March 26, 2015

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The Memory Keeper

Twenty years from now, will anyone care when you went on retreat? Probably not. But details like this might help future friars understand what life was like in 2015. Chronicles are, after all, the sum of their parts.

No one knows this better than Fr. Lou Bartko, whose efforts to preserve the history of St. Clement Friary – and his own history– are legendary. When he inherited the job of chronicler, Lou was asked to record “the comings and goings” of the friars. Since then he has gone way above and far beyond, embracing a task that many find tedious, a distraction from ministry. But for Lou, a former History major, it’s all important, from feast day guests to minutes from a friary chapter.

Neatly filed in the biggest binder ever (two folds in the spine) are pages and pages of acid-free paper on which he has faithfully typed entries, some as simple as, “A normal Wednesday”. Sandwiched between them are handouts in plastic sleeves, photo CDs from major events (supplied by Br. Phil Robinette) and News Notes stories on residents. Lou long ago decided, “I’m gonna do it the best I can. If I keep it on a daily basis it doesn’t take that much time.” And he was rewarded last year when the Visitor General signed off on the friary records. “I’ve never seen a chronicle like this,” Fr. Francisco Ó Conaire told him. “What you’ve done, that’s a labor of love.”

It’s also a study in perseverance.


Dates, names, and mostly mundane events: That’s what house chronicles are all about.

Lou Bartko at St. Clement with the current chronicle.


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On the sidelines

Everything Lou does, from typing the chronicle to putting on his shoes, is affected by his limitations. “I had a stroke in the womb and was born handicapped” is the explanation he gives those who ask why his right foot and hand are largely immobile.  “You came into the world handicapped,” he was told by his dad, a welder of Slovak descent. “You’ll have to use your mind. I’ll do my best to get you educated.”

Weighed down by a leg brace he wore from 4 to 14 – “most kids wouldn’t want me on their team” – Lou was more of a thinker than a doer. He was “journaling” before the term became trendy, adding descriptions to family photos of his mother, father and sister. Using his left hand and the index finger of his right hand, “I’ve always typed,” a skill encouraged at the grade school he attended in Toledo for children with disabilities. “That’s one of the things they wanted to teach us. [They said] ‘We want you to use your hands as much as you can.’”

Of his devotion to his faith, a devotion he shares with his Poor Clare sister, Ann Bartko, he says, “It all comes from my parents. I grew up in a very, very, very Catholic home. I learned to live my faith as best I can. God was important, and I did not want to offend God.” Drawn to religious life, he set his dream aside and worked as a draftsman for 20 years when his father died at 50 and his mother needed his support.

Lou at his computer.A history buff

His mom’s death in 1980 nudged Lou closer to his goal of joining the friars. He was 44 at first profession in 1985 and 48 at ordination. By that time he was also an experienced journal-keeper, thanks to the encouragement of Sr. Norma Rocklage, OSF, at the novitiate.

Lou had a penchant for saving things, like all of his report cards since grade school. It was, he says, one way to measure his progress. And he was always fascinated with history, a need to know not only the dates, but the context in which things happen. For example: “What was going on when Jesus walked the earth?”, he wondered, and set out to study the history of the times.

Keeping a journal, a chore for many, was easy for Lou. It was required during his deacon internship in Houma, La., in 1989. “I have kept a journal since that time and have made an effort to fill in the gap between my birth, Friday, 12 September 1941, and Sunday, 04 June 1989,” he wrote in a Preface to the journals he keeps in his room.

Holy Rosary Pastor Fred Link assigned him the friary chronicle, but “I had no training in how to do it,” Lou says. “What do we keep? What could we use 50 years from now?” Better to have too much than too little, he thought. In 2011 when he took up the chronicle at St. Clement, “I started keeping all of [Pastor] Fred’s bulletin letters” so future generations will know “what was going on in the church or the school.” In his “just the facts, ma’am” style, he notes when friars leave and return, names of people who visit, improvements to the house.

Lou with his sister, Poor Clare Abbess Ann Bartko. Lou keeps his opinions to himself: “I don’t make any judgments.”  He decided, “I would try to put in the positive things,” so reports of bad behavior are omitted. Sometimes, “I step outside the chronicle” to add slice-of-life info like snapshots of paintings by Fr. Jim Van Vurst and Br. Bernard Jennings. The outside world rarely intrudes, unless it’s something like, “The coldest weather in 20 years,” recorded Jan. 6, 2014.

Of course there is health news about friars, but “I don’t try to get into their medical issues.” An entry from Monday, 10 February 2014 reads simply: “Vincent announced to the house that Howard has liver cancer.”

Walking with Jesus

The chronicle is public, kept in Lou’s room, available to all. “I’m thinking of running a copy [of the written part] at the end of the month and putting in on the bulletin board” to remind guys what’s been happening, he says.

