Written by Kurt Keidl, OFS – Spiritual Assistant, St. Josaphat Fraternity, Secular Franciscan Order
Date: November 30
MILWAUKEE, WI –Franciscans worldwide are celebrating the culminating events of the last years in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Centenary celebrations will occur throughout four years in commemoration of: St. Francis writing the Franciscan Rule and creating the first live Nativity scene in Greccio (1223-2023), the gift of his Stigmata (1224-2024), the composition of the Canticle of the Creatures (1225- 2025), and the Transitus of St. Francis from earthly life to heavenly glory (1226-2026).
Several Franciscan communities in Milwaukee have been collaborating in various ways to celebrate these events locally.
For example, the Office of the General Secretariat for Franciscan Missions in Waterford, WI plans to keep the Franciscan spirit alive in the Milwaukee area by donating children’s books about St. Francis to local Catholic school students. The Mission Office recently donated over 1,000 books written by Julie Hanna and illustrated by Poor Clare Sr. Chiara Amata to students from St. Joseph Academy and St. Anthony School, both in Milwaukee.
In celebration of these centennial events, Br. Andrew Brophy OFM, director of the Office of Franciscan Missions collaborated with Fr. Sante DeAngelis OFM, chaplain at Villa St. Francis in Milwaukee to offer 254 Franciscan children’s books to Felician Sr. Mary Carlotta Myszka CSSF, the mission leader at nearby St. Joseph Academy. The Felician Sisters are part of the worldwide Franciscan family and sponsor both St. Joseph Academy and Villa St. Francis in Milwaukee. Sr. Carlotta said: “The devotion to St Francis of Assisi will be better known and spread through the reading of the books, puzzles and the Franciscan dolls given to St Joseph Academy by the Franciscan Friars. We are very excited with the donation. The illustrations themselves tell the story. Our younger students will find them to be a delight and will want to read the books over and over again.”
At Villa St. Francis, an assisted living community sponsored by the Felician Sisters, residents are designing their own Nativity scenes to be displayed throughout the building this Christmas season as their way of celebrating the centennial. They are also engaged in a Deo Gratias Advent Giving project of donating blankets for the homeless and clothing for the needy, all to be distributed through the House of Peace, a ministry of Franciscan Capuchin Community Services. On December 21 at 1:30 pm, residents will present a live Nativity re-enactment in costume consisting of lessons and carols. This event is free and open to the public: 1910 W. Ohio Ave. in Milwaukee.
The Franciscan Mission Office also offered 800 books to Secular Franciscan Kurt Keidl OFS, mission leader at Villa St. Francis, for distribution to students at St. Anthony School, where he taught theology for 10 years and is a parishioner of the church. Upon reception of the books, school president Dr. Rosana Mateo said: “We are grateful to the Franciscan Friars for their generosity in providing these books to our students. The impact of this donation is a testament to the enduring values of compassion and community that St. Anthony School strives to instill in our students. We believe these books will serve as a lasting reminder of the Franciscan spirit.”
Kurt is spiritual assistant of St. Josaphat Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order. His fraternity was established in 1910 at St. Josaphat Basilica under the guidance of the Conventual Franciscan Friars. To celebrate the 800th anniversary of the first live Nativity scene at Greccio, members of his fraternity have been engaged in a “Create Your Own Nativity” this year and have been sharing them with one another. To make the mystery of the Incarnation come alive for people today, just as Francis did 800 years ago, fraternity members are using visual media as well as computer-generated design and drama to re-create the Nativity story. Others have presented their favorite art pieces of the Nativity, explaining their symbolism and personal significance. Some have engaged in journaling about how Jesus can be born anew into our world today, composed their own Nativity poems and Christmas carols, shared a theological reflection from one of the Gospel infancy narratives about why the Birth of Christ matters, or even re-wrote the infancy narrative from the point of view of a particular historical Nativity character while others inserted contemporary figures (even themselves) into the traditional Nativity account. Some members made connections between the Incarnation and issues concerning justice, peace and the integrity of creation, while still others related the Incarnation to the Eucharistic Revival.
The School Sisters of Francis will celebrate the Franciscan centenary with St. Joseph Chapel tours highlighting the Nativity of Jesus, including a viewing of the chapel’s life-sized crèche on Saturday, December 9, from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.
In collaboration with the local Franciscan Federation, the Sisters will host a presentation on Sunday, December 10, from 1:00-3:30 pm at the St. Joseph Center entitled: “Christmas at Greccio: The Incarnation Through the Eyes of St. Francis” by educator and author Jon Sweeney. A “Stations of the Crèche” prayer service will follow the presentation. An exhibit of crèches from around the world will be displayed in St. Joseph Hall for 30 minutes before the prayer service and one hour after, and a book signing will occur for those who wish to purchase Jon’s Franciscan-themed books.
This presentation is free and open to all with a Franciscan heart but free will donations will be gratefully accepted. Representatives from various local Franciscan communities will be present with vocation literature for those who might be exploring the possibility of a Franciscan call. The St. Joseph Center is located at 1501 S. Layton Blvd in Milwaukee. For more information, visit www.sssf.org.
Capuchin Franciscans invite the public to “A Capuchin Christmas” on Sunday, December 10, 2023, for lessons, carols and festivities from 3:30 pm – 7:00 pm at St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1937 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. in Milwaukee.
In honor of the 8th Centenary of Christmas at Greccio, Pope Francis has authorized that a plenary indulgence can be gained from December 8, 2023, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, until February 2, 2024, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord by visiting a church served by Franciscans and praying before the Nativity scene displayed there. Usual conditions apply.