Monday, February 9, 2015

Welcome Message

Welcome to my Cyberfriary. I'm Tony Robertson, an Australian whose life has been inspired by Franciscan spirituality and a six year commitment from the age of 19 as a Capuchin Friar. In the images above from an Australian Capuchin Newsletter, Sandal Prints I made the first of many appearances when I visited the Friary in Plumpton NSW to meet the community of men who would be my "brotherhood" for the most formative years of my young adult life. I stand out a bit, not only with my "civvie" dress code but also with my cool locks and no glasses  a la Peter Noone from Herman's Hermits

In February 1974 I took my first vows as a Capuchin friar. As you can see in this pic taken on our profession day, I still had plenty of hair and kept up the Capuchin Tradition of a decent beard. There were four of us who shared that experience of vowing ourselves to poverty chastity and obedience back in 1974. Of the four, I was the first to leave in 1977 . We committed to  three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.;i ttook me a few years to learn that   that 2 out of 3 wasn't a pass!!!

Over the years each of us in this picture has been on life's journey in remarkable and different ways. Peter O'Rourrke, first on the left was ordained and worked in PNG before leaving to marry and settle in NSW. Peter should not be confused with his  namesake who features among deceased Australian Catholic Clergy in 1868.

Next in white is  Bede Louzon who was our assistant  Novice Master. Bede later returned to America where is now a pastor in a parish community.Bede and I were the guitarists in the group and on Sundays we would lead the singing at a morning Mass in the Chapel of Nazareth House.

The tallest of our group was Paul Hanbridge writer and amateur geologist. Sadly Paul was the first of our group to pass away.

Farewell Paul. We began our friendship as postulants with the Capuchins and for six years we shared community life. We were different personalities and of the four of us who survived the noviciate you remained with the friars.Your family adopted me when I moved interstate to join the friars and I hold many treasured memories of your parents hospitality and affection. 

 After your ordination our paths diverged as I moved into exploring my masculinity and my passion for social and political reform. I followed your life journey with interest as you committed your life to service in research and writing.When I left the friars there was as much loss as excitement as I began anew chapter in my life. 

Those days are as distant as time in Eliot's "The Journey of the Magi" and we have both lived the rhythm of life and death in so many ways. But now, this death, your passing leaves me with tears and memories. Farewell my old friend. May the angels carry you to paradise and may the company of Franciscans welcome you home to eternal rest.

To my right is the man who guided us through our novitiate year, Carmel Flora. Carmel was also a gifted musician and one of those quietly spoken conservative men who tend to be the norm  in the Capuchin community in Australia. I never quite hit the "norm".

To my left is Alan Welchman who sadly passed away just a short time ago in Melbourne. Alan and I caught up  a few years ago with his parents who has been wonderful supporters.  We were "chalk and cheese" as young men and the years following my departure from the community  entrenched choices that set us on very different roads. Alan died in the habit of a Carmelite friar having also moved away from the community of his young adult years. RIP Alan, may your restless spirit now find peace.

For six years I lived among these men, some of whom were pioneers of service to the post-war migrant communities. Many worked in remote regions such as Halifax in North Queensland and worked tirelessly to help communities maintain cultural and religious origins. With no training in the emerging understanding of Missiology these men ended up living in a strange time-warp of the old country which changed for more dramatically than the communities and parishes they served in Australia.

Some of the men who were responsible for formation of young Australian Capuchins  came from the Detroit Province. Recently the Province of St Joseph released the findings of an audit review of its files. The audit echoes the broader church’s handling of the global sex abuse crisis, and provides insight into how one religious order systematically protected abusers and put the concerns of friars and their organization ahead of their responsibility to victims. It also shows why abuse victims have been adamant that religious orders be more transparent, and that dioceses take more responsibility for order priests living and working in their communities.(CathNews USA report)

My time with the Capuchins enriched my understanding of community and nurtured my passion for work among peoples of non-English speaking backgrounds. I also gained an appreciation of ritual, celebration and home made wine. Living in a same sex community of religious men can be as stifling as it can be liberating. While I was caught up in a new theological paradigm that followed the Second Vatican Council I lived in a culture of patriarchy and clericalism that took many year of unlearning.

The 'characters" who are celebrated in the Capuchin Friars local history are more known for their eccentricity rather than prophetic vision or action. And yet there are amazing men who have added the OFM Cap tag to their names. Elzear Torreggiani not only had a cool name, he also stood among 19th Century Catholic Bishops in Australia for backing Mother Mary MacKillop. On Christmas day in 1884 he almost became our own Thomas Beckett when he survived a knife and bullet attack as he was about to celebrate Mass.

Like some other male orders in the Catholic Church my departure was like a divorce and total separation rather than a celebration of time spent in community.

That reality came home to me many years later when I heard that the Caps had sold off St Laurence's Friary, the building which had been our Novitiate House. Now anyone who has ever lived through a classic "Novitiate" knows that it is one of those legendary periods of life that leaves scars and memories which usually only appear after a great drinking session. However when the time came to sell of this place which had been the most intensive experience of community living for several generations of men in Australia there was no attempt to invite anyone back to celebrate and  expunge the ghosts of ages past or just farewell the memories.

This is quite a contrast to the six years I spent at my Christian Brothers' College in Geelong where my presence as an "old boy" is welcomed and where I hold life membership.

I wonder if the "Caps" could provide space on the Australian Capuchins web site for those of  us who spend the rest of our lives often being introduced as an "Ex-Capuchin"!! These days I live my religious commitment as a "Holy Irritant".

The spirit of FrancisClareAnthonyJohn Duns ScotusWilliam of OckhamMychal Judge Richard Rohr and others great mentors of this charism continue to influence my work and relationships.

My all time favourite movie of how to be a Friar: