By Franz Klein
LA CROSSE – At the invitation of Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis and with the blessing of Bishop Jerome E. Listecki of La Crosse, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate will take up residence at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe next summer to provide for the spiritual needs of its growing number of pilgrims.
“We welcome the presence of Franciscan Friars to the Shrine,” Bishop Listecki, a member of the Shrine’s board of directors, told The Catholic Times. “It is my hope that their ministry and sense of prayer will help both the Shrine and the entire Diocese of La Crosse to grow in holiness.”
Archbishop Burke extended an invitation to the Friars of the Immaculate after it became clear that the Diocese of La Crosse’s priest shortage would make it difficult to assign a diocesan priest to full-time ministry at the Shrine. For the past several years, the Shrine has relied on the generosity of area pastors and retired priests to provide for the sacramental needs of its pilgrims.
Initially, the Friars of the Immaculate will probably send two priests and one brother, who will reside in the rectory under construction alongside the church. Archbishop Burke, founder of the Shrine and chairman of its board, told The Catholic Times that the Friars would be responsible solely for the Shrine’s spiritual needs; its temporal goods will remain in the hands of its board of directors, and Sister Christa Marie Halligan, FSGM, will remain its executive director.
“The Shrine church will be the heart of this place of pilgrimage, and to have priests there to be ministers of the sacraments and to assist the faithful with spiritual counsel will bring to completion the building of the church,” the archbishop said.
The Shrine church, which was open to the public for tours on Aug. 5, will be dedicated on July 31, 2008. The Friars will likely arrive a short time before that date.
Jim Fowler, president and co-owner of Fowler and Hammer, the company building the Shrine church and its adjoining rectory, said that the rectory should be ready for the Friars by that date.
“It’s off to a great start,” he said. “Being on the side of a hill there’s a lot of earthwork to do. We would like to get the building enclosed (before winter).”
Father Angelo Geiger is the general delegate for the Friars of the Immaculate in the United States. He told The Catholic Times that he and Father Peter Damian Fehlner, and “elder member” of the community and close friend of Archbishop Burke, examined the plans together with the archbishop.
“It’s not like we need a lot of things,” Father Angelo said. “With our life of poverty, we want to keep it simple.”
Founded by Fathers Stefano Manelli and Gabriel Pellettieri as an institute of diocesan right for the Archdiocese of Benevento, Italy, in 1990, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate are an offshoot of the Conventual Franciscans. When they were elevated to an institute of pontifical right in 1990, their mission became worldwide. The Friars now number more than 300 priests and brothers.
In addition to foundations in Africa and the Philippines, the Friars established themselves in the United States in 1991. With Our Lady of Guadalupe Friary in Griswold, Conn., serving as their American motherhouse, the Friars also have houses in New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Indiana. The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse will be their fifth house in the United States.
“I’ve observed the Friars over a number of years and have gotten to know Father Peter Damian very well,” Archbishop Burke commented. “What I’ve seen is a great fidelity to the rule of St. Francis of 1226. They live as mendicants, depending simply on gifts of the faithful for their livelihood. They are deeply prayerful and are very disciplined in their prayer life and in their ascetical practices with fasting and so forth.”
Archbishop Burke explained that their devotion to both Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception makes them especially qualified to be at the Shrine. As he noted, not only did Our Lady request the Tepeyac Shrine from Mexico City’s Franciscan Archbishop Juan de Zumárraga, but in addition her first apparition to St. Juan Diego took place on Dec. 9, the date of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at that time.
“The Franciscans are intimately part of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Archbishop Burke said.
“We have a great devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, so to be offered the opportunity to care for this Shrine is a real blessing,” Father Angelo acknowledged, noting that the order’s American endeavors have been dedicated to Mary under that title from the very beginning.
In addition to the traditional vows of obedience, poverty and chastity, Father Angelo said the Friars of the Immaculate follow St. Maximilian Kolbe’s example in taking a fourth vow of unlimited consecration to Our Lady.
“With our Marian vow, we are missionary by nature,” he said. Father Angelo added that he hopes to accommodate the Shrine with as many friars as needed in the future. “We’re getting vocations, thanks be to God,” he said, noting that the Griswold friary would have seven novices and ten postulants this year.
”We’re grateful for the graces we’ve received and the opportunities we have to serve our holy mother Church here in this country and elsewhere,” he said.