And so the man in white approached the man in brown. The doctor asked the friar if he could become a Franciscan. “Yes indeed” was the warm and welcoming reply offered by the friar with a gentle smile. He continued with, “Perhaps you might like to learn about the Secular Franciscans?” This was all that was spoken, and all that was necessary. Little did the friar know that for some time now, he was being observed, that his way of dress and way of life was making inroads to a heart longing to know more, longing to love more.
“Come and see” was all the Master had to say to John and his brother James in reply to their “Where do you stay?” Two or three words were enough to start them on a journey that would last a lifetime––and culminate in eternity. But was that really such a different time and a different era? Surely, in today’s complex world and modern times the same heart-yearning questions are being asked of the Lord by those who sense the gentle invitation to follow the Master.
As with all things, good or bad, one thing led to another and soon the doctor was on his way to first profession as a Secular Franciscan. This only served to further ignite his heart burning with the desire to serve the Lord especially in the poor and marginalized. For reasons known only to the Holy Spirit and to the doctor himself, he chose to abandon his lucrative and highly prestigious practice in a large city hospital on the east coast of North America, and venture forth to an impoverished town on the west coast of South America. Unable to speak Spanish, and armed with only a stethoscope and a scale, he nonetheless was well endowed with good will, faith and courage––all the antibiotics and equipment one needs in order to accomplish the will of God. Years have passed and the number of children that have benefitted from his skill and love had gone beyond counting. Beginning with house calls, then the establishment of a medical clinic, and then an orphanage, this mustard seed took root and grew into a large shrub where the birds of the air nested in its protective branches.
From such small beginnings, may great destinies depend.
And to the unassuming friar who first spoke those inviting words to the doctor, it was just another ordinary day in the hospital. Nurses bustled about, interns with their scribbled charts and colored pens walked briskly from room to room, and the soft spoken chaplain made his daily rounds imparting calm to the nervous, comfort to the pained, and peace to the troubled––all the while quite unaware of the torrents of grace that washed ashore in his gentle wake.
* This true story was recounted by the friar himself, who asked that his name be withheld.
The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries,” but rather that we are always “missionary disciples.” If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:41). The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans came to believe in him “Because of the woman’s testimony”(Jn 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed Jesus” (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21).
So what are we waiting for?
Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, no. 120.
“Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is all being destroyed.”
This mandate was spoken to our seraphic father, St. Francis when he was a young man searching for his true vocation in life. He had been praying in the dilapidated church of San Damiano when he heard these words coming to him from a large crucifix. Even though this event happened some 800 years ago, we can still hear those same words echoed down through the centuries to our very own day. When St. Francis heard those words, he took them quite literally and immediately began to actually repair the crumbling church of San Damiano one stone at a time. Once he had patched up San Damiano, he began working on other churches that were also in need of repair. He continued in this fashion until he realized that Christ was speaking of another church, the interior church that is sheltered within the walls of our hearts. This church was desperately in need of repair. Now another, different type of work would commence as St. Francis began to ply the trade of construction to the interior heart and soul of his fellow man and woman. His blueprints and construction equipment are still being used today. The most prominent instruments found within his toolbox are: humility, poverty, purity of heart, obedience, fraternity, ministry, and prayer.
For one day when Francis went out to meditate in the fields, he walked near the church of San Damiano which was threatening to collapse because of age. Impelled by the Spirit, he went inside to pray. Prostrate before an image of the Crucified, he was filled with no little consolation as he prayed. While his tear-filled eyes were gazing at the Lord’s cross, he heard with his bodily ears a voice coming from that cross, telling him three times . . . . . . .
A few months ago, seventeen young men answered the call to rebuild my house and knocked upon the door of the Novitiate seeking admittance. Now begins their training in church construction. They have come from different cities and states, from diverse backgrounds and histories, but they all hold one thing in common — they wish to become Capuchin friars!
