A Warm Welcome in Wisconsin
Friars Timothy Machila, Simon Minyati, and Ayub Mwenda serve four parishes in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

A Warm Welcome in Wisconsin

Kenyan Friars and Wisconsin parishioners exchange their gifts

Representing his Kenyan Franciscan Province in mission appeals across the US Midwest, friar Simon Minyati developed deep feelings for the people he met and natural beauty he saw.

“In 2015 I came for a sabbatical at Marytown [the National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Libertyville, Illinois], friar Simon said. “While I was here, I visited parishes in Illinois and other states with friar Joe Schenk from the Saint Bonaventure Province, telling them about our ministries in Kenya. I started falling in love with rural America and thought it would be a great place to work one day.”

St. Mary’s in Bear Creek – an example of the natural beauty of the rural United States that Friar Simon fell in love with.

This past summer, his idea became a reality when he and two other Kenyan Franciscans took over four parishes in central Wisconsin, within the Diocese of Green Bay. Friar Simon and friar Ayub Mwenda, a Franciscan Brother, bring with them three years of preparation at St. Ita’s Parish on the North Side of Chicago. Friar Timothy Machila comes to Wisconsin after doctoral studies in Rome.

“When I returned to Kenya after my time at Marytown, we discussed in our Chapter furthering our collaboration with the Saint Bonaventure Province,” said friar Simon. “Friar Ayub and I came to the US and began working at St. Ita’s. As we approached three years there, we thought it was time to look for a place we could serve as Kenyans. We talked to the Provincial, and he agreed.”

Providence seems to have taken a hand in the process when friar Simon went on retreat at a Carmelite Monastery in Denmark, Wisconsin.

“While I was at the monastery, I met the Vicar General from Green Bay, Fr. John Girotti,” said friar Simon. “We had a few conversations and discussed how much I loved these rural areas. He said to me: ‘If you want to come and work in a rural area, we are desperately looking for priests.’

“We agreed to give it a try. We applied, then went to meet with Bishop (David) Ricken, Fr. Girotti, the Vicar for Clergy, and others. We looked at a map, and they showed us the places that were available.”

Friar Simon is now administrator of St. Mary Parish in Bear Creek and St. Rose Parish in Clintonville. Friar Timothy is the administrator of St. Francis Solanus in Gresham and St. Mary’s in Leopolis. Friar Ayub will become a business manager at another parish in the future, but for now serves at the parishes while the friars settle in.

Friars Timothy and Ayub with parishioners at St. Mary’s (Leopolis)

While friars Simon and Ayub have been living in the US and braved a few Chicago winters, this is a new experience for friar Timothy. But he and friar Simon have known each other for several years.

“I interviewed him when he was a postulant, then was his novice director from 2009-10,” said friar Simon. “He completed his doctorate in Church History at the Gregorian this past May. The cold winter is something he’s going to have to experience, but he’s braced for that. In Rome they don’t have snow and it doesn’t get as cold as here. But people in the parish are buying him clothes for winter – he didn’t have any.

“That has been our experience here. The people are very generous. We moved into a former convent, and the people have helped us furnish it. They gave us a television, couches, kitchen cooking supplies and utensils. They have done it all with great joy.”

The friars are learning more about the parishes and people, and overcoming some of the normal challenges faced by international clergy.

“I am on a ‘familiarization tour,’ meeting the people and learning about the different activities and groups,” friar Simon said. “While it was more of an issue in Chicago, we are working on making sure they understand us when we preach. We can’t always be clear like an American would be. Some of the people are older and hearing is a problem. They have asked if we can write homilies down so they can have an idea of what we’re talking about. I am working on putting summaries in the bulletin.”

In turn, the parishioners are learning about Franciscan life and traditions.

“For these people, the Franciscan presence is unique,” said friar Simon. “The three of us living together is something new for them to see. They have learned that if they invite one of us, they have to invite all three. It’s new and exciting for them to see a community of friars staying together.

“Certainly, they are not familiar with our Franciscan history. We had hoped to introduce them to the Transitus and the Feast of St. Francis in October, but we happened to be at the Clergy’s Congress in Green, so we missed that opportunity. We hope they will gradually experience the Franciscan way of life, not so much in Feasts or devotions, but by seeing how the friars witness the Gospel life in the footsteps of St. Francis.”

Article originally published in the Messenger of St. Anthony 

On Sunday, December 18th, Friar Paul Joseph Langevin (Provincial for St. Bonaventure Province) – acting on behalf of the Provincial of Kenya – accepted the oath of office from Friar Timothy Machila as guardian of the newly-erected St. Clare Friary in Clintonville, WI.