Answering the Calling
Hays Daily News. (Reprinted with permission - corrected)
by Phyllis Zorn
photos by Jeff Giraldo

VICTORIA — The friendship between Joe Newton and Dwayne Santos is easy to see, despite the obvious differences between them.

The lives of Newton, a client of Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas who spends his days at Pioneer Development Center in Russell, and Santos, a native of Guam who used to work in the tourism industry, intersected during a training program for men interested in taking Capuchin vows.

One recent day at Pioneer Development Center, Newton wheeled into the room in his motorized wheelchair and, spotting Santos, called out to him.

Santos smiled and walked over to Newton to ask what he’d been doing.
"I did physical therapy," Newton said.

Newton told Santos about the Ford Fairlane 500 his grandmother used to drive. It was just like the model car kit Newton had in a bag hanging from the back of his chair.

Then Newton’s eyes lit on another friar in training.

"Duncan, Duncan, what are you doing?" Newton asked.

"I’m reading them a story," Duncan Cromb answered from where he sat with a group of other DSNWK clients at a table a short distance away.

After a round of snacks, it was the end of the learning day at Pioneer Development Center and time for the students to go home. Santos and Cromb drove to the residence Newton shares with Sollie Eller and Johnny Strobel. There, Santos and Cromb helped the men with their leisure activities.

Newton proudly showed one of his prized possessions, a photo of himself with an Elvis impersonator taken while on a birthday outing with his family.

The two future friars are among 26 men at St. Fidelis Friary whose diverse walks of life have led them into a communal journey toward deeper meaning. In the first leg of their journey toward life as Capuchins, the men have gathered at St. Fidelis to learn to live together in the fraternal manner of the order. They arrived in late May for two months of studying and doing missionary work. They spend part of their time at area nursing homes and working with DSNWK clients and part of their time in classes learning about the Capuchin life.

On July 27, they will go to Burlington, Wis., for a year’s intensive study in their preparation to take vows. It is in Wisconsin that the men will be given the traditional robes that are the mark of the Capuchin order.

The men range from 19-year-old former students to a 50-year-old Manhattan architect born in the Philippines.

Some long have felt a call to the service-filled life of the Capuchin. Others admit they haven’t quite figured out what drew them to enter the program.

"I’m a late profession," said Victor Garcia, the oldest at 50. "I’m here because I want to return a service to the Lord."

After spending 25 years in his native Philippines, Garcia moved to New York to work as an architect. After working at various architectural firms, he started his own architectural firm, which he ran for seven years.

What compelled him to begin a journey toward becoming a Capuchin partly was what he calls "the discovery of self." It’s also about a yearning to learn more about Christ, Garcia said.
"I knew very little, and I still know very little," Garcia said.

Joseph Hala, 32, born in Sydney, Australia, was a business development manager in a bank for nine years before choosing the path of becoming a Capuchin. He can’t explain what led him to his decision.

"I’m still trying to work that out," Hala said.

He met some Capuchins one night about four years ago and was impressed with their way of life. He returned to his job, but it wasn’t the same.

"I think my heart started to turn," Hala said. "I went back to work. And when I was at work, I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t forget."

For Kenneth Gabor, a 28-year-old former union electrician, firefighter, emergency medical technician and park police officer, the brotherhood of the order is reflective of the brotherhood of firefighters. He also is drawn to the hands-on approach Capuchins take to living and working among the poor.

Tim Aller, 39, a teacher in a juvenile prison before entering the Capuchin training program, was pursuing a master’s degree in special education. He’d need that to teach in the public school system, but it’s unlikely he’ll complete his master’s degree now because any future teaching he does probably will be in a private school setting.

Aller’s path to the religious life has been far from pristine. A former addict, he’s been in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous for eight years.

Robert Battalini, 41, was a mechanical engineer for 10 years before withdrawing from that life to paint houses while he focused instead on a vocation quest.

During the two years he painted houses and did things people needed him to do, he looked into more than one religious order. He looked at the Brothers of Mercy and the Augustines before deciding on the Capuchins, whose simplistic style of living and dedication to the poor appealed to part of Battalini that yearned for a more meaningful life.

George Real Bird, 23, grew up on the Crow reservation in south-central Montana.
"My family, they’re all Catholic," Real Bird said.

The family has had comfortable ties to the Capuchins who do mission work on the reservation for many years. Some of his relatives are third-order Capuchins, Real Bird said.
He hopes to become ordained as a priest.

"I can do a lot more for my people back home," Real Bird said.

For Stephen Sobol, 43, born in Toronto, Ontario, the same impulse that compelled him into social work is the one that compelled him into the Capuchin order. His desire for a life of service to the Lord and to others manifested itself first in his choice of career.

"I think the two ultimately are related on some level," Sobol said.

Sobol said he had a sense of calling from early on.

"It’s almost the flip side of a single coin," Sobol said.

A case in point involves working with a teen who murdered two other children, ages 8 and 9, that Sobol initially didn’t want to deal with. He didn’t want to even work with the young killer because what he’d done was too heinous, Sobol said.

"It really was a test of my Christian mettle," Sobol said. "I came to be really fond of him, and he’s doing well to this day, more credit to his psychiatrist than to me."

The training program is a cooperative venture of several Capuchin provinces. Dwindling numbers of men interested in joining the Capuchin life has led to the provinces making a joint effort to train incoming novitiates. Thus the men come from numerous states as well as Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Cuba, Canada and Guam. One was born in Vietnam but raised in Louisiana.

They are being shepherded by Edmund Walker of the New Jersey Province, James Froehlich of the Pennsylvania Province and Frank Grinko and Jerry Wintz of the Mid-America Province. Additional staff members are Jeff Ernst of the Mid-America Province, Mark Mance of the Western America Province, Gerard O’Dempsey of the Australian Province and Mike Greb of the Pennsylvania Province.

Phyllis Zorn can be reached at (785) 628-1081, Ext. 137,
or by e-mail at phylz@dailynews. net.

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