Friar Edward Arambasich, OFM
Campus Ministry Staff – University of St. Francis, Joliet, Illinois
Chaplain to Joliet Fire Department & Illinois State Troopers of District 5
I began my religious life as a Benedictine monk at St. Procopius Abbey for twenty years. (1972-1992). I was twenty years old when I entered. Before entering I worked as an ironworker for local 444 out of Joliet.
As a monk I served in the monastery as porter, guest master, assistant novice master, Master of Ceremonies for liturgies and moderator of the altar servers. At Benet Academy I served the school community as bookstore manager, assistant dean of students, director of campus ministry, Parents Club moderator and band moderator. I was the Outreach program director serving the needy in the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Diocese of Rockford and the Diocese of Joliet. My summer assignment was in Chicago at Mercy Home for Boys and G, a therapeutic community for troubled youth, as director of summer recreation programs. I also served as director of Kolbeck Hall at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois.
I entered the Franciscan order in 1992, and transferred solemn profession from the Order of St. Benedict to the Franciscan Friars of the Sacred Heart Province in August 1996. I was influenced by the way the friars shared their lives and faith with everyone. I found that they were men filled with compassion and a love of the gospel, living lives of integrity.
One of my first assignments as a Franciscan was at Tau House in New Orleans. I ministered there from 1995-2012. I worked together with Fr. Ralph Parthie, OFM at Project Lazarus doing AIDS ministry. The ministry reached across all racial and social issues including divorced, separated, gay, lesbian and transgender persons. I also served as chaplain of the Police and Fire Departments of New Orleans.
One of the most memorable experiences of my life was when I was called by the fire department to help minister as fire chaplain in New York City after 9/11. I spent four weeks with the friars of New York caring for firefighters and police officers who lost many friends on that most tragic day.
I then moved to Quincy, Illinois and worked as campus minister for Quincy University, again working alongside Fr. Ralph. Along with working with the students I also served as chaplain of the Quincy Fire Department, and also worked with the Police Department and Illinois State Police. My ministry with them was to be a ministry of presence that helped to bring compassion and hope to al I met and worked with. As a Franciscan, I always tried to help the first responders, as well as the families involved with tough situations and struggling emotions.
In Quincy I was responsible for many community outreach programs and events including; Street Retreats, The Living Room (a place for inner-city ministry with the poor), citywide Stations of the Cross, mission trips and social trips bringing people of all ages together.
I currently live in Joliet working in the campus ministry department at St. Francis University. As community leader I try to emulate the friars who have gone before me who helped to form my life in faith, hope, service and love.
Religious life for me has always been a life of excitement and challenge. I wouldn’t change it for anything. It has helped to bring me closer to God by being closer to people in need. I hope and pray that others will follow in the way of St. Francis, trying as he did, to live the gospel to its fullest, as I try to do each day.
Friar John Abts, OFM
Director Franciscan Health Care Office
St. Louis, Missouri
As a result of a string of coincidences which included a broken leg, hospitalization, returning to college, a new job and location, and some small miracles, I stumbled upon the Franciscans of the Sacred Heart Province. Those events, along with discernment and searching for a way to live out my faith within the Catholic Church, which was always my spiritual home, led me to the friars. I got to know some friars because, in my new location, I became a member of a Franciscan parish. Being a child of the “60’s” Francis of Assisi’s emphasis on creation, peace and social justice drew me to Francican spirituality. Another significant influence were the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the renewal of the Catholic Church. The Council enabled me to discover a deeper faith within me and it opened wider the doors of the Catholic Church, both of which gave me renewed hope.
I stay with the Franciscans for almost the same reasons I was drawn to them. The Franciscan focus on creation, peace and justice continue to keep me in community with the Franciscan family. It is where I continue to find meaningful relationships; a spirit of joy; and allows me to live a committed life and still be immersed in the real world. The conservative turn the Catholic Church has taken has been very troubling for me and has been a challenge to me faith and has often led to a sense of hopelessness. It is within Franciscanism that my faith can continue to grow and hope in the future of the Catholic Church kept alive.
Friar Doug Collins, OFM
Director Marquard Center of Franciscan Outreach
Growing up in a Franciscan parish outside of Cleveland, Ohio I never knew there were any other type of priests – except Franciscans. The friary was rather large so there were always several friars living there who were not on the parish staff. They were all interesting characters; retired Brazilian missionaries, brothers who had formerly served as cooks, and maintenance workers, retired teachers, chaplains and pastors. They all had unique personalities, and I enjoyed getting to meet them all.
When my parents moved into the parish it was only twenty years old. There were lots of young families with lots of children located in a sprawling suburb. Even though I loved the Franciscan friars, I had no thought of a religious vocation in my future. I began competitive swimming in my youth and continued into high school. A full athletic scholarship to college helped me to continue my goal.
