Sunday, August 3, 2003

New Jersey losing Franciscans

The Franciscan community covering the East Coast has shrunk to about 430 priests and brothers from 1,100 in the early 1960s. As a result, the order will no longer staff St. Joseph's Church in West Milford, where friars have preached the Gospel since the late 1800s.The parish will continue to operate under the diocese, which will supply its own priests."We're a disappearing race,'' said the Rev. Boniface Hanley, who celebrates his last Mass at St. Joseph's today. "That's a fact.'' The Franciscans are considering a range of other cutbacks, including leaving another West Milford church, Our Lady Queen of Peace."I just buried four [friars] last month," said the Rev. John Felice, the order's provincial minister in New York City. "And people are wondering why we are doing this?"Franciscans, Felice said, typically live in communities of at least three friars. After St. Joseph's had been reduced to one priest - the 78-year-old Hanley - the order decided it couldn't spare the manpower to bring the staffing up to previous levels."We are committed to living in community - that's who we are," Felice said. "We love being in these places, but the math just doesn't work for us."

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