“He is a great friar; it is no wonder we wanted him to be provincial so often.” That was the assessment of one of the brothers of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of Mid-America as he spoke of Charles Polifka, who will leave the office of provincial minister in April. “Charlie,” as the brothers of the Province know him, will complete his 13th year as provincial minister.
The Capuchin Franciscan Constitutions, that is, the guide for the religious life of the Capuchin Franciscans, calls the provincial minister to be a person who accepts the responsibility to “form” all of the religious brothers. It means that the provincial minister is to spend his time in office bringing the brothers of the Province to be better followers of Francis of Assisi. “Charlie” has spent more years doing it than any other friar in the province. He holds the respect and admiration of every member of the Province.
Taking over the office of provincial for Br. Charles Chaput, who was chosen to be a bishop in 1988, Charles was elected to six years as provincial minister from 1989-1995. He was chosen by the brothers once again in 2007 and served until 2013. Therefore a significant part of his life as a Capuchin Franciscan has been devoted to the service of the brothers of the Province of Mid-America. As one friar put it, “That is above and beyond the call of duty!” He is quick to point out that even though there were some difficult times during his time as provincial, the support and prayer of the friars always enabled him to do his very best.
Charles made his simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in 1966, perpetual vows in 1970, and was ordained to the Capuchin priesthood in 1971. During the time when he was not serving as provincial, he worked as a teacher and president of a high school, a director of novices, and a pastor. He remembers with fondness especially his time as pastor of two parishes, one in Lawrence, KS and the other in Victoria, KS. He had a unique style as pastor, and the people of the parishes were always sad to see him changed to another ministry.
As he looked back at what he tried to do as provincial minister and his other ministries in the Province, he only thinks of “joy.” “I enjoyed every bit of it,” he said. He has something in mind for the future, but always an obedient friar, he awaits the decision of the new administration that will be chosen in April. Right now, he is “ready to move on.”
Charles has accomplished much in his life of ministry in the Province. Standing out in his memory are the three General Chapters that he attended in Rome, meetings that all the Provincials of the entire Order attend; helping bring the Poor Clare Sisters to Denver and our Province; making pilgrimages with members of his parish to Ireland, Mexico and Italy; redecorating the Cathedral of the Plains in Victoria, KS; and the plans for re-structuring the Province which was the latest accomplishment of his provincial administration.
What has most impressed him as a Capuchin Franciscan? His answer is quick and to the point: the simplicity of our lives. He feels that our life has been a statement to the Church and to the world that God is more important than anything. Capuchin Franciscans must be satisfied only with what is necessary to live well, he says, and that should be enough for us. He has advice for those who are looking at our way of life also. Very simply, it is the advice of so many of the friars of the Province: “Come and see.” He says that if someone is interested in our way of life, the most important thing is to see how we think and what we do. The only way it can be accomplished is by personal visits with the friars.
The friars of the Province are grateful to Charles and all he has done and will continue to do. He is a great example of the best a Capuchin Franciscan can be.