May 8, 2014

A handy guy to have around,

But he’s more than

Mr. Fix-It


Br. Juniper Crouch has a problem:

 He does a lot of things well and has trouble saying “No”.

 “I don’t think I’ve taken a day off since I’ve been here,” he admits by phone from St. Paul the Apostle Friary in Lafayette, La., where he has served as Parochial Assistant to Pastor Robert Seay since 2000. “I’ve always had my relaxation on the go.” His other job, as Provincial Spiritual Assistant to the Order of Franciscans Secular, has him driving to fraternities in three states.

At the parish, “There’s never nothing for you to do. If anything goes haywire that doesn’t call for a professional person, usually I can do it. Right now I’m taking some of the old pews to re-do, re-nail and re-varnish and stick ‘em back into church.” Plumbing? “I can do it.” Electronics? “I ran the wire for part of the phone system.”

 Like most busy people, Juniper keeps a “to-do” list. One day might include:

•  Crawling under the friary to check pipes;

•  Climbing a 30-foot ladder to repair an electrical connection in church;

•  Hoeing the garden for planting;

•  Fixing dinner because the cook couldn’t make it;

•  Driving 70 miles to a Secular Franciscan meeting in Kinder, La.

Did we mention that Juniper is 80 and has diabetes and arthritis?

 “I try to keep myself as healthy as I can,” he says, by walking 4-5 miles five days a week and doing weight reps with a 38-pound piece of steel. But the secret of his youthful energy and enthusiasm is a phrase he uses a lot. “It’s interesting,” he’ll say, or, “That was interesting.” After 56 years as a friar, Juniper is still fascinated with people, work, and life in general. “You have to be. There’s so much to see” is how he explains the world of things to discover.

Juniper pitches in when the cook can't make it.

‘Keep an open mind’

 When Juniper (then Frederick) was a kid in Steubenville, Ohio, “My dad was among other things an automobile mechanic. I was there and I learned from him. I got to the point where like him I could tear an engine down and put it back together.” (He does the same thing with watches.)

 “It’s interesting,” he says. Even though “my parents were Secular Franciscans, my dad was not all that happy I was entering religious life. He really didn’t like it. My uncle was a Franciscan; he got hold of my dad – his younger brother – and chewed him out.” After that, “I could not go home without my dad bragging to anybody he met that I was a monk.”

 Early on, Juniper was a go-to guy in the Vice Province of the Holy Savior.  “When I first entered the Order, a brother who was my mentor said, ‘Whatever you do, keep an open mind. Be willing to learn anything and everything that presents itself to you. Perhaps it might come in handy someday.’”

On personnel forms, his early assignments are listed as “Service to the Friary”, friar-speak for anything that needs doing. “A lot of places when I was transferred my dossier would include cooking, housekeeping, running errands, maintenance work, grass-cutting and things like that.” More high-profile roles followed as Juniper’s skills were recognized: Vicar in Valparaiso, Ind., Guardian in Easton, Pa., Valparaiso and Uniontown, Pa. Along the way he became an accomplished photographer and videographer and competed in artistic roller skating events.  He and partner Pat Schremmer were standouts in their division when along came the union with SJB Province. Juniper’s transfer to Louisiana effectively ended that dream.  “I think if we had been able to skate beyond 2000, if the merger hadn’t happened for another two or three years, we might have wound up skating at nationals.” And this story might have had a different ending.

Top, putting a bicycle back together; above, preparing the garden for planting.

True to the charism

In Lafayette, Juniper rediscovered the Secular Franciscans who were part of his parents’ life. He and Fr. John Joseph Gonchar shared local responsibilities, and Fr. Reynolds Garland was regional assistant. When Reynolds moved, Juniper was asked to fill his role by then Provincial Spiritual Assistant Fr. Loren Connell. “Then when Fr. Loren retired from that job (in 2005), I was appointed Provincial Spiritual Assistant. I’ve been at it ever since and I’m still learning. It’s interesting how much there is to know. Anybody can do the book work, but being a spiritual assistant isn’t just the book work.”

 In a nutshell, “The duties are to make sure that the rules and constitutions of the Secular Franciscans are being observed and taught in a correct way, to make sure formation programs are developing in each fraternity, that formation directors in each fraternity are up to date with teachings of the Catholic Church.” It’s also “making sure they’re remaining true to the Franciscan charism.”