Their instruction will help them to build a life of Gospel witness on a solid foundation that will stand the test of wind and storm. Their preparation will teach them to fashion words and form actions that will build up and never tear down. They will experience the serene waters of contemplation along with the apostolic zeal of a vocation charged with God’s grace. Equipped with such skills and charisms, these young men shall venture forth into a world sorely in need of their message. At times, the weight of evil and oppression may seem unbearable, and the reservoir of optimism run dangerously low, for our modern world is littered with crumbling churches. Yet it is precisely in these broken down churches that these men are called to proclaim the Good News! We must once again call to mind those words previously heard from a rustic crucifix in a dilapidated church and realize that courageous and generous people are still answering that call today—Go and rebuild My church! Let us join our prayers and best wishes for these seventeen young men who have answered the call to go forth and rebuild His Church, the church found within every human heart.
Sr. Mary Immaculate of Our Lady of Guadalupe was born in the small rural town of Abasolo, in the central state of Guanajuato, Mexico. When she was only twelve years old she packed her few belongings and went along with some family members to Chicago, Illinois in search of a better life. An English teacher by the name of Mrs. Sullivan took a special interest in this little girl with a big smile and coached her in this new and somewhat difficult language. She worked hard at her studies and once school was completed she found employment in order to help support the family. Her brother entered the seminary and began his studies for the priesthood. Years later, he was ordained a priest for the diocese of Chicago. She was privileged to be present at this beautiful ceremony and would forever treasure that special occasion as one of her greatest joys.
She herself felt the stirrings of her own vocation grow stronger and stronger with each passing day. Her Franciscan vocation was sprouting roots and seeking expression. In response to this longing she joined the Third Order of St. Francis where she deepened her love for God and neighbor. There was a Poor Clare monastery near the parish of St. Augustine on the south side of Chicago that seemed to beckon her with words heard only by the heart. One day she definitively proclaimed to herself and to the world, “I want to be a Poor Clare Sister!” The year was 1949 and she was by now, twenty-seven. For the rest of her life she would devote herself to hidden works of kindness and prayer behind the monastery enclosure.
Sixty-five years later, when you find yourself in the presence of Sr. Mary Immaculate, you can immediately recognize once again that young girl with a big smile. She speaks of the Consecrated Life as having no limits. She encourages all to have unbounded trust in Divine Providence and to see the Lord as a God of grace, forgiveness and love. She wholeheartedly urges everyone to proclaim that “Christ makes all thing new!” and to uphold the sacredness of each and every person from the moment of conception to the point of death. “If the young people only knew the love of God our Father, and the plan He has for each one of us – the monasteries would be too small!”
She says that she has only words of gratitude for all the people, and for all the priests, brothers and sisters that have in some way touched and enriched her life. Words of appreciation and joy from a little girl with a big smile span the arc of time and are as fresh today as they were in times past on the south side of Chicago.
Sr. Maria Guadalupe was baptized Iliana Isabel in the year 1991. Her home was in the town of Santa Marta Melendrez, in the country of Guatemala. It wasn’t long before she, as a little girl of eight years, would confidently say to her father, “I want to be a Sister.” Her father was somewhat surprised by this statement and firmly told her to forget about such thoughts. But throughout her youth the great desire that continually reminded her of a vocation to the Sisterhood only became more persistent.
When she was eighteen years old, Iliana moved with the family to the United States of America and settled in the state of Virginia. It was here that she happened to meet a Capuchin friar who spoke to her about the Poor Clare Sisters who live at the St. Veronica Giuliani Monastery in Wilmington, Delaware. He explained to her about their life of prayer, community, and the great sacrifices that are part and parcel of such a vocation. These words were music to her ears, and before long she was standing on the doorstep of this convent asking for admission.
Sr. Immaculate and Sr. Maria Guadalupe are two women countries apart, separated in time by several decades, with different points of origin and personal histories. They have come together by Divine Providence to live under the same roof. Though their stories began in different lands, they both arrived at the same destination, with the same motivation and the same spirit. Both state that they entered for the love of Christ. Both attest to the fact that community life within the enclosure is one of their greatest joys. Both are filled with gratitude for having received a vocation to be a Poor Clare. And both proclaim to the world the words of St. Paul: “We do not fix our gaze on what is seen but on what is unseen. What is seen is transitory; what is unseen lasts forever” (2 Cor. 4:18).
