Letters to the EditorNews

Farewell to the UGA Catholic Center’s Franciscan Priests

After 62 years of service, the Franciscans OFM have left the Catholic Center at UGA. The dwindling number of friars made it necessary to withdraw from some of their missions. Unfortunately, the Catholic Center was included. For those of us who have grown to know and love the Franciscans over the years, the withdrawal came with a lot of heartbreak and tears. 

The Franciscans are an order of Catholic priests and friars whose spiritual father is St. Francis of Assisi, known for his simple love of God, love of nature, all of God’s creatures and the environment. In fact, St. Francis is the patron saint of the environment. The charism of the Franciscans involves embracing poverty, simplicity, obedience, and alignment with the poor and those who live on the margins of our society. The Franciscan order is mendicant, meaning that they often travel from place to place to minister to people wherever they are needed, and shouldn’t get attached to any one place. However, I don’t think anyone can deny that we got very attached to these wonderful men, as I’m sure they have to us.  

The following is a letter from the Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition written to Father Frank Critch, the last—along with Father Casey Cole—of the Franciscans to serve at the Catholic Center:

Dear Father Frank,

I am writing as a member of the Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition, a passionate group of people with whom you have served and who are committed to bringing protection, dignity and justice to immigrant families across our area. The coalition was much saddened by the news that you, along with your Franciscan brothers, will soon be leaving the Catholic Center. Your departure will no doubt be a huge loss for your parish community, those to whom you have ministered in myriad ways during your time in Athens. Also, we, your brothers and sisters in the broader interfaith community, know well that we are losing a voice for social justice and a follower of Christ who, time and again, responded to the call to welcome the stranger, free the prisoner, heal the sick and bring justice to the oppressed.

Father Frank, you and your congregation were called upon on many occasions over the last two years to care for our immigrant neighbors who were threatened, pursued, separated and scapegoated by this nation’s people and policies. When you were asked to help an asylum seeker book transportation to a court hearing in Texas, you answered the call. When you were asked to support an immigrant business owner purchasing equipment for her salon, you answered the call. When an immigrant family couldn’t pay their electric bill, had little food and no toys for their children, you answered the call. You answered the call to cover a single parent’s rent. You answered the call to renew hope for DREAMers by funding DACA renewals. You answered the call to pay for dental work on a child’s deteriorating teeth. You also answered the call by helping to distribute 13,000 pounds of food twice a month in Pinewoods through Oasis during the pandemic, and personally cooked meals that fed hundreds of people. And we know this recounting of your acts of compassion and courage is incomplete. 

In summary, Father Frank, you willingly opened the Catholic Center’s doors to the mission of the Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition, and you graciously opened your heart and hands to serve Christ in our immigrant neighbors. Your faithful response to God’s call has brought relief, hope and renewed strength to all of us. We will miss you.

In Peace: Joel Siebentritt, Coordinator; Terry Salguero, Catholic Center; Jerry Gale, Mindful Breath Sangha and Congregation Children of Israel; Nancy MacNair, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship; Karen Solheim, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship; Don Smith, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship; John Olive, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship; David Alper, Congregation Children of Israel; Shara Cherniak, Mindful Breath Sangha; JoBeth Allen, Oconee Street United Methodist Church; Lew Allen, Oconee Street UMC; Mark Harper, Covenant Presbyterian; Don Moseley, Jubilee Partners; Rachel Bjork, Jubilee Partners; Paul Dorsey, Independent; Albert Booms, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church