Conventual Franciscans bid farewell to Holy Family, Peoria, after 43-year presence

Father Paul Joseph Langevin, OFM Conv., gives the final blessing at a Mass of Farewell on June 12 at Holy Family Church in Peoria. The Conventual Franciscans of St. Bonaventure Province are withdrawing from the parish after 43 years of ministry. In the back row are three friars who formerly served at Holy Family --- Father Paul Schneider, OFM Conv., Father Patrick Stoffer, OFM Conv., and Father Robert Cook, OFM. Flanking Father Paul Joseph are Deacon Joseph LaHood and Deacon Bede Thigpen, OFM Conv. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Holy Family in Peoria is known as the “Parish with a Heart.” On Sunday, there were deeply heartfelt exchanges of gratitude, love and farewell as the Conventual Franciscan Friars of St. Bonaventure Province returned the pastoral administration of Holy Family to the Diocese of Peoria after 43 years of ministry.

A sign shares Holy Family’s gratitude to the Conventual Franciscans with all who pass the parish on Sterling Avenue in Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“We pray that it’s the heart of St. Francis and his spirituality that we are leaving with you as you continue to live your lives of faith, journeying forward,” said Father Paul Joseph Langevin, OFM Conv., pastor and principal celebrant of a special mid-afternoon Mass followed by a potluck reception in the parish school.

Father Paul Joseph’s voice occasionally broke with emotion as he acknowledged in his homily that “having to say farewell to Holy Family is for me personally and for all the friars in our province a most difficult thing to do.”

“We simply don’t have the ‘friar power’ to sustain our ministries at Holy Family,” explained Father Paul Joseph, who has been pastor since 2018 and earlier this year was elected minister provincial of his community’s St. Bonaventure Province. The Conventual Franciscans are also withdrawing from St. Anthony Parish in Rockford, he said.

“THEY GO WITH OUR LOVE”

Bishop Tylka expressed gratitude “for all that the Franciscans have meant to us here at Holy Family.” (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Concelebrating the farewell Mass were three Conventual Franciscans who formerly served at Holy Family — Father Patrick Stoffer, Father Paul Schneider, and Father Robert Cook. Friar Bede Thigpen, OFM Conv., who was ordained a transitional deacon at Holy Family Church in January, assisted, as did Deacon Joseph LaHood.

Bishop Louis Tylka was present in choro. In remarks at the end of Mass, Bishop Tylka expressed his personal gratitude and that of the entire diocese “for all that the Franciscans have meant to us here at Holy Family.”

While change is difficult “but at times is necessary,” said Bishop Tylka, the Franciscans “go with our blessing. They go with our love. And they go with our hearts. We know that, in so many ways — because they have impacted so many lives over the last four decades — a bit of them will always remain here in our hearts.”

Similar sentiments were expressed via a letter by Bishop William P. Callahan, OFM Conv., who was a priest and pastor at Holy Family from 1983 to 1994 and is now Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

“Thank you for everything each of you has done over these years,” Bishop Callahan wrote to parishioners. “You have touched me and each of my Franciscan brothers in ways you could never imagine.”

HOPE GOING FORWARD

Both Father Paul Joseph and Bishop Tylka noted the theme of hope in the second reading of the Mass on Trinity Sunday.

Father Paul Joseph said that while the Conventual Franciscans are “discerning and making decisions for our future in the life of aging friars and our declining numbers,” he is confident the “immense love” of the Holy Trinity “will continue to open the minds and the hearts of men and women to enter into the priesthood and the religious life for the good of the church.”

And he said that, through the mystery of the Eucharist, the Franciscans of past and present will continue to be united with Holy Family parishioners at every Mass.

The gym and cafeteria of Holy Family School in Peoria were packed with well-wishers at a potluck dinner following the Mass of Farewell on June 12 for the Conventual Franciscans. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Bishop Tylka said the Franciscans are showing “great courage” as they look to the future.

“They’re reading the signs of the times and looking at their own charism and recognizing this is a moment of change and growth for them,” said the bishop. “The Spirit will come in the midst of their community and help them to discern how God calls them to serve the church going forward.”

Following Communion, the Holy Family choir, under the direction of Marty Frederickson, sang a song of blessing for the friars. The Mass booklet listed the 32 Conventual Franciscan priests and brothers who have served the parish since 1979, including nine pastors.

“On behalf of all the friars, I invoke the ‘trinity of gratitude’ that my Aunt Kate taught me,” said Father Paul Joseph. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, for allowing us to enter into the great mysteries of our faith and the great mysteries of your lives since 1979.”

Effective June 15, Holy Family is now served by Father Gregory Jozefiak, pastor, and Father Bruno Byomuhangi, parochial vicar.

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from the Mass of Farewell have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.

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