who is unable to use her front legs but can propel herself around strapped to an American Girl doll wheelchair.

They prayed over kennels of dogs with special needs, rooms with bottle-fed kittens and pooches headed for a mobile adoption event. “We ask a blessing upon all these animals as they go forth,” Tim said. “May they find loving humans who will care for them.”

Bill was impressed with the shelter’s medical care, “the approach to the varying needs of abandoned pets, and special sections for those too young to go on to the next level.” Tim was encouraged by “the care volunteers give the animals. It’s heartening to see people take the time to care for the big ones and little ones.”

At noon, Tim Sucher and David Crank joined Scott Obrecht out front for public pet blessings. Scott explained the connection to the Feast of St. Francis. “The respect he had for creation is the respect we try to instill in others.”

For two hours they blessed fish, cats, dogs and one stuffed animal–

all of whom had a story. The fish were terminally ill. Joanne Queenan brought an aging retriever she took in after the owners divorced. Everyone’s favorite was Tillie, a sweet-tempered basset hound blinded by glaucoma and deaf in one ear. She gets around fine, thank you.

Happily, they blessed a number of new adoptees like beagle puppy Bumper, who wriggled with joy on the way to his new life. Out for a birthday excursion a family took home Trinity, a golden-eyed tortoiseshell kitty with three legs. Everyone involved was sure St. Francis would approve.


Blessings abound at the SPCA


PHOTOS BY TONI CASHNELLIDavid Crank with Ma-BeDavid Crank with  SonataTillie, blind and deaf in one ear, loved all the attention.Scott Obrecht bestows a blessingTim Sucher greets Joanne Queenan’s dogBill Farris blesses two tiny residentsPHOTO BY SPCATim Lamb blesses Jordan, out for a stroll in her wheelchair.David says goodbye and good luck to three-legged Trinity, on her way to a loving home1 - 8<>

Living in the moment


PHOTOS BY FRANK JASPER, OFMJohn Quigley preachingat TransitusThis time of year my schedule speeds up.  I’m privileged to be able to travel to various parts of our province and beyond to experience our brotherhood and to learn.  But if I’m not careful, the present moment can easily slip away.  The many urgent needs can shift my attention to staying only in the reflexive “fix-it” frame of mind that is needed to deal with practical issues.  But without a centered connection as a child of God and brother to Jesus, it could reduce my actions to that of a CEO, and not a very good one at that.

We provincials are gathered in St. Louis, Mo., for the English Speaking Conference of Provincials (ESC) that brings together provincials from England, Ireland, Lithuania and the Custos of the Croatian Custody, as well as the seven provinces of the U.S. It has been a good exchange of ideas, best practices, funny experiences and moments where we noticed the working of God.  While there is business to attend to, what I’ve enjoyed the most is the focus of each provincial speaking on moments in this ministry when they’ve been lifted up.  Each one of us was given the opportunity at different parts of the meeting to name one event or person who has given us hope.

As I reflect over the past few weeks, I’ve witnessed much that gives me hope.  While in Easton, we found a better understanding of the Retreat Ministry.  As the Provincial Council met with that board, we could see the progress they’re making.  Mark Ligett, Ed Skutka and Henry Beck are very engaged in making this a center for Franciscan hospitality and spirituality.  They have strong future plans for the construction of a hermitage, as well as continuation of their regular retreats.

Carl Langenderfer welcomes a Dominican guest on the Feast Day.We celebrated the Feast of St. Francis in Cincinnati with a powerful Transitus service at St. Clement’s and a cheerful evening prayer and meal shared at St. Francis Seraph with the Dominican friars and Poor Clares.  That very day friars, sisters and friends witnessed the swearing in of Sr. Luisa as an American citizen at the downtown courthouse.  Saturday in Cincinnati, the SPCA welcomed the friars who blessed many of the pets needing a new home.  Sunday, St. Francis Seraph Church hosted a free clinic with United Pet Fund for those unable to afford veterinary care. And there were blessings of the animals throughout the province.

Each day offers moments, opportunities, to appreciate the presence of God shimmering under all our experiences.  As Elizabeth Barrett Browning once said in a small part of her lengthy poem Aurora Leigh, “Every common bush is afire with God.”  We could be walking around barefoot if the veils were lifted.

We’ve had quite a warm autumn thus far.  But as the weather begins to turn a bit cooler, let’s take time to notice the colors of fall, the smell of fires and leaves, the occasional cider.  This particular moment is precious, and really the only one we have. .


– Mark Soehner, OFM


Blessings around the Province


Top: Alex Kratz in Pontiac, Mich.; middle, Jeff Scheeler in Southfield, Mich.; above, Luis Aponte-Merced in Orlando, Fla.

Archives at bottom

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

PHOTOS BY TONI CASHNELLISr. Luisa Bayate, center, with Judge Litkovitz, friends, friars and Poor Clare sistersFor millions of Americans, citizenship was not bestowed at birth. They had to work for it.

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

Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist