April 21, 2010 // Local

Franciscan Apostolate settles in for service

Franciscan Father Dave Engo, right, supervises two postulants who are clearing ground for a garden near their new friary.

By Kay Cozad

FORT WAYNE — The Franciscan Brothers Minor are settling in nicely in a Fort Wayne neighborhood that once supported St. Andrew’s Parish, before its closing in June of 2003. The group of eight men, led by Franciscan Father David Engo, now resides in the old rectory of St. Andrew Parish — now known as Our Lady of Angels Friary — and intends to renovate the church building, currently in disrepair, for future chapel services, public Mass and meetings.

The Franciscan community was newly founded in November of 2009 in Mount Carmel, Pa., by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, then bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg, where they served the community in several areas. Because the community has promised to remain under Bishop Rhoades’ guidance and care, it followed him to Fort Wayne in late March.

Of the community Bishop Rhoades says, “I was happy to approve the request of Father David Engo to begin a religious community, called the Franciscan Brothers Minor, under my auspices. I believe that the Franciscan way of life is a great gift to the Church and a witness to all of us of the following of Christ and the living of His Gospel. I pray that the brothers’ life of prayer and mission of evangelization will bear much good fruit in our diocese.”

Father Dave says after narrowing down several locations in Fort Wayne, he received a call from Bishop Rhoades announcing that the site of St. Andrew Parish would be their new home. “The transition has been great,” says Father Dave, adding that the people of the area have welcomed the group with open arms.

A New York native, Father Dave joined the Franciscan Brothers at age 19, after having what he considers a “reversion of faith,” and was ordained in 1997. After several years of ministry to the youth and elderly of his area, he says, “I had a deep desire to live a good life according to the original rule of St. Francis.” Following his proposal to Bishop Rhoades, he was given full permission to establish the now flourishing community.

The eight men who form the community are postulants in their first year of discerning the Franciscan life. They each follow the rules of prayer, penitence, poverty and service. “We live the principles of St. Francis and apply it to present day,” says Father Dave.

As postulants the traditional coarse brown wool tunic is worn throughout the year. The Franciscan Brothers generally walk barefoot, unless their work demands sandals or boots.

The second year the men enter the novitiate when they prepare to profess their vows. During this year they wear a hooded woolen habit with an unknotted cord, symbolizing the cross and their bond to Christ. It is here that they are given new religious names. Following profession of temporary vows and three years of study and prayer, the brothers will profess final vows and become professed friars.

The austere life style chosen by these men consists of hand-crafted tables and benches constructed by one of the postulants who used donated unfinished wood and food donated by the community. The rooms of the friary are sparsely decorated with only crucifixes, pictures of the Blessed Mother and statues of saints. “We live a life of penance for sins and conversion of souls,” Father Dave says.

Franciscan Father Dave Engo accepts three dozen eggas as a food donation from a friendly neighbor.

Because the members of the apostolate do not work traditional jobs or fund raise, they earn no money as they serve the community. They rely, says Father Dave, on God’s Providence and the generosity of the community. It is not unusual for a neighbor to appear at the friary door with three dozen eggs for the brothers. Father Dave says they trust that God will provide and any food donations that are in excess of their weekly needs goes to the hungry of the community.

“We are a witness of the life of poverty and show the poor they can trust in God,” says Father Dave.

The brothers, who range in age from 19 to 40-ish, all have a role to play in the community. Father Dave considers himself the guardian, general minister and servant, equal to the brothers when he is not celebrating the sacraments. Brother Gregory, who holds a degree in philosophy and politics is the porter who answers the door. Brother Michael has a gift with the elderly and the disabled and he along with Brian, Father Dave’s blood brother, who holds a philosophy degree, are sacristans. Brother Ryan holds a degree in English and is the community’s cook. Brother Eric, former punk rocker and convert to the faith is the tailor who sews the woolen tunics. Brother Anthony has vocational school skills and is the maintenance man for the community. Brother Daniel is a gardener and guitarist and Brian Patrick, the newest postulant, has a degree in social work and is acclimating to the community.

Amidst the spartan life, the driving force for these men is prayer. “This is a life of prayer,” says Father Dave, adding, “Our first priority is our prayer life.” The strict adherence to prayer is based on the life of St. Francis and includes praying the Divine Office seven times each day, two daily Eucharistic Holy Hours and communal rosary after night prayers. Prayer, he says, is where the Franciscan Brothers ministry begins.

But that’s not all that fills the brothers’ day. There is time for communal meals with Gospel and meditation readings, conversation and recreation and of course, music. The brothers’ backyard football games have already drawn youth in the neighborhood to this unique evangelical group. “We want to bring back the Catholic identity to the neighborhood,” says Father Dave.

As they become familiar with the area the brothers are mapping out their ministry plans. Bible study at the St. Andrew Center, a two-year rehabilitation program for men, door-to-door evangelization, parish missions, Confirmation and youth retreats. The brothers are open to any request for service in the area and Father Dave offers his assistance to any parish in need of a Mass celebration or help with confessions.

“This community is a fraternity of brothers living together in brotherhood, serving each other with great humility, according to the Spirit,” explains Father Dave. The community is open to new members and vocations visits are mounting by word of mouth.

Of the Fort Wayne area Father Dave confirms, “It is open and wonderful. We have welcoming neighbors. We walk everywhere, so we can witness to people you normally pass by (in cars).”

The community is called the Franciscan Brothers Minor to depict their lesser stature, says Father Dave. “We do humble work. We don’t run hospitals, parishes, soup kitchens — but we serve at these places. It’s healing with people one-on-one — we are the servant of servants.”

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.