Right Sizing the Capuchin Province of Mid-America - Reflection by Fr. Charles Polifka, Minister Provincial
"Right-sizing the Province" It’s true. After 134 years of service to St. Joseph’s Parish in Hays, the Capuchins will humbly give the parish over to the Diocese of Salina. The coming months will be a time of transition. The Mid-America Province will continue to serve the parish while we await the bishop to appoint a new pastor. Allow me to explain why this is happening. The primary apostolate of the Capuchin, according to our Constitutions, is to live the Gospel life in fraternity. Living that Gospel life in fraternity has always involved undertaking ministry initiatives which respond to the needs of the people among whom we live. Capuchins came to Western Kansas to serve German immigrants. In time, as the numbers grew and as other needs were brought to the awareness of the friars, the province moved into other areas and other ministries, including a substantial commitment to a new mission in Papua New Guinea. In every “era” of the province’s history, attempts were made and implemented to insure that friars would be able to live out their vows in fraternities that had adequate numbers. When necessity sometimes demanded that a friar live alone or in a smaller community, periodic adjustments were made to bring the “lone” friar/s back into larger communities. In these days, the province is experiencing growth in vocations and at the same time an increase of friars who are entering an age when retirement from full time ministries ought to be possible for them. At the same time, we are stretched so thinly that any attempt to engage in a new initiative stresses the fraternal life of the friars. The few new initiatives we have undertaken in these last years have been continually compromised because traditional commitments made staffing almost impossible. We also realize that some of our traditional commitments have reached a point where it is time for us to move on. Capuchins are itinerant by nature. We come to do a job and then, when we have done what we can do, we move on and let others carry it on. It takes humility to acknowledge that it is time to move on. That humility is part of our “minority.” We are Capuchin Friars Minor, lesser brothers. We acknowledge that some “roots” will continue to be a part of us in the Midwest where we first began. We have roots in Ellis County, KS, and in particular in Victoria and the small farming communities of Ellis County. This is where we began in 1878. In 1983 the headquarters of the province was moved to Denver, CO. That was also a “beginning” and has become part of our “roots.” For at least ten years the province administration has realized that we are “boxed in” by numbers, ages, and traditional ministries. In 2002, for instance, an initiative was undertaken to provide confessional ministry in a popular Mall in Colorado Springs. This initiative is very “Capuchin” in its character. Most of our Capuchin priest saints were known for confessional ministry – Padre Pio, Leopoldo Mandic, and others. It is a creative response to the new evangelization in the Church. However, it continues to be compromised by the needs of more traditional commitments. These “traditional commitments,” while good and needed by the Church, do not allow us to be creative as “Capuchins” in responding to contemporary needs of the Church. Capuchins are also a missionary order. Some have called us the “marines” of the Church. Missionary work is essential to our identity. With all this in mind, the current provincial council, realizing that the Mid-America friars have expressed concern and even distress over shrinking sizes of our fraternities and the over extension in ministries, convoked an extraordinary assembly of all the friars during Christmas week of 2011. We engaged the help of a facilitator and followed a process to help identify what could be done to make the adjustments which would allow for larger fraternities, a better quality of Capuchin life, and ministries which could be reasonably undertaken in accord with our who we are vowed to be as Capuchins. After much prayer and reflection on the discussions and desires of that assembly, the provincial council mapped a plan into the future. We are beginning now to implement that plan. Once this plan is in place, we believe that the province will not only be “re-sized” but also “right-sized” for its continued growth and development as we move ahead. The following points are a partial outline of that plan:
  • The Capuchin Province of Mid-America commits to maintaining fraternities and ministries in the areas of Eastern Kansas, Ellis County, Denver, Colorado Springs, and Papua New Guinea. A primary characteristic of our ministry is the witness of Gospel brotherhood lived in the context of contemplative prayer.
  • In order to allow for our life and our ministry to continue in creative as well as effective and efficient ways, the province will initially commit to one parish in each of these areas; namely, one fulltime parish in Colorado Springs, Denver, Ellis County, and Eastern Kansas. We also renew our commitment to provide support to the mission in Papua New Guinea, both financially and, when possible, through personnel and other expertise. We are also determined to continue our commitment to Hispanic Ministry, to the rural parishes in Ellis County (St. Catherine’s, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Anthony’s, St. Ann’s, and St. Boniface), and to ministries to the spiritually and economically poor. It is also our intention to continue to make efforts to support Catholic Education in Ellis County at TMP-Marian by offering personnel when they are available.
  • In order for the fraternal presence to be substantial and for the fraternities to have adequate numbers of friars in the regions of the province, one parish in Ellis County (St. Joseph’s in Hays) and one parish in Denver (Sacred Heart) will be returned to the service of their respective dioceses. Likewise, two fraternities will be discontinued (St. Joseph’s in Hays and San Damiano in Denver), so that other fraternities can be larger.
  • Vocations to our way of life and the recruitment of those vocations is a primary concern. The Vocations and Recruitment Office will be modified in such a way that there will be two vocations directors and an office coordinator.
The implementation of this plan will result in some pain both on the part of the people we serve and on the part of friars who have spent themselves in the ministry to people in the areas we have so long served. What is needed is an “understanding” of who the Capuchin Friars minor are and have always been. We are a religious community in the Church. Our first priority is to live and to preserve for the Church the “Capuchin” way of life that St. Francis and our Capuchin reformers gave to the Church. Likewise, we owe the Church that prophetic vision by which we will continue, in obedience, to serve her through initiatives which will always evangelize and re-evangelize God’s people. Br. Charles Polifka, OFM Cap. May 15, 2012