Macular degeneration (he can no longer drive) forced Lou into semi-retirement from parish ministry, but he continues to write the chronicle using the zoom feature on his computer to enlarge the type. As foot problems worsen, a rolling walker helps him negotiate long halls.

On the wall near his door hangs a copy of the “Footprints” poem, the one about walking with Jesus through good times and bad.  “When the guy is suffering tragedy [Jesus says], ‘That’s when I’ve carried you,’” Lou says. “What it has taught me is that Jesus not only walked with me, he carried me all my life.”

Also in his room, stacked against the wall, are six blue bins containing 23 binders of his journals, with personal photos scrupulously labeled. “I was taught by my mother to keep things neat.” It’s hard to tell where the journals end and the chronicles begin. But they’re all part of the same story, events large and small recorded by a friar with unwavering faith and an eye for posterity.

Some might say he’s living in the past. But more than most, he’s living in the moment.



We can learn a lot from new CardinalTom Speier with Berhaneyesus Souraphiel in 2004.


My heart skipped a beat when I read the list of the 20 new Cardinals Pope Francis created on Feb. 14. One was the Archbishop from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Berhaneyesus Souraphiel. It took me back 10 years.

I was asked to do our Franciscan Spiritual Direction Program in Nazareth, Ethiopia, in 2004. I had enough trouble learning to pronounce Addis Ababa, let alone remember Berhaneyesus Souraphiel! But lo and behold, the NCR came out March 12 with a picture and article on the Ethiopian Cardinal who had befriended me 10 years ago. I dug into my pictures and found a copy of the Cardinal and me together. Darned if it wasn’t the same man. He had come to Nazareth on Sept. 1st to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of the Franciscan Capuchin parish there.

Sept 1st? Feast of St. Joseph? Not March 19th? This was just my first clue that things were different in Ethiopia and in the Ethiopian Church. The Catholic Church there follows the Ethiopian calendar. In many conversations, the Cardinal opened my eyes to see how “provincial minded” was my view of the Catholic Church. It is more than noticing the difference in the “biretta” and the Eastern-style “mitre” the Archbishop wore (see pictures). But the liturgical celebration according to the Ethiopian Rite blew me away. It started with The Office Liturgy which lasted at least 1½ hours sung while standing, not in Latin, but in the ancient “Geez” language. It lasted so long the friars were provided with a wooden “crutch” under their arms in case they got tired (or fell asleep)! The friars were joined ecumenically by their Coptic brethren to help with the Geez chanting.

Ethiopian Mass was nothing like regimented Western liturgies.The Archbishop invited me to concelebrate the Eucharist with the friars in the Ethiopian Rite. We were dressed in multicolored vestments – copes, chasubles, dalmatics – accompanied by a multitude of bows and clouds of incense at every turn. The parishioners (and friendly Copts) joined in chanting the prayers in “Geez” (as I did – Jesus understood). This liturgy took 2½ hours. A procession with the Blessed Sacrament carried by Abuna Souraphiel with his unique “mitre” and a canopy held over him (similar to a multicolored golf umbrella) followed. Each of us Abuna (priests) carried our own individual brilliant umbrellas as we accompanied the parishioners and friars in processing around the outside of the church three times. It was solemn and yet “loose”. Nothing like our regimented Western liturgies. The Cardinal captured it perfectly when he said to me: “You people in the Western Roman Rite have lost all sense of the Mystical Transcendent.”

In celebrating the Feast of St. Joseph in the Ethiopian Rite, I begin to understand why Pope Francis deliberately chose so many of the new Cardinals from the Southern and Eastern countries. He is trying to help the Western Church see that there is more than the Roman way (and Canon Law) to understand and approach our God.

A response from Washington, D.C.Holy Week is upon us.  It’s a time once again to relive the mysteries of Jesus’ dying and rising.  As I reflect on the sad passion story of Jesus, I can’t help but return to the violence that has been present in the news recently – beheadings, people burned alive, violence toward women and children.  These acts are not much different from crucifixion and the victims are no guiltier than Jesus.

Our commitment to peace-making calls us to speak out against the atrocities of our day.  This stance is not popular in a world system that makes money by using people through human trafficking, below minimum wages, and exploitation of children.  Yet, as we speak out on these important issues, we put ourselves on the line as Oscar Romero did.  And we pay the consequences.

Recently, Dan Anderson delivered my mail with his deadpan humor, “Oh, and you have an invitation from Michelle Obama to the White House.”  Actually, it was Barack responding to a letter I sent him months ago regarding immigration.  So, it isn’t always bad news.

Brothers, let us enter into this Holy Week by walking through the stations with Jesus and our suffering brothers and sisters.  Then, we can experience the joy of the resurrection on Easter.


