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Franciscans in the ’Burg

Story written by Sue Siefert

Photo by: Jacob Paul

This story originally appeared in The 812's May Magazine


(OLDENBURG, Ind.) – Oldenburg has been blessed with a 157-year history of Franciscan friars ministering in the Village of Spires through the St. John the Baptist Province of Cincinnati. In October, the Franciscan Friars of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province was formed from friars coming together from provinces that are part of the long history of the Order of Friars Minor in the United States, including: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Holy Name, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sacred Heart, St. Barbara, and St. John the Baptist.


Combining their gifts has allowed them to renew their Franciscan witness to American society and begin an exciting new chapter of their history in the United States.


In May, Father Carl Langenderfer announced that the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe has granted his request for retirement as Pastor of Holy Family Parish effective on August 24, and Deacon John Barker, who is currently ministering in Oldenburg, will be ordained a priest on August 23, and will assume responsibilities as the new pastor the following day.


Parishioners received the announcement with mixed emotions, while Father Carl will be greatly missed, the parish is also excited about its future with Brother John. Father Michael Chowning will continue to serve at Holy Family and will assume the role of Guardian of the Friary, Father Joe Nelson will continue to assist with liturgies, and the parish will also welcome Father E.J. Stein.


To introduce Brother John to the community, he agreed to an interview and shared that he and his sister were born in Oklahoma City, and noted, “My parents, Gary and Sandra Barker are from Iowa, so we lived there in a couple of places from my age 3 to 15; then we moved to South Carolina, where I lived until I joined the Franciscans in 1998.”


Education has influenced his religious vocation as the friar received a BS in chemistry from Francis Marion College; a Master’s in Divinity and a MA in Biblical Studies from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago in 2008; and a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston College in 2016. In January of this year, he was ordained as a Deacon by Archbishop Charles Thompson at Holy Family Church. 


In reflecting on his calling the Franciscan noted, “It’s a complex answer, but I will just say that I was drawn first to the friars themselves, and then eventually to the spirituality of Saint Francis. I was assigned here to gain additional pastoral experience in preparation for ordination to the diaconate and then priesthood.”


He explained the distinction between the two callings. “A ‘brother’ is a member of the Franciscan Order (a friar) who is not ordained – that is, who has not discerned a call to what the Church calls the ‘ministerial priesthood’. To be a member of a men’s religious order is not the same as to be ordained – they are two different callings or vocations. A non-ordained friar is no less a friar than an ordained one, with all the same rights and responsibilities.


A deacon is a friar (or another Catholic male) who is ordained as a deacon. That is redundant but let me explain. While all deacons have the same sacramental powers, there are two types of deacons. ‘Transitional deacons’ are deacons who are in the process of becoming priests; all priests serve for some time (6 months to a year, typically) as a deacon. It’s like a step in the process. I am a transitional deacon.


‘Permanent deacons’ are men, usually married – and so not members of a religious order – who are ordained a deacon and serve the Church in that capacity, but who are not intending to go to become priests. There are several permanent deacons in the Archdiocese, including several in our area.


So…there are friars who are not ordained; there are friars who are ordained deacons for a time before being ordained a priest. Friars who are transitional deacons are, in my experience, generally still referred to as “Brother John,” rather than “Deacon John,” although I have discovered that many parishioners prefer to call me Deacon John, which is fine with me.”


In preparation for his deaconate ordination John explained, “My educational training for priesthood was my Master of Divinity. But since I was going on to study Scripture and to teach it (which I did, for several years), I asked to defer my ordination until later since I did not want to get ordained a priest and then hardly serve as a priest because of my studies and work. Years later I discerned I was ready to pursue ordination. I needed some pastoral experience in addition to my academic preparation, which led me to Oldenburg.”


While reflecting on his ordination to the deaconate, Bro. John shared, “The whole day was wonderful, and I felt very blessed. Archbishop Thompson was great and easy for me to relate to. It was nice that so many friars and Poor Clares (Franciscan cloistered nuns) could come from Cincinnati and other places. But I was most honored and touched by how many local parishioners came, and how excited they were to have an ordination here. When Oldenburg was one of our Franciscan houses of study, we used to have deacon and priest ordinations here – but the last one was in 1958!”


After a year in the 'Burg, he added, “I’ve lived as a friar in Chicago, Detroit, and Jamaica – all of which were very noisy – it is nice to be in a peaceful place. What I have enjoyed most is getting to know the people, staff and the parishioners. I facilitate an adult faith formation group, which is a delight. I also help teach RCIA (for adult converts to the faith), and there are many other ways that I interact with parishioners. I have learned a lot, and I have been able to share what I know with them, which I have enjoyed.”


Brother John’s priestly ordination will be on Friday, August 23 at 4:00 with Archbishop Thompson conferring the sacrament at Holy Family Church. The parish has been blessed by Brother John’s presence and anxiously awaits his ordination and parish leadership.


While Fr. Carl begins his well-deserved retirement and parishioners wish him well as they welcome soon-to-be Fr. John as Pastor, it is understood that the only thing that is constant is change and for now, the Franciscan Friars’ presence will continue in the ’Burg!

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