PHOTOS BY Toni Cashnelli
BY TONI CASHNELLI
Accepting a prestigious award, Br. Al Mascia did something very predictable: He turned the attention elsewhere.
He thanked those who came to the awards dinner, including eight friars, his mother Mary and his cousin, Toni Ann Petersen. He praised those being honored in other categories. He mentioned by name each group that donates supplies for his outreach efforts.
Dozens of the 400 attendees at the Oct. 14 Awards Dinner of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit were there because they know Al. “This is the most people who ever came to support an honoree in the history of the dinner,” said Lucinda Keils, a colleague in ministry.
No one seemed surprised that he was receiving a Community Service Award. “He is loving, hospitable, caring, compassionate,” said Brendan Shaffer, OEF, an Episcopal deacon. “He’s a spirit-filled man who lives out his Christian faith, who puts his faith into action.”
In the audience at Shriners Silver Garden in Southfield, Mich., were members of a religious and cultural coalition that promotes change through understanding. It included Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Catholics and Buddhists, all aspiring to the ambitious objective expressed by Al. “At the end of the day,” he said, “we are a family of religions working together to help bring assistance and healing to those no matter their creed, and daring by our example to move beyond mere tolerance of one another to friendship and, God willing, abiding love.”
Even if you consider them cockeyed optimists, you have to admire their resolve. The world is a troubled place, always has been, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. That theory inspired Al to co-found the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace with Jewish troubador Steve Klaper and his wife, Mary Gilhuly, a Catholic artist. They figured that preaching is more palatable if it’s set to music or committed to canvas, and that outreach means just that: You go out and find the people in need.
Introducing Al at the dinner, Mary described his ministerial journey in Detroit, from the Canticle Café warming center at St. Aloysius to his bicycle cart ministry, from his tuneful collaboration with Steve to their decision almost five years ago to create an interfaith institute promoting peace and service. A donated Dodge Sprinter van made their outreach mobile. “With it,” Mary said, “Br. Al could travel as far as a tank of gas would take him, serving ice cream at church festivals in Detroit, hot soup to shelters in the tri-county area, warm clothing on the streets and healthy SnackPax to young children experiencing food insecurity at home.”
Above, Al and Lutheran Bishop Donald Kreiss; right, Mark Soehner with postulants Andrew Koon and Dan Ward.Above, left to right, Steve Klaper and Mary Gilhuly, Mary Mascia and her son, Al.Acknowledging his gratitude in an acceptance speech, Al shifted the focus to “we”, as in, “We depend upon the kindness of both friends and strangers in order to perform our compassionate acts of community service.” While those who help “really get the part about feeding hungry children and serving the desperately poor, what isn’t so easy for some to understand is why we place such an emphasis on our work and services being ecumenical and interreligious to the core. Tell me, how else are our human virtues and ethics to grow? How else will we be freed from the terror, fright and fear of those we do not understand without attempting to understand them?”
Mary put Al’s ministry into perspective.
“It’s not enough to do good things for others,” she said. “Hopefully, we all do that. What sets a ‘do-gooder’ apart is when he/she inspires others to serve as well. That’s the stuff that creates a legacy.
“That’s Brother Al.”
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PHOTOS BY FRANK JASPER, OFM
On Oct. 5, coaches and players from the Cleveland Cavaliers gave 70 young basketball players the thrill of a lifetime. Cavs Assistant Coach Bret Brielmaier and eight team members led the 8- to 12-year-old kids through drills in dribbling, passing, shooting and defense during an hour-long clinic hosted by Friars Club in Cincinnati. “It was pretty neat, great for Friars and great for the community,” says Friars Program Director Parrish Ozias. “I think everybody had a good time. The Cavaliers said it was probably the best clinic they had ever held in the best facility they had ever been in.” Cavs players Mo Williams, Sasha Kaun, Quinn Cook, Jared Cunningham, Austin Daye, Chris Johnson, Nick Minnerath and D.J. Stephens all pitched in to help. Kids took home a souvenir basketball so they can practice their newly acquired skills.
The conversations about revitalizing and restructuring are well underway. The Council has already met with the friars in Bloomington and Pittsburgh. Fr. Frank Jasper met with the friars in the Southwest; Fr. Dan Anderson met with the friars in Washington, D.C.; I met with the friars in Easton during visitation there. Other gatherings are scheduled throughout the province in the coming weeks and months. We hope that you will be able to participate in the discussion of the four proposed models, trying to identify both the positive elements and the challenges of each one. From what I have heard and experienced, the conversations have been lively and helpful. Our insights will be joined with the comments of all the other friars of the country and will be part of the discernment that helps us choose the model which will help us revitalize and restructure the future of Franciscan life in the U.S. For those who have not yet participated, we trust that you will be able to participate in one of the gatherings.
— Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM
Mike Chowning did double duty at the baptismal font.
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