The Friaries

1. St. Anthony's Friary, Chicago, Illinois

Every religious community must secure for itself an administrative center. That was an especially important factor for the community of the Croatian Franciscans who performed extensive pastoral duties throughout the United States of America. The need for a central friary became more evident especially after 1931 when the Commissariat of the Croatian Franciscans was entrusted to the Hercegovinian Province, from which the substantial number of the priests arrived after that date. Aside from the fact that the friary would be the administrative center of the community, it would also have to assume another specific goal in the immediate and distant future. Since many friars remained in the United States, there was a need for living quarters where in dignity they would spend their much deserved retirement. Since most of the friars were fulfilling their pastoral duties in the Chicago area, and since Chicago was geographically most convenient and central for other friars, it was the most logical location for the central friary. 

The members of Commissariat at their 1941 meeting in South Chicago made a decision to immediately set up headquarters, possibly one which would not be associated with any one parish. Fr. David Zrno, then the Commissary, suggested that the friars in Chicago find an appropriate location and facility spacious enough for a friary. Because of limited finances it was felt that a used building might be most appropriate. At that time the University of Chicago was selling a well maintained building in Hyde Park at a very reasonable price. At one time the building was owned by a wealthy Mr. Ryerson. To confirm the beauty of this structure, it is sufficient to say that this building received the first prize at the 1893 Columbian exhibition for the best architectural design in Chicago for that year. Fr. David left Rankin, where he was conducting missions, for Chicago to conduct the negotiations with the University. 

The building on Drexel Blvd. was purchased in 1943. Its advantages were that it had a large courtyard, was well built, in a good location, almost secluded and the price was very reasonable.. Its disadvantage was that it could not be immediately occupied, since it required some repairs. In addition to the purchase of that building the friars bought another with a sizeable piece of land and courtyard which measured 90m x 70m. This building had served as the horse stable and quarters for the workers. Immediate renovations were started on the building to conform it to the needs of the friars.. The work went along quickly. Some of the friars were anxiously waiting for a place to work on their publications. In 1942 the community started printing a publication, The Croatian Catholic Messenger and in 1944 the Croatian Almanac. The Commissariat administrative office also moved into the newly established friary. Fr. Silvije Grubišić wrote in 1945: "When the holy cross was placed above the massive stone blocks and columns on the facade of the building above the main entrance, the building took on the appearance of a structure which could have only been meant to be a monastery during the rise of Medieval Christian architecture." The friars moved into their new headquarters on June 5th, and the solemn dedication was on September 3rd,1944. Fr. David Zrno, Commissary, was the celebrant, and a Dominican priest, Fr. Reginald Rabadan delivered the sermon. Friars and friends participated in the mass celebrated in the courtyard. The choirs of St. Jerome and the Sacred Heart from Chicago sang under the direction of Sr. Kalista. 

The benefit of the decision to acquire this building and convert it to a Franciscan friary, would best be seen in the events which followed World War II. After the fall of the Independent State of Croatia, and the beginning of the horrifying slaughter and persecution by the atheist Partisan Army and their leaders, numerous Croatians, and among them, not a small number of Franciscan priests from Herzegovina, escaped to Western Europe, and from there to United States. The first shelter on the new continent for many of the Franciscans was in fact the friary of St. Anthony on Drexel Blvd. At one time as many as 19 priests resided there. Those Franciscans who were not fortunate enough to flee endured a tragic destiny; sixty-six of the Franciscan priests from Herzegovina alone were slaughtered by the Communists. Many other innocent priests slaved for many years in the Yugoslav prisons. 

Fr. Dominic Mandić, a well known Franciscan priest from Herzegovina, organized in Italy a seminary for the youth who wished to become Franciscan priests. However, that seminary was short lived. Thereafter, the seminarians were relocated to the United States in 1952. Their accommodations had to be considered, and for that reason a new building was purchased, the third in line, next to the one on Drexel Blvd. That building had been owned by Swift Packing House and at that time was vacant. It was purchased in 1952 and immediately renovated under the supervision of the commissary, Fr. Venedelin Vasilj. The friary was relocated from the original location on Drexel Blvd. to the new home on adjacent Ellis Avenue, and at the same time the seminarians were housed in the building on Drexel Blvd. The new friary was formally dedicated on August 3, 1952. His Eminence Cardinal Samuel Stritch was present for this festive occasion. Through these five decades these buildings were well maintained and improved, but the new activities, and especially publishing, motivated the community leaders to renovate the basement area of the Drexel building in 1975. The middle building, between the Drexel and Ellis buildings, which at one time served as Swift's and Ryerson's horse stable, was transformed into a very functional facility. A small chapel was constructed on the ground floor of that building in 1945; to this date it is used for that purpose. Beautiful European marble covers the inside walls. Stained glass windows and statues enhance the interior. The chapel as well as the friary is dedicated to St. Anthony. In 1947 the printing presses were purchased for the Franciscan publishing house which was located in the same building next to the chapel. The rooms on the top floor were renovated for the use of the sisters who since 1968 have worked at the friary . These are Franciscan sisters from the Hercegovinian Province.

