Sacred Heart bids final farewell to Franciscans

| June 3, 2015 | 0 Comments
Father Eugene Michel, who is retiring, is the final Franciscan friar to serve Sacred Heart. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Father Eugene Michel, who is retiring, is the final Franciscan friar to serve Sacred Heart. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Addie Meyers wiped away tears as she described the role the Franciscan friars played at Sacred Heart in St. Paul, where she received her first Communion and later raised her children. Their examples of generosity, poverty and service inspired her daughter to do mission work in Haiti, she said.

“It’s basic religion,” she said of the friars’ personable teaching and simple living.

“It’s like a family,” added Kay Marlowe, a parishioner since 1970.

After serving the Dayton’s Bluff parish for 106 years, the friars are returning responsibility for the parish to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis at the end of June.

Gathered in the church following daily Mass May 27, a small group of parishioners tried to find the right words to summarize their deep affection for the friars and the loss in their leaving.

“They desired poverty. They took the vow of poverty, and they have just carried it out throughout their life,” said Joanne Schiltgen Moris, who has spent five decades in the parish.

“They’re very sacred,” added Fa’autu Tavale, a parishioner since 1989. “They’ll be missed.”

Sacred Heart’s pastor, 79-year-old Father Eugene Michel, is undergoing cancer treatment and plans to retire after serving the parish for 12 years. The provincial of the St. Louis-based Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart informed the archdiocese in January that it did not have a priest who could replace him.

Parishioners say the Franciscans’ leaving does not mean Sacred Heart will cease being a Franciscan place, however.

Father Michel agrees. “The Franciscan way of thinking is stamped all over this parish,” he said. He announced in March the friars would be leaving.

For many parishioners, sadness over the loss of the friars and the loss of their beloved pastor are one and the same, said Sue O’Donnell, whose family became parishioners in the early 1950s when she was in third grade. Now a Sacred Heart secretary, O’Donnell said she long anticipated the change and is grateful the friars have served the parish as long as they have.

Ending an era

Sacred Heart is hosting a farewell event from 1-3 p.m. June 21 with music and refreshments at the church, 840 Sixth St. E., St. Paul. Goodbyes will also be offered following that weekend’s Masses: June 20, 4 p.m. English, 5:30 p.m. Spanish; June 21, 9 a.m. English, 11 a.m. Spanish.

Franciscans assumed responsibility for Sacred Heart from the archdiocese in 1909, less than three decades after the parish was founded in 1881.

Like others, O’Donnell said the friars have inspired the parish’s generosity to the community.

“We have the poor giving to the poor,” she said, pointing to the parish’s food shelf, health care outreach and clothing drives. “There’s no money in this community.”

The parish is sustained by renting its former school building to a charter school. Trinity Catholic School closed in 2009 after merging in 1992 with St. Patrick, St. Casimir and Sacred Heart schools. Sacred Heart school had been served by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, whose empty convent behind the school has long been for sale.

Once a white, working-class parish, Sacred Heart has for decades been a hub for Latino Catholics. This spring, the majority of the 40 confirmands were Latino, as were all of its 80 first communicants.

Father Michel, the only friar currently serving the parish, is bilingual, but he also understood the Latino immigrants’ culture, said Prisciliano Maya, who joined the parish 16 years ago and directs its Spanish youth and adult faith formation program.

A Mexican immigrant, Maya said Latinos expect priests to handle not only their spiritual needs, but also to help with family and legal issues; be available to bless cars, homes and devotionals; and preside at quinceaneras, 3-year-old blessings and other important religious and cultural events. Father Michel wrote many letters to help with parishioners’ immigration processes.

“If the new priest is coming with Pope Francis’ spirit, it will be fine,” Maya said.

Despite parishioners’ uncertainty about the future, most are hopeful.

“We hope that we keep proclaiming the message of God . . . throughout the archdiocese and Minnesota,” added Maselino Tavale, Fa’autu Tavale’s husband, “that we want to keep the Catholic spirit and Franciscan spirit strong.”

After 106 years, Franciscans leaving St. Paul parish

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