— Fr. Frank Jasper OFM Email To a Friend

Fires and festivals:  news from Jamaica


We had a massive fire in the sugar cane fields next to our Grange Hill St. Mark Church on Fridayᅠafternoon, 20 March. On Thursday and Friday morning I had worked cutting grass in preparation for our annual St. Mark Church Harvest. ᅠAround noon Friday I burned some trash along the west edge of our plot and later along the road.

The cane field fire started some hours after four of us had left on Friday afternoon to gather sugar cane, pumpkins, breadfruit, and bananas from parishioners’ farms in the surrounding hills. ᅠWe could see the smoke and even the flames from high in the hills. ᅠI was afraid that my fire had somehow ignited the cane fields which burned late into the evening. ᅠI was much relieved when I went back on Saturday to see that the cane field fires were part of the regular method of burning the fields to get rid of the leaves, insects, and debris before the cane workers went in to cut the mature cane by hand. ᅠWhen we went back on Monday, the cane workers had already cut most of the two adjoining fields, and the tractors and wagons were lined up to haul away the mature cane to the Fromm sugar factory.

Our St. Mark Harvest Sunday Mass on 22 March was a great success with over 56 children participating in the singing, readings, intercessions, communion meditation dance, alphabet, counting, recitations, and blessing of children where each makes the Sign of the Cross after being individually blessed with Holy Water. ᅠBesides the ground provisions, there were cooked lunches, soda, pastries, ice cream, and donated items for sale. ᅠThe church was well filled with both local parishioners and visitors. ᅠWe had really good participation this year in all of the Harvest preparations and Sunday celebration.

 (Max posted videos of the children’s Dance and of the Eucharist Prayer for Children on his Facebook page at:

Above and below, parishioners at the Harvest celebration.


Bishop-elect a true Franciscan


Bishop-electJohn Stowe, OFM ConvUpon hearing that Fr. John Stowe, OFM Conv, was appointed Bishop of Lexington, Ky., I wrote him a note to congratulate him, welcome him and to share with him my promise of prayers and support.ᅠ I let him know about our phrase, “God gives his grace!”ᅠ(the title of our province history, written by Pat McCloskey).

Well, I got a long and wonderful e-mail from him.ᅠIn response to my sharing our province phrase, “God gives his grace!”,ᅠ John responded:ᅠ “God’s grace has been obvious and abundant.”ᅠ To my surprise, he told me he already knew about me from Deacon Bill Wakefield who is in the chancery in Lexington.ᅠ It seems Bill told him about my years in the diocese and my “good reputation there” and that John should “work to get me back in the diocese.”ᅠ Wow!ᅠ That made me feel good.ᅠ But, here is what I want to share with you.ᅠ This is a quote directly from John’s letter to me:

“Lexington looks like an intriguing place and the presence of friars from St. John the Baptist Province was one of the best things I discovered when first trying to learn about the diocese.”

I find this is so wonderful to hear from an incoming Bishop!ᅠ Thank God for Pope Francis!ᅠ Perhaps he is indeed appointing men who are truly human and open and loving.ᅠ The tone of John’s letter is so Franciscan.ᅠ He gave me his office phone, his home phone and his cell phone and asked me to stay in touch with him.ᅠ I pray that he is able to hold on to his Franciscan heart when all of the trappings of Bishop fall upon him.

(Read more about his appointment at:

Above, Andre Cirino, OFM, and Ed Foley, OFM Cap, in Chicago; right, John Boissy, Jonathon Douglas and Trevor Blum at Andre’s workshop.

Learning and bonding:
Postulants on the road

Director of Postulants

(Mark reports on two workshops the postulants attended this past week.)

Most of the postulants couldn’t wait to see what their potential new home in Burlington was like.  Worried by the “boot camp” stories of the older friars, they met a smiling Novice Director in Fr. Ralph Parthie, who showed them to their rooms.  The atmosphere of being with all the other U.S. postulants and those from Western Canada made the experience one of knowing, “We’re all in this together”.  The workshop on celibate chastity presented by Sean Sammons, FMS, PhD, was stellar.  All received his book, Undivided Heart, which encapsulated his presentation.

We made our way down I-94 to Chicago and the post novitiate friary of St. Joseph where we began our second workshop.  Given by Andre Cirino, OFM, this presentation focused on Bonaventure’s Bringing

Forth Christ:  Five Feasts of the Child Jesus.  This work by Bonaventure uses the feasts of Annunciation, Nativity, Naming of Jesus, Epiphany and Presentation in the Temple as ways for the individual believer to move more deeply into God.  This was the last work translated by Eric Doyle, OFM, before he died at the age of 44 in 1984.  At the beginning of this workshop, the current CTU Chair of Duns Scotus, Ed Foley, OFM Cap, invited all the friars of St. John the Baptist Province to stand as he publicly thanked our province for providing the funds to allow this to happen.  There were approximately 140 people there from the various parts of our Franciscan family (Seculars, Sisters, Conventuals, Capuchins).