September 18, 2014


Michael Perry welcomes visitors with a sweeping gesture.

“This is where the boss works,” he says, indicating the office occupied by his personal assistant, Giovanni Rinaldi.

Michael points to the adjacent room, his own. “And his assistant works there.” The joke from the modest and disarmingly candid Minister General immediately puts guests at ease as they file into his office at the General Curia in Rome. Today, Sept. 9, he is hosting communications reps from the English Speaking Conference who were invited here as part of their annual gathering by Joseph Magro, OFM Communications Director. The friary where they are meeting and rooming, IC Province’s Convento San Francesco, is a 15-minute walk from the headquarters of the Order, a complex so vast it’s easy to imagine losing your way and wandering the halls for hours.

“It’s an absurdity to have all this space as Minister General,” Michael admits, seating guests in the antechamber outside his office. “If I’m going to tell people to live a simple life, I do feel a bit ridiculous to come to such a space.” Unwrapping a chocolate bar – Italian, naturally – he offers pieces as he explains the set-up. “This is the ‘anticamera’ where everything passes through.” Across the way is “the ‘camera’, where I’ll generally meet with brothers who come through.” He emphasizes, “It’s not the house of the Minister General, it’s the house of the Order. So it’s your house. We’re trying to keep a balance, reserve space for meetings, but we’re trying to humanize it.”

Balance is central to his work because “there are two images of what the Minister General should be: He should be the big chief running the Order; he should be the little chief washing the feet of his brothers.” For Michael, who seems as comfortable at the Curia as he did at SJB’s Chapter at St. Meinrad in May, life in Italy has been an adjustment. Certainly there was culture shock for the Indiana-born American – and a language barrier he struggled to overcome after his election last year and a month of formal courses in Italian. “Whenever you go into a different area in Italy, there are very big differences from one region to another,” he says. Besides that, “To try to understand a language gets harder as you get older.” Within months of his arrival, “I had knee replacement and was sidelined. I went through a crisis. I wanted to pack up and go home.” Even today, “I make the brothers struggle much with my Italian.”

Michael Perry briefs communicators at the General Curia, above. Right; putting guests at ease in the anticamera.

At home with the Minister General

Email To a Friend

Loading the page...

‘Are we the real thing?’

He welcomes questions, and talk turns to the election of Pope Francis. Personally, Michael says, “I found it electrifying, terrifying, and hopeful. Electrifying because he is an energetic, visionary man of deep faith and humanity. Terrifying because he took the name Francis. What does that mean for traditional Franciscans? It’s a tremendous responsibility. People want to know, are we the real thing? Are we excited about life, prayer, this mission?” The day the pope was elected, “I didn’t sit down waiting for the smoke to rise. When they said the name ‘Francis’ and asked, ‘Which one is it?’, I had no doubt. I began to experience the terror of what that meant for us.”

And what about “hopeful”?

“I was hopeful because we are people of hope. Franciscans should be men of hope.”

He talks about the foundations of friar life, a subject one guest raises in a question about culture. “You have been visiting Franciscan communities all over the world. Many are secularized. How do you see Franciscan life being lived?”

Michael’s response: “It’s different in every place I’ve been. There is a real quality of Franciscan life in some places; in other places, it is not as edifying.”

He connects this to the theme of the 2015 General Chapter, “Brothers and Minors in Our Time”. In some countries, “We don’t have a clear identity. In some places it’s a static identity. I don’t think we have to fear secularization. It forces us to face the truth about ourselves. [We should] See it as an opportunity to reclaim our faith. We should not be afraid of changes around us. They are not a threat to our identity. We have to keep re-naming ourselves.”

The world is watching

At Chapter, Michael hopes friars will determine where they are and chart a course for the future. “Not just an action plan; it should be an effort to see how we can let God re-invent us to be relevant.” His role, he says, is to offer a message of hope.