Today, Sister Maria Guadalupe is a novice and is preparing for that special day when she will take her vows as a Capuchin Poor Clare. Her fellow sisters will teach and guide her in the faith and traditions of the Order. She is following in the footsteps of Sr. Immaculate, who followed in the footsteps of other Sisters –– a long and winding path stretching all the way back to a woman named Clare who lived in a town named Assisi, many years ago.
“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)
Fr. Michael Ristore was born in Poppi, Italy on November 7, 1911. He was the son of Giuseppe and Maria Fiumicelli. His baptismal name was Giovanni and he was baptized in his parish church of St. Bartholomew. He entered the Minor Seminary in 1922, at Poppi, and was invested in 1926. He made his simple profession in 1927 at Cortona. He studied philosophy in Siena and theology in Florence. He was ordained on February 17, 1935, at the Capuchin Church in Montughi by the Auxiliary Bishop of Florence, Giovacchino Bonardi.
Small in stature (a little more than five feet tall), he nevertheless had a big impact upon the people of two countries, an ocean apart. His ties to the motherland of Italy were always strong and vibrant, and his love and devotion to the people of the United States was equally warm and affectionate. The energy and enthusiasm with which he lived his vocation was a source of admiration and inspiration. Reading his biography, you’d soon be out of breath while trying to keep pace with his quick little steps.
He began his teaching career in 1935 as the Assistant to the Director at the Minor Seminary in Poppi. In the summer of 1938, Fr. Michael was sent to America to assist in the formation of the young men interested in becoming Capuchins. He was assigned as Lector of the students in philosophy at St. Lawrence in Beacon. His next transfer took him to the Bronx, where he became the Director and Lector at the new residence of the Immaculate Conception Seminary. In 1944 he became Vicar and Lector at this same location, and in 1944 he also became a citizen of the United States.
From 1945 to 1950, he served as the Guardian and Lector at newly opened Our Lady of Angels Seminary in Staunton, Virginia. There he taught philosophy, Sacred Scripture, Greek, Latin and Italian. Besides teaching, he also found time for preaching. He preached numerous missions in many cities of the eastern states particularly: New York, Boston, Rochester, Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Washington, and other cities as well.
In 1951, he became Superior and teacher in the Minor Seminary of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Geneva, New York. His next transfer came in 1957, when he became Pastor of St. Francis Church in Hackensack, New Jersey. His quiet, kind and understanding manner soon endeared him to everyone who came to know and love him. On February 28, 1960 he celebrated his Silver Jubilee of ordination. The above photo shows Fr. Michael receiving a call from his family members in Italy congratulating him on this anniversary.
He became a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus in 1963. From 1965 to 1976, he became the Provincial Delegate of the Third Order. From 1976 to 1982, he served as Pastor of St. Anthony’s Parish in Passaic, New Jersey. He attended the General Chapter in Rome in 1976, and served as interpreter and translator. From 1982 to 1983, he was a member of the formation team while living at St. Lawrence Friary in Beacon, New York.
People enjoyed his company and the humorous sayings that he would often repeat with a sing song cadence. He had great commitment to the Third Order and was always keen on promoting this vocation among the people at large.
June 2, 1985, he celebrated his Golden Jubilee of Ordination at the Immaculate Conception Church in the Bronx. From 1989 to 1993, he once again became the Provincial Delegate to the SFO while staying in the Bronx.
He is fondly remembered for his example of being young at heart, cheerful and continually enthusiastic about life and all its wonders. He was adventurous in spirit and never seemed to let a particular task or assignment overwhelm his positive outlook. He sought to embody the Capuchin ideals of prayer, fraternity, and ministry. He always expressed a great concern for the men in formation.
In 1995, he celebrated his 60th year as a priest. This happy event was held at St. Francis Parish in Hackensack, where he had once served as a much younger friar. Even in his senior years, he continued to be involved in various forms of ministry to the fraternity and to the people. On September 25, 2000, the Lord called Fr. Michael home while he was visiting his beloved country of Italy. May God grant him eternal peace and happiness.