Beginnings in the USA
The Mission of the Immaculate in North America (USA & Canada) entrusted to our Institute began in December, 1990, when Fr. Thomas Mary Huff took up residence in a small cabin at the Seminary of the Twelve Holy Apostles in Cromwell, CT (USA), where he was completing his theological studies.
In January of 1991, he was joined by Fr. Francis M. Pimental, and in February of the same year by Fr. Angelo M. Geiger. A tiny house near the seminary was rented, and the (for the friars) very high rent was paid faithfully each month by generous benefactors. Despite the cramped quarters the three friars were soon joined by a first vocation, Richard McShane, a seminarian at Twelve Apostles–now Fr. Joseph Michael Mary — and soon thereafter by several other students at the Seminary. A Marian Franciscan Tertiary Fraternity was begun under the direction of Fr. Francis. There were no large benefactors, but many humble persons who assisted the friars in raising the funds to pay the monthly rent and to find places where they might speak of Our Lady and promote her cause. In particular we want to remember the kindness and support of the members of the Connecticut Catholic Alliance, and of the Clark family.
After the friars had put the rented house in good order, the owner decided he could get higher rents from others, so the friars were asked to leave early in 1992. In fact this was providential, as the house had become too small for the friars and the aspirants. Mother Alma, General Superior of the Sisters of Charity in Baltic, Ct., about 45 minutes from Cromwell, loaned the community a larger house, rent free, belonging to her community.
The Friary in Griswold, CT
Shortly after moving to the house in Baltic the friars were befriended by Mr. Americo Mastronunzio, a retired architect and a counselor of Miss Eileen Brown, a wealthy Catholic with a large rural estate in Griswold, Ct., about 10 miles from Baltic. On the advice of Mr. Mastronunzio she gave our Order 18 acres of her property as a place to construct a novitiate and motherhouse of our Order, with ample solitude for a hermitage as well. Permission from the local bishop of Norwich, Bishop. Daniel Reilly, was obtained to locate here and to build a Marian House under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Many were the obstacles: financial, political, etc., which had to be overcome before the actual construction could be commenced (in the fall of 1998) and completed in 2000. In the meantime the friars lived in Baltic until June of 2000 when they were able to move to the newly constructed novitiate friary in Griswold, CT (about 10 miles east of Baltic). Until 1998 the friary at Baltic was used for the postulancy program, when it was removed to the newly opened friary in Maine.
Opening of New Bedford Friary, MA
In October, 1992, Our Order, with the blessing of Bishop. Sean O’Malley, OFMCap, Bishop of Fall River, MA, took over Our Lady’s Chapel in New Bedford, MA. This sanctuary in the very center of an old New England city, built by the Friars Minor (Holy Names Province in New York) had been closed some months before. Before reopening the friars had to agree to purchase the shrine from the Holy Names Province (OFM), and then clean and repair the Church and friary. This they were able to accomplish with the help of members of the local Third Order, and other friends and benefactors, many of whom joined the soon to be formed MIM and Marian Franciscan Tertiary Fraternity in New Bedford. This Marian House was dedicated to Our Lady under the title of Queen of the Franciscan Order and was opened on Dec. 15, 1992 by Bp. O’Malley with a large concourse of faithful in attendance at the ceremonies.
In April, 1993, Fr. Peter Mary Fehlner joined the Franciscans of the Immaculate. With the increase in vocations it was decided to erect a canonical novitiate in the New Bedford friary in 1994, with Fr. Francis Mary as first novice master. Fr. Angelo Mary was appointed Master of Postulants in Baltic, CT. And because it was so difficult to find seminary programs suitable to the intellectual and spiritual formation of our friars preparing for priestly ordination, a center for the study of philosophy and theology, with the permission of the local Bishop, was begun in the fall of 1994 in the New Bedford friary under the direction of Fr. Peter Mary. To date seven American and four Filipino friars have completed their studies for the priesthood in New Bedford and been ordained priests. In addition, five friars from another small Franciscan community in New Bedford have completed their studies in our Marian friary and been ordained priests. In October of 2001 the study center in New Bedford was merged with the seminary of the Institute in Italy, known as the Immaculatum.
Between 1991 and 1996 Fr. Francis M. Pimental was Guardian of all the friars in the USA. His first Vicar was Fr. Thomas Mary, and after the transfer of Fr. Thomas to the Philippines at the end of 1993, Fr. Angelo Mary became Vicar. In Dec., 1996, Fr. Peter Mary was appointed General Delegate of the Order in the USA and Canada, and Guardian of the Friary in New Bedford. Fr. Angelo Mary was appointed Guardian of the now canonically erected friary in Baltic-Griswold, and Vicar of the Delegate General. Third Counselor of the Delegation was Fr. Thomas Mary.
Mount St. Francis Friary and Retreat Center in N.Y.
In 1997 the former Mount St. Francis Hermitage in Maine, NY (150 acres), a property with land and buildings most appropriate for our way of life and for the eventual establishment of a Marian City, was purchased from the Conventual Franciscans. With the permission and blessing of Bp. James Moynihan of Syracuse, NY, it was formally opened on Feb. 2, 1998 under the title of Our Lady Spouse of the Holy Spirit, with Fr. Thomas Mary Huff as first Guardian and three other friars, together with the postulants of the Order. Fr. Thomas Mary was appointed Master of postulants. Under his direction the entire property was repaired and is now becoming a very popular place of prayer for many persons from far as well as near.