The ESC communicators also have a part to play with Chapter. “What is your plan of action?” Michael asks. “We have two worlds we need to communicate with, the Franciscan world and The World. How can we entice the world to want to come to us [in Assisi] and see what’s going on? We need to let the world know we’re alive, we’re here, we’re moving with the world.” With Michael’s input, this promises to be a Chapter like no other. Besides

Michael Perry welcomed William Spencer (SH Province), Michael Surufka (ABVM), Toni Cashnelli (SJB), Pepe Martinez (front, SH), Jocelyn Thomas (Holy Name), Alvin Te (IC), Guylain Prince (St. Joseph) and Joseph Magro (OFM Communications Director).

Left, William Spencer, provincial liaison, outside the Curia with Michael Surufka of ABVM Province; below, Giovanni Rinaldi, the Minister’s assistant, with visitors Guylain Prince of St. Joseph Province and Alvin Te of IC Province.

Below, a courtyard in the Curia.

Pope Francis, he plans to invite other humanitarian icons and enlist the help of world-class entertainers. Among those rumored to be involved is singer-philanthropist Bono.

Michael rises to signal the end of the meeting. “I thank you on behalf of the Order for the tremendous service you are doing,” he says, then passes around a small basket filled with plastic pouches. “Take one,” he says. “Don’t look.” For each guest there is a Tau cross on a string, a souvenir of their visit. Chances are, they will not need a tangible reminder of this memorable afternoon.

Facts about antibiotics in animals

About 80% of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in the livestock and poultry industries. Studies have shown that using antibiotics in animal feed leads to higher levels of antibiotic-resistant infections in the animals themselves and that these bacteria can make their way into manure, soil, air and water. They can also be passed on from the animals to meat-processing workers, and resistant bacteria can even “teach” other bacteria to fight off antibiotics. Health organizations have raised the alarm about the rising rate of antibiotic resistance – pointing to both human and animal use as contributing to the problem. The solution is to move away from raising livestock in crowded and unsanitary conditions. Denmark no longer uses antibiotics to speed growth and prevent disease, and has reduced its antibiotic use by more than 45%, with no significant effect on their agricultural economy, animal health or food prices. Meat production has actually increased by 12%, and antibiotic resistance has declined. You can improve your own health and that of the planet by purchasing only meat and poultry products labeled “certified organic” or “no antibiotics administered.” Encourage your local grocer to carry meat from animals raised without antibiotics.
(Natural Resources Defense Council)

Email To a Friend

Oral health matters, by gum!


Province Nurse

September marks a great time to brush up on oral health. The annual observance of Healthy Aging Month is designed to give more insight into growing older, encouraging adults ages 50 and up to rethink their health habits and reshape them for the better.

Oral health is the cornerstone for overall health.

Practice good habits

Think of good dental care as a component of your overall health care. The good news is that it is easy. By regularly practicing a few simple, good oral health habits, you can make a positive impact on your healthy life: 1.) Visit your dentist as recommended; 2.) Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each session and replace toothbrushes regularly; 3.) Floss at least once a day, 4.) Practice good denture care, 5.) Stop smoking. Smoking, chewing or using tobacco products is closely associated with oral cancer. This risk increases with age. It is never too late to quit smoking.

Researchers are discovering that a healthy mouth is associated with more than just looking or feeling good. According to the American Heart Association, periodontal (gum) disease is a risk factor for strokes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory ailments and diabetes. Poor dental hygiene leads to bacterial overgrowth in the mouth. Bacteria may penetrate through inflamed gums and enter the bloodstream. The foreign bacterial may cause inflammation because your body’s natural reaction is to rid the blood of any bacterial agents. Inflammation narrows blood vessels, inhibiting blood flow to the brain and heart. Gum disease is described as “a smoldering fire” in your body.

Gum disease is treatable and reversible. Older adults are still more at risk for periodontal (gum) disease, tooth loss, the use of dentures and dry mouth. Among adults, about 65% have moderate to severe periodontal disease, 43% have lost six or more teeth and over 18% have lost all of their teeth. Research shows that during a routine dental exam, the dentist can identify more than 125 illnesses including oral cancer, diabetes and anemia. Are you seeing your dentist regularly?

If you do not have an appointment with your dentist scheduled, please make one today. Teeth can last a lifetime if you take good care of them. Good luck on your new resolutions!

