The Conventual Franciscan Friars of the Province of Our Lady of Consolation, who have long ministered to the Catholic communities of Steuben and LaGrange counties, will complete their 91-year stay in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in June, according to a letter sent by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades to parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Angola.
Father Wayne Hellman, OFM Conv., the minister provincial of the order that serves at St. Anthony, read the letter to parishioners at Masses last weekend.
“The Conventual Franciscan Friars have faithfully served in our diocese here at St. Anthony Parish for the past 91 years, since 1931 when they came to Angola to open their novitiate,” the letter read. “There were not many Catholics in Steuben County at that time. It was truly mission territory.”
According to the letter, Bishop John F. Noll dedicated St. Rita Church in Angola in 1926. Bishop Noll asked the friars to send a priest to St. Rita’s and they obliged.
“The bishop then renamed the parish in honor of the Franciscan St. Anthony of Padua,” Bishop Rhoades explained in his address to the parish. “The friars have served here ever since. From St. Anthony’s, they also cared for vacationing Catholics in the county. They opened St. Mary of the Angels Church at Big Long Lake in 1937 and St. Paul’s Chapel at Clear Lake in 1941. Their missionary work also extended to St. Joseph Parish in LaGrange.”
The letter continued, “Our diocese owes a great debt of gratitude to the Conventual Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Consolation for providing friars to minister here the past nine decades. We thank the Lord for the missionary zeal and pastoral care of the many friars who have served here, including the friars here today: Father Bob, Father Bernie, Father Wilfrid and Father Ray.
“Due to a declining number of vocations, the Conventual Franciscan Province will no longer be able to provide priests for St. Anthony’s Parish,” Bishop Rhoades explained. “Their long history here will come to an end on June 28, but their legacy and the fruits of their labors will long endure. They built up the Catholic Church in Steuben County. They have been a part of your lives and the lives of your families for many decades. I know you will miss them and their Franciscan charism. Amid our sadness at their departure, may our hearts be filled with gratitude for all the blessings we have received through their ministry and witness. The friars will surely remain in our hearts and prayers.”
Bishop Rhoades wrote that he hopes to announce the priests that he will be assigning to St. Anthony Parish and St. Paul Chapel in May. He also said that he will come to the parish to celebrate Mass with the sacrament of confirmation on May 7, and will return to celebrate a parish farewell Mass for the friars at 5 p.m. on Sat., June 18.
“May God bless you with His peace and love!” the letter closed. “May our Blessed Mother and Saint Anthony of Padua intercede for you and for our beloved friars!”
After the announcement, Father Hellman spoke on behalf of the friars and stated that they will miss the community they have served for more than nine decades, and that the parish has a strong future ahead of them.
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