Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 1, 2004
Franciscans pull back as numbers dwindle
Order to shut down friary; St. Francis Parish will also close
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
For decades, Brother Casimir Kolodychuk spent his winter nights stoking the massive basement furnace with coal so his brothers would sleep snug in their beds.
Now 91, Kolodychuk feels a chill about the Franciscan Friary beside St. Francis of Assisi Church he cannot stop. For the large, red brick edifice and his parish of some 75 years are closing.
The parish in northeast Edmonton will shut its doors in June 2005. And the Franciscans are looking for an alternative home in the city to accommodate their dwindling numbers.
"They used to say I was Mr. Fixit. I tried to help however I could," Kolodychuk said with a calm voice -- still handsome in his brown habit - while rubbing the knuckles on still able hands.
Since 1927, Kolodychuk has called the friary home after arriving as a student from his home in Haight, Alta.
He kept it alive and running during the best years of his life. In the mid-1960s, about 90 young men and faculty occupied the friary and the adjacent St. Anthony's College, all of whom relied upon Kolodychuk for heat, plumbing and electricity.
"When I arrived in 1976," said Franciscan Provincial Father Bob Mokry, "Casimir was still looking after the plumbing and managing a lot of the electricity hooking up switches and running lights."
Eventually, the furnace was replaced with natural gas heating and some re-wiring was done, all in concert with a dwindling number of Franciscan friars.
"I'm a bit worried whether decisions were right, or not. Why close the parish?" Kolodychuk asked. "I understand the decisions were made by the powers that be. I will try to take things as they come."
Kolodychuk currently has little idea where he will move, but Mokry says no one does because the move is still a ways into the future.
Since current pastor Father Dennis Vavrek will take a one-year sabbatical on the anniversary of his 25th year as a Franciscan and the order has no one to replace him, a decision was made to close St. Francis of Assisi Parish as well.
"A great emphasis on Franciscan life is communal life. Living together and sharing our common commitment to Christ. The key is to live the Gospel life as brothers with a certain notion of going out in mission," Mokry said.
The Franciscan province covers all of Western Canada. It includes 42 men in five houses in Winnipeg, Lumsden, Sask., Cochrane, Alta., Edmonton and Victoria. There are also friars in other dioceses such as Vancouver and Nelson, B.C. And there is a mission in Peru.
Yet there is a dire shortage of men choosing to join the order.
Franciscan vocations director Brother Gerry Clyne travels Western Canada constantly looking for men to enter the order.
"It's tough slugging. There are three apostolates this year, but there's no guarantee they'll go on to novitiate," Clyne said. "We are dying off faster than they are coming in. It's difficult when the parish closure is an indication of what is happening to the whole Franciscan province as we adjust to the reality of things. We are kind of at a loss as to what to tell the young men who are interested."
Thirteen people currently occupy the friary where Mokry says could easily accommodate about 20. Given the decreasing numbers, the time has come to seek an alternate residence.
"Of course we live in hope there are more apostolates coming and that they will go on to novitiate and then on to further studies. But not every apostolate makes it to permanent vows five years later. Far from it," he said.
"The church and the land it sits upon belong to the archdiocese. They are not Franciscan. But at one time, we owned the church and the land and the parish was distinctly Franciscan. But we gave it over to the archdiocese a good number of years ago with the arrangement that as long as we were here, we would manage the services of the parish," Mokry said.
A number of things have occurred since that understanding was established - most noticeably the Franciscans' declining numbers and the fact the physical structure is no longer tenable for them.
"We can't justify putting in the money necessary to restore the place. It is far too large. And the everyday operating expenses are prohibitive," he said.
Capital expenses to renovate the structure, including new heating and plumbing systems, could be $2 million.
The moment Vavrek chose to advise the congregation of the closure was very difficult for everyone.
"The closure had been talked about for a few years (since the 1998 ToPS report) but when I announced it to the parish (Feb. 15) it totally hit home. It was very quiet," Vavrek said.
"I talked about transitions, about how some parishioners have encountered recent changes to their lives. And then I announced the transition of the closure of the parish after 96 years. I read the archbishop's letter advising of the decision to close the parish. I spoke of our difficulties in the Franciscan community where we haven't had anyone ordained in Western Canada in almost 17 years.
"We have run out of people," Vavrek lamented. "We have had six deaths the last two years. We don't have the personnel. There's no one on the Franciscan side to fill in for me."
Vavrek said the Franciscans approached Archbishop Thomas Collins with their concerns. However, the archbishop was unable to provide a priest given the shortage of diocesan priests.
"It's a difficult time. I decided to announce the closure now rather than later to give everyone time to grieve, to celebrate and to talk," he said.
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