New local friars say they feel like they have come home to St. Felix

Brother Angelus Maria (left) and Brother Isaac Mary are two of the three professed brothers of the Franciscan Friars Minor leading a class of postulants at the St. Felix Catholic Center, in Huntington. The friars now make their home in half of the former St. Felix Friary, the first group of brothers to occupy the building since 1980.
Brother Angelus Maria (left) and Brother Isaac Mary are two of the three professed brothers of the Franciscan Friars Minor leading a class of postulants at the St. Felix Catholic Center, in Huntington. The friars now make their home in half of the former St. Felix Friary, the first group of brothers to occupy the building since 1980. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Sept. 15, 2016.

In a pastoral setting on the edge of Huntington, 16 men are learning to give all to God.

They own nothing; they pray constantly.

At the end of nine months of postulancy, they’ll continue down a path that will likely lead to full communion with the religious order of Franciscan Friars Minor, the first group of friars to occupy Huntington’s former St. Felix Friary since the original group of Franciscans left in 1980.

“We feel very much like we’ve come home,” says Brother Isaac Mary, postulant master and guardian. “The friars have come back.”
Members of the order are just getting their feet wet in Huntington; the first class of postulants at this location started on Sept. 8. They’re not sure — yet — what their mission in Huntington will be, but they’re open.

“God is always surprising us,” says Brother Angelus Maria, assistant postulant master at St. Felix. “He always uses us beyond what we expect.”

Angelus and Isaac are two of three professed friars at St. Felix; the third is Brother Juan Diego Maria, vicar of the house and assistant to the postulants.

Together, they guide a group of 16 men, ranging in age from 18 to 47 and coming from Chile, Dominican Republic, Fort Wayne, California, Puerto Rico, Mexico and elsewhere, as they begin their journey to becoming professed friars.

The next step for the postulants will be a year-long novitiate at the friary in Mishawaka; after that, if they choose, they will profess permanent vows to the order.

Their religious order is relatively new. It was founded in 2009 in Pennsylvania under the leadership of Bishop Kevin Rhoades, then head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, PA. When Rhoades was named bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese in early 2010, the brothers followed.

Although this is the first class of postulants in Huntington, it’s the ninth overall for the order.

The initial eight brothers and one priest have become a group of 50 men with friaries in Fort Wayne, Decatur, Mishawaka/South Bend and now Huntington.

“We like to have our friaries in poorer neighborhoods so we can tend to needs,” Isaac explains.

Postulancy, he says, is “a transition period.”

“Since they’re coming out of the world, there’s a lot of injuries people suffer from,” Angelus says. Those injuries can be emotional, psychological, spiritual or physical; postulancy helps “form the human person.”

“Sometimes it’s as simple as etiquette or learning how to talk to each other,” he says.

As the postulants progress in their training, they will become more active in the community.

Isaac says men seeking membership learn about the order through word of mouth, a website and the friars’ visits to missions, parish retreats and other functions. Sometimes, a relative of a current member decides to join, Angelus adds.

They choose to live in poverty.

“We live completely on divine providence,” Isaac says. “We rely on God for everything … This is what (St.) Francis was big on — poverty. We seek first the kingdom of God.”

Their quarters are furnished with a desk, a chair and a sleeping bag on the floor.

“We try to keep it pretty simple,” Isaac says.

In the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi, the friars — sometimes called the “barefoot brothers” — wear no shoes.

“Christ sent the apostles out with no shoes,” Isaac notes.

Bare feet touching the ground is also “a good reminder that Christ walked this earth,” Angelus adds.

Their physical needs are taken care of through “the charity of others.”

“Because of our need, it forces us out to find what we need,” he says.

Getting out into the community to ask for charity allows them to discover and serve people in need, Isaac adds. And it gives the people they meet a chance to help someone else.

“Our life becomes a blessing to others,” he says. “As they help us, they receive blessings from God.”

“It’s humbling for us because we don’t always want to do it,” Angelus says.

In accordance with their vow of poverty, the friars keep no more than three to five days of food on hand, and nothing that needs to be refrigerated.

“It keeps us dependent on God,” Isaac says. “It keeps us poor.”

“We have to empty ourselves totally,” Angelus adds.

“We just do what the poor do,” Isaac says, citing health insurance as an example. “For food, we go begging.”

Knocking on doors gives the people they meet the opportunity to make prayer requests.

“Our life is mostly a ministry of prayer,” says Isaac.

Prayer begins at midnight. Starting with the 6 a.m. morning prayer, the friars pray about every three hours, incorporating Holy Hours, Mass, rosary, silent prayer and other scheduled prayer times for a total of some nine hours each day in prayer.

The order’s Decatur friary, Isaac says, is a hermitage. The three men living there do not go into the community; instead, they spend their time exclusively in prayer.

Prayer, Angelus says, was what drew him to the Franciscan Friars Minor just more than two years ago. He had previously been a member of another community.

“They were praying the way my soul longed to pray,” he says.

Isaac, a member of the order for more than five years, came to the order through its founder, Rev. David Mary Engo, a long-time friend.

Isaac says he “wasn’t looking at religious life at all … (but) God makes his will known very clearly. It kind of hits you over the head.”

Their new home in Huntington had been occupied by Capuchin Franciscan Friars from 1928 until the facility was sold in 1980; the building and grounds were restored in 2010 as St. Felix Catholic Center.

A group of religious women — the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist — moved its postulant program from Ann Arbor, MI, to St. Felix in 2012, but moved out of the former friary earlier this summer.

That created an opportunity for the Franciscan Friars Minor, who were looking for a place for their postulants.

“The bishop strongly suggested that we ask if we could come here,” Angelus says. “So we took the suggestion of the bishop.”

The brothers were not unfamiliar with St. Felix; some of their members had assisted with the renovation work a few years earlier.
“The way everything worked out was so providential,” Angelus says. “It’s very clear God wants us here.”

The Franciscan Friars Minor have no connection, other than spiritual, with the Franciscan order that occupied St. Felix for 52 years, Isaac says. Both orders follow the teachings of St. Francis, who gave up material possessions and devoted himself to serving the poor.

“We’re essentially Capuchins, but not in name,” Isaac says.

As they settle in, they’ll be asking the community to help them out.

“We need food on a pretty regular basis,” Isaac says. They accept only what they can consume in a few days; they don’t accept cash.

The friars don’t have vehicles, so they occasionally need rides. They need people who can help out from time to time with various needs, maybe paying for medication for one of the friars.

They also want to give, especially in prayer.

“We take prayer requests, if something’s going on and they need God’s assistance,” Isaac Mary says.

The friars welcome visitors with gifts and requests, inviting them to “show up at the door and ring the doorbell.”

The unmarked door to the friars’ quarters is located to the right of the main church doors at St. Felix, on the ground level.