After college I returned home while I sorted out what I wanted to do with my life. I became actively involved in my parish even serving as head of the parish council and teaching religious education. The more I became involved in the Church, the thought of dedicating my life to God and Church as a friar seemed to be a strong option for me. I was twenty five years old and ready to make a commitment. The vocation office thought it would be good for me to live and work in a Franciscan parish and friary and was asked to consider moving to St. Louis. I went with the blessing of my parents, even though being the only son with three sisters sent the thought of any future “Collins” grandchildren along with me and my move to live with the friars.
After ministering with the friars for over a year, I discerned that this was not the right time for me to join. I needed to live and work and get some life experience. I worked in the business field for a while but felt unfulfilled. Eventually, I left the business world for an opportunity ministering to people with AIDS. I worked with the Vincentian community in St. Louis providing practical in-home services for people
living with HIV/AIDS. This ministry stirred within me a love to work with God’s poor and those most in need. I was now thirty five years old and decided the time was right. The call was still there, and I was ready to follow that call as a Franciscan friar.
The past eighteen years living and ministering as a follower of St. Francis has been very fulfilling. I have had the privilege of working in a store front assistance center for those most in need, lived and worked with our senior and infirmed friars, and helped to run an interdenominational center for the poor. I now serve as director of the Marquard Center in Chicago; offering meals, clothing, showers, assistance and support to hundreds of men and women who mostly live on the street and try to exist one day at a time.
We live in the belief that St. Francis said to his followers, “I have done what was mine to do, may Christ show you what is yours”, I believe that I am doing what Christ has called me to do as a Franciscan Friar.
Friar Thomas Nairn, OFM
Provincial Minister – Sacred Heart Province
St. Louis, Missouri
In many ways, my story is typical of someone who joined the Franciscans almost 50 years ago. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Twelve Franciscan friars – ten priests and two non-ordained brothers-staffed my parish (this was in the 1950’s) . Two of these men were my special heroes, a young associate pastor at the time, Fr. Clarence, who was in charge of altar boys, and an older friar, Bro. Fidelis. It was Brother Fidelis who took the children of the parish under his wing and had us help in the Church in exchange for small snacks.
When I told my pastor that I was thinking about becoming a priest, there was no question but that I would go to high school at St. Joseph’s Franciscan Seminary outside of Chicago. There wasn’t a lot of discernment as I joined a class of sixty-six high school freshmen. Only two of us became Franciscan priests.
Although entering high school did not entail much discernment, that changed as the Church experienced the years after the Second Vatican Council – years that coincided with my college and theological studies. Religious Orders were asked to rediscover their founding vision, and Sts. Francis and Clare became very important to me as I grew to understand my own Franciscan vocation better.
A remarkable thing about Franciscans is that our mission is simply living the Gospel life with brothers in whatever we do. Although I joined the Franciscans to be a parish priest, my religious superiors had other ideas. Shortly after I was ordained a priest, I was sent to study for a doctorate in moral theology. I taught in our theology school, the Catholic Theological Union for twenty eight years, from 1980 to 2008. In 2008, the Catholic Health Association of the United States hired me to help guide Catholic hospital systems in dealing with issues of medical ethics. During the past decade and a half I also had the opportunity to teach medical ethics to young Franciscans in Harare, Zimbabwe. I deeply love the many people who became my teachers in Africa. Finally, this past summer I was elected Provincial Minister and it is in that position that I now serve my brothers in the Province.
Pope Francis tells us that God is a God of surprises. This has certainly been true in my life. It has been an amazingly fulfilling life, one that keeps calling me to trust that God is guiding me, and I don’t think I would change a day of it.
Friar Bill Burton, OFM
Scripture faculty & Formation Staff
St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary
Boynton Beach, Florida
I became interested in the order while I was already in third grade! I lived in a Franciscan parish and went to the parish grade school. My mother worked at the parish office in the friary and after school I would cross the street at 3:00 PM to wait for my mother to get off work at 5:00. While I was waiting she told me, “Well you’re not going to sit there and do nothing. Go help Brother Martin with his work in the sacristy.” That began a long relationship between me and the friars living in that friary. After 8th grade I found myself wanting to join these men, not that I knew much about their life. But one thing was clear – these men were both serious and enjoyed being together.
So I went to the high school seminary. Each year, after summer break I’d find new reasons to keep returning. After high school I moved with my class to the college seminary and there too, found ever new reasons for returning year after year.
By the time I entered the novitiate, to enter the order I’d learned not only about St. Francis and what he wanted for the life of his brothers but also learned that the friars did not take their life, their observance of the rule for granted. On the contrary. They met regularly to consider their life as friars together. They were living their lives DELIBERATELY, thoughtfully and always trying to renew their commitment to be good friars, faithful followers of the vision of St. Francis.
THAT is why I stay in the order. That hope of ever re-committing myself to living the gospel, following the teachings and example of Christ keeping me lively in my faith and still daring in how I try to live up to the example of Francis and Christ. The friars I’m with continue to take our life together seriously and are fearless about self-scrutiny. This keeps me attentive to my life and to the marginalized in our society that still longs for an example of Christ-like care and kindness.
