The creative spirit finds expression in religious ministries

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Brother Michelangelo Best, C.F.R. spins a ball

Image: Brother Michelangelo Best, C.F.R. spins a ball in a video by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York—which the brothers hope raises awareness for Mary’s Meals, a nonprofit organization that provides meals to poor children.

Religious life is often associated with certain traditional ministries—service in schools, hospitals, prisons, and shelters; devotion to contemplation and prayer—all of which are important and challenging. But sometimes when God calls, God has something else in mind, especially for those blessed with unique talents and interests.

Shake and skate

It’s not something you see every day: a Franciscan friar, head shaved, wearing the full-length robe of his community, heavy rosary beads dangling from his rope belt, shredding on a skateboard through the busy streets and people-packed lakefront of Chicago.

Friar Gabriel M. Cortes, F.I. of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in Bloomington, Indiana visited Chicago in 2014 and was filmed skating in the stirring video “Salve Regina” by Spirit Juice Films. It turned him into a YouTube sensation.

His weekly skating ministry is an outreach to the young. His mere presence in skate parks serves as a reminder of Christ and his countercultural message—a notion that resonates with skaters. It’s an example of the command of Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

Skater Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate Gabriel M. Cortes in Chicago
The stirring video “Salve Regina” turned skater Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate Gabriel M. Cortes into a YouTube sensation.

Slam dunk

The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in Yonkers, New York are getting in on a similar streetwise act. Brother Mark-Mary Ames, C.F.R. has produced and directed “Renewal in Motion,” a video featuring Brother Lazurus Sharpe, C.F.R. beatboxing—that is, performing hip-hop-style vocal percussion—while his fellow friars perform spectacular basketball stunts, mostly dunking off trampolines in gymnasiums and on outdoor courts. And the film’s audio track, “Broomstick Medley,” is from a soon-to-be-released album by Brother Isaiah Marie, C.F.R.

The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal produced a video of their spectacular basketball stunts
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York produced a video, called “Renewal in Motion,” of their spectacular basketball stunts to an original hip-hop track.

“Saint Francis would bring a brother who played music to the market and use it as a way to preach the gospel. We are doing that with basketball,” says Ames.

The community is apostolic with a charism of evangelization and hands-on work with the poor. The video is a “way to share Jesus and give a joyful witness to the poor in our brotherhood,” says Ames. It is also meant to raise awareness for Mary’s Meals, a nonprofit organization started by a friend of the friars that provides meals all over the world to poor children while they are at school.

The athletically gifted brothers in the video all played sports as kids and currently help at basketball camps as well as host charity basketball games, with the proceeds going to Mary’s Meals.

Sister act

Talents of all kinds naturally get nurtured in groups—often within families. Case in point: Sister Nancy Murray, O.P., sister of famous comedian, actor, and Saturday Night Live veteran Bill Murray.

Murray, a member of the Michigan-based Adrian Dominican sisters, has found a way to make acting and theatre a central part of her religious vocation. She tours the country for much of the year, performing in St. Catherine of Siena: A Woman for Our Times, a one-woman show about Saint Catherine of Siena, an influential 14th-century mystic and patroness of the Dominicans, who later was named a Doctor of the church.

Sister Nancy Murray, O.P, putting on a one-woman show about Saint Catherine of Siena.
Sister Nancy Murray, O.P, sister of comedian and actor Bill Murray, tours the country for much of the year, putting on a one-woman show about Saint Catherine of Siena.

Murray charges a $1,500 stipend, plus housing and travel expenses, and requires that venues provide a few modest props for her performance: a table, a chair, a crucifix, a vase of flowers, a large candle, two glasses of water, a CD player, a microphone, and a bench. Pretty basic compared to the movie sets of her younger brother Bill, but her shows are invaluable to benefiting the important work of her community back home.

Murray portrays Saint Catherine “as the colorful, strong, passionate and enthusiastic personality that she was,” in her words. Thanks to the show, many churches, schools, and other organizations have learned about “Catherine’s fierce devotion to and love for God.” says Murray. “If you believe how much God loves you, you can change many things. Saint Catherine’s voice is needed more than ever today. The church is in a time of struggle. The flock has been scattered and people are confused and in doubt. God is purifying us in a way that calls us to new life.”