Email To a Friend

Tod Laverty and Loren Connell at St. Aloysius Parish in Detroit.

Connected by moments of grace

(Loren Connell’s remembrance of the late Pastor Tod Laverty appears in this Sunday’s parish bulletin for St. Al’s/St. Patrick’s in Detroit.)

It was a year ago Sunday that Tod died in Kingston, Ontario.  The previous September I was privileged to share four days with him in his home town of Wolfe Island.  I arrived in Detroit at 3:45 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, 2012.  I unloaded my car at the friary; and by 4:20 p.m. I was in Tod’s car, passport in hand, heading for the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

We reached the island around 1 on Saturday morning and left on Wednesday.  We visited his uncle and aunt on the island and his aunt on the mainland.  We shopped at the market in Kingston.  His brother and sister-in-law visited us on Labor Day.  We watched the St. Lawrence River flow by and befriended a dog until her encounter with a skunk.  We traveled the haunts of his childhood – the shrubs and sand at the head of the island, the cemetery where his parents are buried, the farm where he grew up, the cheese factory where he worked in high school, his aunts’ cottage at the other end of the island, the cove where rum-runners set out for New York during Prohibition.  He ostensibly wanted to show me places that were dear to him, but I soon realized that he was making his own pilgrimage.  I was graced to accompany him.

How attentive are we to the people in our lives?  Do we recognize the moments of grace that connect us with them?  Do we accept those moments and allow the Spirit to transform us?

Peace and every blessing,

Loren Connell, OFM

Email To a Friend

  • The coin in the photo is a gift from Larry Dunham, Guardian and Commissary for Franciscans for the Holy Land. He sent it to SJB Province “in gratitude for the contributions of SJB to the Custody of the Holy Land over the years,” according to Provincial Minister Jeff Scheeler. “It was minted for the visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land.”
  • Good news for anyone who has dreaded an icy trip up or down the driveway at St. Anthony Shrine in Cincinnati. It’s getting a makeover. “We decided to have it widened because in the winter the Exit Drive is too steep and narrow for use, especially when it is snow-covered, so people have been going in and out using our Entrance Drive,” says Guardian Carl Langenderfer. “To make exiting safer, we decided to have the driveway widened to 20 feet from the previous 14 feet. ᅠPavement Management, Inc. started working on it last week by removing the old stone gutter and blacktop sidewalk, excavating to a depth of 12 inches, putting in crushed limestone and compacting it, and then covering the whole driveway with three layers of asphalt. ᅠSo now our driveway is wider and smoother, and soon it will have a new concrete curb on both sides.” Another plus: “Drainage has also been improved dramatically. ᅠAll of this has been done in the past week, thanks to the fast action and generous help of Pavement Management’s Dan Unger and owner Jeff Muenchen.”
  • John O’Connor, former Provincial Minister of Holy Name Province, has been named Executive Assistant to the Minister General for Development and Fundraising for the Order of Friars Minor. Read more on the Order’s website at:
  • Also on the OFM website: “On Saturday 13th September the Holy Father Pope Francis has appointed Fr. Michael Anthony Perry, OFM, Minister General as a member of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.”

Email To a Friend

The U.S. Provincials had a conference call this week to move forward our discussions from the Racine, Wis., meeting in early August.ᅠ We want to ensure that all provinces participate and have a voice in this very important process that is before us, and at the same time, that the right mix of friars are appointed to lead us.ᅠ Though we all struggle with sufficient personnel, we have decided that each province will provide a friar willing to serve for at least a three-year period of time, perhaps full-time.ᅠBorrowing from the model that we have used with our interprovincial formation teams, these seven friars will meet with our facilitator and discern which two or three of them will work full-time to shepherd the process which will lead to a more specific proposal at the Chapters of 2017 about renewal and restructuring in the U.S. provinces.ᅠ Those not discerned to work full-time will remain as advisors to the full-time friars leading the process.ᅠ We anticipate that these friars will work closely with the provincials and with all the existing groups (e.g., formators, treasurers, communication personnel, development, JPIC, etc.).  So stay tuned; things will be heating up very soon.

— Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFMEmail To a Friend