by Roxanne King

At the April 22-26 chapter meeting of St. Conrad Province held at St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kan., Capuchin Brother Mark Schenk, 61, made history when he became the first lay friar elected to serve as Provincial Minister. It was his second history-making moment as in 2006 he was the first lay brother ever chosen to serve on the order’s Rome-based General Council.

The role of Provincial Minister (a three-year term) is to guide the province and animate the spiritual life of the friars. The purpose of the chapter meeting is to elect new leadership and set the direction for the province for the next three years. Four other Capuchins were elected as counselors: Father Bill Kraus (chosen Provincial Vicar), Brother Frank Grinko, Brother Curtis Carlson and Father Sojan Parapilly.

A native of Olmitz, Kan., Brother Mark studied at Rockhurst University in Kansas City and St. Thomas Seminary in Denver. He holds graduate degrees in theology, divinity and business administration from Aquinas Institute in St. Louis and Regis University in Denver. Most recently he served as General Definitor on the General Council. In that role he traveled to Capuchin territories throughout the world to ensure their commitment to the Capuchin charism and to serve as an ambassador on behalf of the General Minister. Previously he served as Provincial Vicar and Provincial Treasurer for St. Conrad Province.

In the late 1980s-2000 he served the order in a variety of positions in Rome, including as Under Secretary General, Secretary General pro-tem, and Information Systems Manager. Other offices he has held include assistant superior of the friary at the order’s Roman curia, local superior of friaries in St. Louis and Denver, Provincial Director of initial formation, and Executive Secretary of the North American-Pacific Capuchin Conference. In the mid-1980s he taught religion, computer science and space science at Thomas More Prep in Hays, Kan., which he had attended. He also served as Campus Minister, Director of the Religious Vocations program, Registrar and Residency Advisor, and area Vocation Director. Brother Mark recently spoke to The Porter about his new role.

Q: What are your thoughts about being the first lay friar elected Provincial Minister of St. Conrad Province? A: It’s an enormous task and a steep learning curve. We’re elected to ministry immediately—there is no interim period. It’s a little overwhelming at times. No matter who is elected they have a shocked look on their face. It’s an enormous trust from the brothers. I’ve always wanted to serve the province in whatever way they think I should. I feel privileged to do this and hope I’m up to the task. We have a really good group of friars and that comforts me.

Q: A new council was also elected. A: I’m very pleased with the Provincial Council I was given. There’s a lot of experience on it plus new blood. I think we feel very united. Also, in the province we have some excellent men who go above and beyond the call of duty.

Q: What goals do you have for your term? A: I see myself, and I think the council would agree, that we see ourselves in continuation of the previous administration. I like a lot of the things Father Christopher Popravak did and want to see us continue in that direction.

First: The emphasis on vocations—that we believe in ourselves enough to invite young men to grow in formation in the province. Vocations will be a key focus for us, as in the past.

I also want to keep attention on the whole issue of child protection. Father Christopher made some difficult decisions, but I think, the right decisions, such as publishing names of those who had issues. That action was taken for the healing of victim survivors.

Q: Address some of the changes the brothers adopted at the recent chapter meeting. A: The Province Chapter approved economic statues that we will start to implement over the next three years. This is to continue improving our financial policies and donor accountability and to create a strong finance foundation for the province for the future. That is new and will involve a lot of work training the treasurers of the different fraternities and putting programs in place.

Another item is the last General Chapter approved a formation plan for the order. When it is finalized and published we will have to align our provincial formation plan with that of the order. I think that will take some work. Not just technical work, but to really animate the friars, to encourage them to look at this document and the underlying issues. That will be an issue of education for all the friars.

One thing about this formation document that surprised us is that it begins with ongoing formation, rather than initial formation. It’s the formation that all of us need, even those who have been friars for 20, 30, 40 and 50 years. It says, this is where you need to begin. I think this has been a weakness in many provinces. We forget that we need formation all through our lives—formation never ends. This will be key for us, the ongoing formation.