Friar Ducanh Pham, OFM
Parochial Vicar, St. Francis Solanus Parish
I am an adventurous person by nature. After coming to the U.S.A. as a Vietnamese refugee in 1975 I tested my adventurous spirit in the business and technical world. I worked with software programming and selling computer equipment for a few companies until the death of my father in 1985. His passing into eternal life was a wake-up call, and I reassessed my life. Still, with an adventurous spirit, the Lord led me to working with the homeless in Chicago through the Franciscan Outreach (franoutreach.org).
The ministry with the homeless was very challenging and I was led to be with those that have great needs in the world. Yet, I found life rewarding and passionate as I responded directly to the Lord’s command to feeds the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty and to take in the stranger (Matthew 25:36). This experience changed my life, and shortly after I became a Franciscan Friar of the Sacred Heart Province – the organization that founded, staffed and sponsors the Franciscan Outreach.
Thirty years later, I am still living an adventurous life as a Franciscan Friar. Five years ago, I was ordained a priest and now a new adventure has opened up for me to service, fraternity and faith. The adventure continues – won’t you prayerfully consider joining us on this adventurous journey?
Friar Michael Ward, OFM
Deacon St. Thomas Parish, Ruston, Louisiana
Campus Minister, Louisiana Tech University
Me? a friar? No way! That was my typical response when those around me suggested a religious life for me. I totally did not see myself as a friar. I was not good enough. I was not holy enough. And surely, God could find someone else. Plus, I had it in my mind that I wanted to make a ton of money and travel the world by the time I was forty.
I majored in business in college, having no real direction other than wanting to make a lot of money and have a large family. I was voted “most likely to parent ten kids” during my senior year of college.
I got a great job out of college and made good money right away. I had a nice car and began looking at buying property. But, there seemed to be something missing. The things I owned and the places I visited were all great, but there was a void – an inner sense of emptiness.
I began to take an inventory of my life and carefully reviewed what it was that truly made me “happy.” Turns out, that I enjoyed being of service to others the most. I also was drawn to a sense of community that was fluid rather than confining. Long story short, I kind of fell into the vocation office of the Sacred Heart Province at the prompting of one of the friars who I got to know at St. Peter’s in Chicago. This is when I realized that God wanted me to be happy, not being in pain suffering while earning my stripes into heaven.
Well, one thing led to another and here I am twenty years later serving as campus minister in a parish in the Bible Belt. I never would have thought I would be doing this in my fifties. Nor, did I ever dream that I would be leading young people on pilgrimages to Assisi. Ironically, this is not only what I do, but who I am.
My story is not a life-long yearning to be a religious priest or brother. Rather, my story is one of discovery and being open to what God has in store for me, within the context of a loving supporting community of men yearning to live the Gospel joyfully.
Friar Justin Belitz, OFM
Lecturer & Retreat Master
I look back and remember as a young child standing on the church pew of Immaculate Conception Church in Omaha, Nebraska. I was fascinated by the altered light coming through the stained glass, the scent of incense, the candles, the windows that told stories and the statues. All of this seemed to entertain me while my older brother slept on the pew.
I also remember playing in the dirt under the tree on the corner of my grandmother’s grocery store envious of my brother coming back from school preparing for his first holy communion. It seems to me that from the very beginning of my life I was meant to be a part of the Franciscan Order and the Church.
In first grade, Sr. Symplicia invited a friar into the classroom to talk about who the Franciscans were, what they had to study, and what kind of work they did. At the end of his talk, he asked us to close our eyes and to think about what we wanted to be when we grew up. When we opened our eyes, he asked, “Who wants to be a Franciscan priest?” I put my hand up and I knew at that moment what I was going to do with my life. I had no problems deciding on what high school I would attend, or what courses I would take.
My family was in the entertainment business, we all played accordion. I appeared on stage beginning at three years of age. Sometimes in Omaha, we would be booked with Johnny Carson back to back; he had a half hour magic show and we had a half hour song and dance show.
After high school I entered the Franciscan seminary in Illinois. Fr. Theobald, my pastor, had a great influence on my life. Two other Franciscans helped prepare me to enter the seminary. I never had a doubt about my religious vocation, even when my studies were difficult. I just knew that I had to get through any difficulty to get to my goal.
I see now that my fascination with spirituality and meditation has been my passion all these years. With the support of the leaders of my Province, I was able to build an international ministry of teaching and seeking to live Franciscan spirituality. Meditation has become my constant companion. My models have been Jesus, Francis of Assisi, friars as well as the saints and holy people of all major religions.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed that this Polish boy from “Sheeley Town” in Omaha would have an international ministry. I simply listened to the “quiet voice within” that led me step by step and which continues to lead me day by day in an exciting productive and most exciting life as a Franciscan Friar.