By Gordon Nary
Gordon: When you received your vocation with whom did you discuss it and what was their response?
Brother Rob: My best friend in the 3rd grade, & I both decided during our after school religious ed. program we would become priests. We moved away when I was in the 5th grade. We reconnected in high school to find out we both entered the seminary. I first talked with my parents after my older brother went to seminary. I then connected with a couple Capuchins who came to eat at my parent’s supper club. I of them got me into the high school seminary. I went a year and dropped out. I dropped out because my parents asked me to stay behind to help with the business. I also used it as an excuse that I tried a vocation and God didn’t want me. Part of me was relieved. But thought was still there during early college years. I then reconnected with this same Capuchin in my 2nd year of college. My parents were very supportive of me vocation and told me they loved the idea, but they would support me in whatever path I chose as long as I was happy.
Gordon: Where did you take your religious studies and what was your favorite course add why?
Brother Rob: My 1st 2 years of Capuchin & Franciscan studies were done in house. After that, I did a couple years in Detroit at Sacred Heart Diocesan Seminary and a couple years at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Milwaukee. I think my favorite course was Christology. It gave me a new prospective on Jesus and understanding of both his human and divine nature rather than just the pious and Divine.
Gordon: Why did you choose to be a Capuchin?
Brother Rob: Initially the Capuchins seemed like they related as a family. They played together, prayed together, worked together, and seemed happy in doing any of those together. Coming from a large family, that spirit was important to me. Later it was the works and types of ways they ministered that was attractive. I realized I wasn’t called to get up and preach a homily every week. But liked to be in the trenches working. The Capuchins helped me to realize I didn’t need to be ordained to live the lifestyle and do the work I wanted to do. They also had an openness to various styles of prayer, that were life giving to me..
Gordon: Where do your serve and what are your primary responsibilities?
Brother Rob: I started at St. Ben's Community Meal (which started by the parish in 1970) in 2011. I started as Volunteer coordinator. I took over as Director in 2014 and combined the St. Ben’s Community Meal & House of Peace as 1 ministry- Capuchin Community Services in 2016. I presently serve as Director of the 1 ministry which operates the 2 sites.
Gordon: Who was St. Benedict the Moore after whom St Ben is named?
Brother Rob: St. Benedict the Moor ( also known as St. Benedict the African or St. Benedict the Black) was a Franciscan who was born to slave parents who were given full freedom of their slavery just before his birth. He worked as a shepherd and would give his earnings away to the poor. When the Franciscans witnessed this, they invited him to join the Franciscans and he accepted.
Gordon: Please provide an overview of St. Ben's Meal Program and some information about the donors who help fund the meals.
Brother Rob: We averaged 314 people served per night in 2017.We have about 25-30 volunteers each night. Besides the evening meal we have a front door ministry where we off clothing, showers, ID’s, birth certificates, hygiene items, co-pays for prescriptions, eye glasses and bus tickets for those coming to the front doors in the afternoons before the meal. We offer lots of other basic needs or simply the use of the phone a drink of water or simple basics . We averaged 314 people served per night in 2017.We have about 25-30 volunteers each night. Besides the evening meal we have a front door ministry where we off clothing, showers, ID’s, birth certificates, hygiene items, co-pays for prescriptions, eye glasses and bus tickets for those coming to the front doors in the afternoons before the meal. We offer lots of other basic needs or simply the use of the phone a drink of water or simple basics that so many of us just take for granted each day
Gordon: Please provide an overview of the development of the Capuchin Apartments and the people that are served
Brother Rob: The Capuchin apartments will transform the former St. Anthony Hospital into 60 units of single apartments for the homeless who are either in and out of the jail system and homelessness, or are mentally challenged and homeless as a result. It will provide supportive services for all the tenants living there. The first floor will be the services we now offer out of the first floor of our friary.. Instead of 1 shower we will have 3 showers, we will also have a clothing room, barber shop and laundry mat. Things the homeless say are hard to find when living on the streets.
Gordon: Please provide an overview of St. Ben’s Prison Ministry where the ministry serves and approximately the number of people that the ministry serves.
Brother Rob: St. Ben’s Prison Ministry started in early 80’s with the Benedict institute. It was a program the educated and trained people about the jails & prisons and how to go into the jails and offer bible studies and 1 on 1 conversations for those needing help in how to adjust or communicate with family on the outside. Today there are a number of people of all denominations offering ministry to the jails, by a select group from St. Ben’s who still offer the visits and retreats to those in the jails and prisons.
Gordon: St. Ben’s is a nodal for parishes globally. How can our readers make a conation to help support your missions?
Brother Rob: Donations can be made either by Mail Capuchin Community Services, PO Box 5830, Milwaukee, WI 53205 8r online @ www.capuchincommunityservices.org “donations”
Gordon: In closing this interview please share with our readers a prayer for the homeless and hungry.
Brother Rob: Loving God, We thank you for the gift of your son Jesus, who had a special love for those who were suffering and hungry. We ask you to fill or hearts with that same compassion to help the least among us. Please watch over & protect those who are hungry and homeless, so that they may be safe and find their needs met for this day and the days to come. We ask this you your name. Amen