In June of 1998 Fr. Francis Mary resigned as novice master and was succeeded by Fr. Angelo Mary. In the fall of 1998 construction of the new friary and chapel in Griswold began on the land donated by Miss Brown. The friars, who with the help of our tertiaries had already made a lovely Marian park on this property and readied it for construction now were involved on a daily basis in assisting in the labors of construction, eventhough Berkshire Construction Services had been hired to erect the building. On Aug. 19, 2000, Bishop Hart of Norwich blessed the new friary in the presence of Fr Stefano Ma. Manelli, Founder and Fr. Gabriele Ma. Pellettieri, Co-founder of the Institute. Since May, 2000, the friars, assisted only by friends, have completed the entire interior of the lovely chapel done in English Franciscan gothic style (designed by one of the friars), to be used as a center of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The new chapel was solemnly consecrated by Bp. Hart on Aug. 25, 2001, and the program of perpetual adoration was initiated on Oct. 28, 2001, with a Mass and procession with Bp. Hart as main celebrant.
The Delegation Council for U.S.
On Sept 8, 2000 Fr. Peter M. was re-appointed General Delegate (residing now in the motherhouse at Griswold), with Fr. Angelo M. as Vicar of the Delegation and Guardian and Novice Master in Griswold, and Fr. Martin M. Fonte as third Counselor. Fr. Maximilian M. Warnisher was appointed Econom of the Delegation and Fr. George Mary Roth became Guardian of the friary of New Bedford, with Fr. Martin M. as Vicar of the Friary and vice-praeses and administrator of the school. Fr. Thomas was succeeded as Guardian and Master of Postulants by Fr. Maximilian M. Dean on Sept. 17 ,200 1. The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate opened their convent in Fairhaven, MA (near New Bedford) in 1994, with Mother Mary Francisca from the Philippines as first superioress. The sisters assist the friars in New Bedford in the operation of various apostolates (including management of the bookstore in New Bedford), the production of audio tapes, etc. In Griswold they assist the friars with the Marian youth apostolate. So far there have been four vocations from the USA to the Sisters: one professed, one novice and two postulants. In 1997 Mother Maria Gratia was appointed superioress when Mother M. Francisca was transferred to England. In 2001 Mother M. Francisca returned as superioress.
The Academy of the Immaculate and Book Publication
Almost from the beginning (1992), under the logo “Academy of the Immaculate” the friars and sisters began a publishing apostate. Twenty books, numerous pamphlets, audio cassettes and some video cassettes have been produced. Several of the friars have made significant contributions to the International Symposium on Marian Coredemption (direction, conferences, recordings). Our website is one which has received high praise from professionals and is visited frequently by persons all over the world. Many vocation contacts are made through it. In all three friaries particular attention has been given to promoting the MIM in reference to family life and home schooling, this latter as a potential source of future vocations. Day With Mary events are now increasing in various parts of the eastern USA. There are presently 31 professed friars assigned to North America, with two novices, and 12 postulants. And while a number of professed friars from the Philippines and from Italy assist with the various apostolic works, five American friars are assigned elsewhere in the missions of the Order. In all three friaries administration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, preaching, spiritual direction of the tertiaries and faithful, assistance to the local parochial clergy, catechesis, conducting of retreats and days of recollection are regularly undertaken, even on a daily basis, by the friars.
The facts narrated above sufficiently witness to the wonderful things the Immaculate has accomplished in and through the friars and sisters over the past ten years, financial difficulties and political opposition from various sources notwithstanding. All this, moreover, was accomplished in that part of the USA (New England and New York) where the “puritan” secular experiment began in the USA, and so at the very heart of a culture whose principles and philosophical thrust could not be more contrary to that our Marian Franciscan spirit and aims.
Faith and Culture in the USA Today
To many the United States and Canada may not seem “missionary territory”. The United States has a total population of about 250,000,000 spread over an immense area; Canada has a population of about 25,000,000, mostly close to the US border. Statistically the USA and Canada are about 30% Catholic. The rest of the population is comprised of Protestants (a large number probably not baptized validly), Jews (5%, but concentrated in big cities like New York and Washington), Muslims (growing because they do not practice contraception), Satanists, and a large number (perhaps 30%) of “unchurched”, meaning indifferent to religion in any form, and so unwitting instruments of the Prince of this world. But only a small proportion of those who claim to be Catholics practice their religion in any minimal sense of that term. The widespread acceptance and practice of contraception by professed Catholics is symptomatic of the crisis of faith and of the degree to which the secular “puritanical” culture has permeated the life of Catholics in North America (above the Rio Grande or north of Mexico).
On the other hand the conquest of North America for Mary Immaculate and its marianization with the consequent salvation of so many souls and the formation of so many zealous missionaries could have tremendous impact on much of the rest of the world. In planning the growth of the community we have tried to keep these considerations in mind. But we are a very small community in respect to the magnitude of the task, and it will only be through living of our vow of total consecration and the direct intervention and guidance of the Immaculate Coredemptress that such a goal will be attained. In the meantime, so long as it is not attained, the crisis of faith in North America will continue unabated.