 Juniper is the spiritual assistant to three fraternities:  Kinder, La.; Lafayette; and Perlington, Miss. He attends their meetings once a month, a 300-mile round trip. Other fraternities in the Joan of Arc region, which extends from Tyler, Texas, to Gauche, Miss., also need visiting.  Add to that the regional gatherings held four times a year. In addition, “I have to be aware of spiritual assistants in nine other regions” and keep tabs on programs to train lay people as spiritual assistants. Right now he’s working via Skype with two women anxious to learn the duties. How’s that going? “It’s interesting.”

Keep on learning

Being organized helps him keep his schedule straight. Having other outlets is his salvation. “I’m trying to be interested in different things,” says Juniper, who bought a pawn shop guitar with some of his Christmas money. “I took the rest of the money and took a university course at a very reduced priced. Now I’m taking private lessons to play the guitar.” He bought a thrift store bicycle so “I can take it apart, clean it up, and I’ve got me a bicycle to ride. I think I’ll be able to ride 10 to 15 miles at least three times a week.”

In the meantime, his to-do list keeps growing. “I get involved in something and say, ‘One of these days I’ll do it.’” Unlike most of us, he probably will.

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Making Capital connections


 Imagine being the only person in your postulant class.  You could be both the best postulant and the worst, all at the same time.  Nick Thorvaldsen could tell the story.  As a way to connect with other classmates who will be going to the novitiate with him, Nick and I (as his postulant director) went to the postulancy of Holy Name Province at Holy Name College in Washington, D.C.  This week was meant to develop relationships between these six postulants.

 Ron Pecci, the postulant director for Holy Name, helped us adjust to their schedule, their classes and ministry days.  We had two outings in Washington, D.C., including a visit to the Monastery of the Holy Land.  There we met up with Frs. Larry Dunham, Bonaventure Bai and Greg Friedman in their new home.  Larry gave a tour and invited us to evening prayer with the friar community.  Treated to their evening meal, we also met many of the priest students who live there.  The SJB brothers took the obligatory photo with Godfrey Schilling’s statue.  It looks like he is falling asleep!

 Eating, traveling together and bowling allowed the six postulants to create new connections.  Ron and I enjoyed talking about postulancy and our approaches.  Plans are in the works to attend St. Bonaventure this summer to continue their postulancy, to get ready for novitiate and dream of a new life as Franciscans in this 21st Century.

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A new journey begins

On April 26, with her Sisters looking on, Sr. Vickie Griner, OSC, made permanent her commitment to life as a Poor Clare. Provincial Minister Fr. Jeff Scheeler presided at Vickie’s Rite of Solemn Profession at St. Clement in St. Bernard and asked, “Father, we earnestly pray for you to send the fire of the Holy Spirit into the heart of your daughter to keep alive within her the holy desire he has given her.” Fr. Mark Hudak delivered the homily, and friends and relatives who supported Vickie in her journey took part in the Eucharist. A slide show of the vows and the Mass (compiled by Vickie herself) is posted on YouTube at: SolemnProfessionMass_Sr_Vickie_Griner_OSC-BeStill

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I write this message from our Novitiate in Burlington, Wis., where this Provincial Council met for the last time of this triennium.ᅠ The Council finds it especially helpful to meet periodically in our formation houses in order to get know the friars in formation, the team, and the programs a little better.ᅠ The Novitiateᅠhouse members were wonderfully hospitable, and there seems to be a good spirit.ᅠ We happened to be here at the same time as the ESC JPIC Directors were giving the novices a workshop, so the place was hopping!ᅠ We were also hosted Gene Mayer, OFMPHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMfor a delightful dinner by the friarsᅠat the Assumption Province Curia.ᅠAt a farewell dinner together, in the province's name,ᅠ I gave the Council members a small gift, aᅠcrystalᅠmementoᅠengraved with their name and the seal of the Province, recognizing their participation on this Council.ᅠ We had special ones recognizing Br. Gene Mayer’s 18 years of service as Secretary of the Province, and Fr. Francisco Ó Conaire’s service as our General Visitator.ᅠAt the end of our meeting we processed the last three years of working together.ᅠ We all feel profoundly grateful for the privilege of service you have given us.ᅠ May God bless us all with wisdom, courage, and creativity as we move toward Chapter, and take the next steps to create our future.

— Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM

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