The original friary on Drexel Blvd. now houses the administrative offices of the Croatian Franciscan Custody. In recent years the building was renovated and furnished so that it can accommodate a larger number of friars, especially during the time of meetings and the annual retreats. The building housed a number of Franciscan publications such as the Croatian Catholic Messenger, Croatian Almanac, Danica and ZIRAL-books. Likewise it houses the very active Croatia Ethnic Institute. Valuable documents are preserved there especially those closely tied to the history of the Croatian parishes throughout the United States and Canada. There is also a well maintained library within the premises of the Institute. As the building deteriorated in the last decade, the brothers at the chapter in 1994 decided to renovate and make alterations. In the period from 1995 to 1997 the ground floor was renovated; a very attractive showcase was made for the displays of the Croatian Ethnic Institute. After that renovations took place on the second and third floors. Due to a large number of retired friars there were no longer enough rooms available in the Ellis building of the friary. Therefore in 1997 the office of the Custos was relocated to the second floor on Drexel Blvd. The third floor was designed to be used by those friars who come to Chicago for their retreats or meetings. The roof was first repaired and then storm windows were installed. The woodwork of the interior was repaired on the staircases and in the hallways and bedrooms. Only then did the shades of color which were once created by the magnificent carpenters become evident. The house once again showed forth its original glory. 

2. St. Francis Friary in Gulf Breeze, Florida 

Since the Commissariat owned only one friary, many felt the need to establish another residence. They looked for a place with a warmer climate, so that the friars could use it for retreats or vacations. The commissary, Fr. Ferdinand Skoko, authorized Fr. Silvije Grubišiƒ to find an appropriate location in Florida. Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen of Mobile, Alabama was ready to give the friars permission to establish a residence in his archdiocese; therefore the friars found a suitable location in Gulf Breeze, Florida on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, near Pensacola. The house was purchased in 1956, and in the same year it was established as a residence. Fr. Ivo Sivrić as the first local superior resided there for a short period of time. He purchased all the necessary furniture for the friars who would come to this newly established friary.. In the same year a new superior, Fr. Patrick Cigić, arrived with two other friars, Fr. Oton Knezović and Fr. Predrag Kordić. The friars who lived in this residence served at Hulbert and Eglin U.S. Air Force Bases as civilian auxiliary chaplains. 

In 1962 a decision was made to expand the residence and to purchase six and a half acres of land. The renovations were entrusted to the house superior Fr. Theodore Benković. The extension to the house and additional expansion were finished in the same year, and the formal blessing was given by Archbishop Toolen in 1963. The friars left the residence in 1977 because its main purpose ceased to exist. Namely, the friars did not use it enough for their vacations or retreats. The last superior of the friary was Fr. Vjekoslav Bambir. 

3. Our Lady of Peace Friary in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania

The Franciscans had the intention of opening another friary in the United States where the novitiate would be located. This would not only be for the young Croatian friars but also for other European based Franciscan communities. After permission was granted by the Bishop Wright of Pittsburgh, in 1965, a house was purchased in Beaver Falls, near Pittsburgh. Many Croatians lived in that area. The Franciscans committed themselves not only to establish the new friary, but also to assist in the parishes of the area.. Already in 1966 this house, with the permission granted by the General of the Franciscan order, was canonically established. Twenty acres of land, with much greenery and orchards, on which the house was located were also purchased. 

The first Franciscans who arrived in Beaver Falls were Fr. Bruno Raspudić, the superior of the residence, Fr. Ivo Sivrić, Fr. Rufin Šilić and the candidate for the Franciscan brotherhood Josip Bedeković. They renovated the existing houses and altered it for use as a friary. Since room was scarce a small chapel was built, so that spiritual exercises could be conducted. Bishop Vincent Leonard, auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh, blessed the chapel and the renovated building in 1970. The grounds surrounding the friary were beautified so that the entire area took on a new and much nicer appearance. However, the original intention of establishing a Franciscan novitiate in Beaver Falls never materialized for the simple reason that there were not enough candidates. For that reason this house was eventually used for days of recollection and other such activities. The Franciscan fathers who resided at this residence conducted these activities. Eventually the residence was closed on October 4, 1996, the feast of St. Francis. There were many reasons for this including the closing of many Croatian parishes in Pennsylvania were the friars served; such as Ambridge, Monessen, Rankin and Steelton. There was no longer any need for a central facility for the Franciscan parishes in that part of United States. The house was sold, and today this facility is used to house the mobile elderly, under the symbolic name of "Franciscan Manor". The last superior of this friary was Fr. Bruno Raspudić who took care of this residence for many years.

 

 

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