Murray grew up in suburban Chicago, where she attended and later taught for 13 years at Regina Dominican High School. She entered the Adrian Dominican Sisters in 1966 and started bringing the story of Saint Catherine to life on the stage in 2000 in memory of a friend. Four years later, Murray’s congregation asked her to make her show an outreach to generate income and awareness of the sisters. She has since performed all over the world. Her fellow Adrian Dominican Sisters are more than 1,000 vowed members and associates ministering worldwide in the areas of education, healthcare, and social justice.

“An important part of religious life is the call to love God and all of God’s people,” says Murray. “As I travel around, I see that people are hungry for a voice of truth, like Catherine’s, something that makes their faith relevant. I feel that Catherine has a voice that says, ‘Don’t give up on the church. Believe in it, its struggles and pain, and be a part of making a difference.’”

Breaking bread

Bread is obviously a central symbol in Christianity, and men and women living in community have been making bread since religious life began. So Benedictine Father Dominic Barramone, O.S.B., a.k.a. “The Bread Monk,” isn’t entirely unusual—but as a TV personality, he certainly is.

Father Dominic Barramone, O.S.B., a.k.a. “The Bread Monk,” at St. Bede Abbey
Father Dominic Barramone, O.S.B., a.k.a. “The Bread Monk,” at St. Bede Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Peru, Illinois, was the host of a television cooking show for three seasons.

“When I joined Saint Bede Abbey [in Peru, Illinois] in 1983,” says Barramone, “I knew that the Lord would show me ways to use my gifts, but I never expected that to include a PBS cooking show!”

“I’ve baked bread since grade school,” he says, “but a conversation with a friend led to an audition with a public television producer, and for three years I was the host of Breaking Bread with Father Dominic. It was a unique opportunity to show a modern Benedictine monk to a wide audience.”

Much of his work can be found in The Breadhead Bible, which is a compilation of his favorite bread recipes including Tomato Basil Focaccia, Honey Oatmeal Bread, and Chocolate Raspberry Scones. Also included are recipes for Cheddar Chive Drop Biscuits, Diabetics’ No-Caraway Rye, and Best Ever Crescent Rolls.

Barramone’s other books include Thursday Night Pizza, Brother Jerome and the Angels in the Bakery, ’Tis the Season to Be Baking, and Bake and Be Blessed.

“I’ve come to view baking as an extension of my ministry as a priest,” he says. “Homemade bread brings people together in fellowship. The word companion comes from the Latin cum plus panis—‘with bread.’ We break bread with our companions on life’s journey, at our kitchen tables, and at the table of the Eucharist.”

Circus comes to town

Sister Dorothy Fabritze, M.S.C. never imagined she’d join the circus. Missionary work is what she wanted to do ever since high school, and that’s what she did as a Missionary Sister of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus for 16 years in Papua New Guinea, traveling to 150 village schools, by foot, boat, or any means necessary, as a religious education coordinator. That experience prepared her for the work she has now been doing for just as long: traveling with and ministering to circus workers.

Sister Dorothy Fabritze, a Missionary Sister of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, travels with and ministers to circus workers
After doing missionary work in Papua New Guinea for 16 years, Sister Dorothy Fabritze, a Missionary Sister of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, has been traveling with and ministering to circus workers for just as long.

Her community is an international congregation in 20 countries. “We attempt to convince people that God really loves them,” she says. Her particular outreach is to the itinerant people who work in the 30 or so circuses that travel around the United States. “It’s a ministry of presence, of living among the people,” she says.

Since her home is on the road with the rest of the circus, Fabritze made part of her small trailer into a chapel, where she keeps the Blessed Sacrament. Circus ministry is considered by the church to be pastoral care of migrants, refugees, and travelers.

“Circus people are a family-oriented group who see it as their call to provide family-oriented entertainment,” she says. But they are all from different faith traditions, not all Catholic or even Christian. “They want support in living their faith tradition,” she says, and it’s her job to help foster a diverse community of believers.

Fabritze’s work in circus ministry, along with the other sisters, brothers, and priests featured here, is an example of how men and women in religious life use their creative talents and gifts to carry the message of God’s love to remarkable places and in surprising ways. 

In honor of the Year of Consecrated Life, VISION Vocation Guide featured Sister Fabritze on its YouTube channel. Check out the exclusive video of Fabritze’s #surprisingministry with the circus on YouTube.

Jennifer Tomshack author photo

Jennifer Tomshack is editorial director of TrueQuest Communications, publisher of VISION Vocation Guide.

Siobhán O’Neill Meluso, VISION social media editor, contributed to this story.




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