Brother Sam Nasada never knew he would one day wear the brown robe of a Franciscan. It never crossed the mind of the Los Angeles area engineer, but that is where he crossed paths with a group of friars.
“What really struck me about the friars when I went to visit their houses, was how welcoming they were to me. … The warm welcome, the brotherhood and fraternity in those houses, that’s what impressed me,” Br. Nasada said. “That was before I even knew anything about Franciscan spirituality or who Saint Francis was.”
Hospitality is a virtue which the Franciscan order has practiced for hundreds of years. This was recognized in a special way during a ceremony at the Franciscan Renewal Center (the Casa) in Scottsdale Nov. 13.
The ceremony celebrated the centennial for the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) Saint Barbara Province. It consisted of a variety of hymns, prayers and a reflection from Franciscan Father Dan Lackie.
“The province of Saint Barbara was officially founded in 1915. … That’s what we’re celebrating,” Fr. Lackie said.
He noted the arrival of friars in present-day Arizona and New Mexico in the 1500s. Renewed missionary efforts came after the Gold Rush and by the early 1900s, there were enough friars serving in the West to establish “a permanent, independent, juridical unit … a group of brothers doing this ministry together.”
Pam Bork, who has attended Mass at the Franciscan Renewal Center since 1974, explained how the Franciscans treat everyone like their own family.
“The friars share their lives with us,” Bork said. “They’re just so open about their vulnerability and they let us know that they’re just like us. They share their life stories and I think because of that we want to be here for this big event.”
Franciscan Father Joseph Schwab, director of the Casa, noted how the Franciscans have left a mark on the course of diocesan history.
“Our influence goes back deep into Spanish colonial times, long before the diocese existed,” Fr. Schwab said. “Franciscans were active here in the Southwest beginning in 1539. Over the centuries, our relationship with Native American people has remained rather strong … even here in the city of Phoenix with the Yaquis, for example.”
The Franciscans were not only involved in pastoral work but a variety of other ministries as well. “The Friars were involved in parish work, education, and spiritual renewal programs from the very beginning,” Fr. Schwab said. “We first came to Phoenix in 1896 and have been here since. The Franciscans actually founded about twelve of the present-day parishes here in the Diocese of Phoenix, out of St. Mary’s [Basilica].”
The highlights of the work done by Franciscans in Phoenix could be seen on a traveling exhibit, on display in Piper Hall. The exhibit consisted of ten panels, each summarizing a different period of the history of the Province of Saint Barbara. Among them were the founding of St. Mary’s by six Friars in 1896 and the founding of The Casa by two Friars in 1951. The province also currently has a presence at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Guadalupe.
The history of the Franciscans has profound significance not just on the past, but also the present and the future, Fr. Lackie noted.
“Look at it, not only as a story from the past, but as a story that lives in the power of the Spirit, entrusted to each one of us,” Fr. Lackie said. “As you see this story tonight, see yourself there and this celebration will have achieved its real goal, which is a fuller and deeper embrace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lord of history, the One Who gives us the sacred story of our lives.”