The Singing Friars – 4 tracks – 1967

During the 1960s and into the 70s a group of Conventual Franciscan seminarians had a folk group, The Singing Friars. At times the group would be up to 10 members strong. The trio that toured during the 60s put together a 4 track album sold at concerts and through mail orders.

Recent efforts to digitize the photos from my time in at St. Hyacinth’s College and Seminary put me in touch with the daughter of Pat Corbitt, During our exchanges, I asked Cathleen Corbitt Dipierro about the mini-album her dad produced. She sent two sound files. The four songs matched the album listing found at

https://www.discogs.com/release/7305184-The-Singing-Friars-Introduction

  • Design [Cover Design] – Friar Regis Obijiski
  • Photography By [Photos] – Friar Edgar Marks, Friar Simon Mielniczuk
  • Vocals – Friar Michael Brennan, Friar Stephan Torkelson
  • Vocals, Bass – Friar Frank Kane
  • Vocals, Guitar – Friar Kirk Holland, Friar Patrick Corbitt

Each of the four songs appear below, thanks to Soundcloud. The back cover notes state,

“INTRODUCTION is an album considering people. A bit of life, four songs, reaching out to listeners. To appreciate INTRODUCTION one must listen and respond. The secret is in the enrichment offered – if enrichment is sought.

THE SENTRY,  a song about war, neither protests nor sanctions conflict past or present, but portrays a human situation: a young man’s war.

A search for love, peace, and self-knowledge, the story of every man’s life, is the subject of NO PLACE TO GO.

The twentieth century Romance has had it many versions; GREEN STAMPS is ours.

Understanding, patience, and love are what a mentally disturbed child found in a dedicated doctor. TIME AND JUST A FRIEND tells of this experience”.

The Sentry – 3m 47s

No Place To Go – 2m 53s

Green Stamps – 3m 06s

Time and Just a Friend – 2m 52s

For more photos of The Singing Friars, including an autographed cover are at https://mielniczuk.wordpress.com/singing-friars/

Sue and I were blessed to have The Singing Friars at our wedding.

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Remembering JK Neysmith

JK playing hockey JK (Friar Renatus) playing hockey at St. Hyacinth’s.
JK in Singing Friars JK in the Singing Friars (bottom row left).
JK at art show JK at Granby art show
JK in St. Hyacinth drama In St. Hyacinth drama

Sister Death has come for one of our brothers, John (JK) Neysmith. Yesterday an email notification startled with the message, ‘Simon, could you call me? Jay passed away.’ ! 

Dick Shields, the sender, discovered Jay when he went to check on him. Jay and I spoke and emailed more often recently as he helped with compiling a recent collection of materials from our years together in the Conventual Franciscans in the late 60s.

JK was a year ahead of me at St. Hyacinth’s College and Seminary. There were four of us from Canada. Jay was from Montreal’s South Shore. A few years later our paths crossed again. I’d been hired by the Toronto YMCA in 1974. Our timing was perfect. Jay was moving out of a Dufferin St flat. Our family was living in a camper in Lake Simcoe looking for a place. Jay spoke with the owner and suddenly our housing problem was solved. Several years later I had the pleasure of working with his sister Sheila Neysmith at UofT’s Faculty of Social Work. We reconnected again in the past few years through phone calls and emails. Jay was very good at staying in touch with other former friars. We shared nostalgia, stories about our families, and catch up information about colleagues. 

Just before COVID I had the pleasure of a brunch with his family during their Gatineau area reunion. We made plans to attend the St. Francis Memorial Mass and have lunch with Friars and friends. Sadly, the pandemic stopped us.

To both our surprise, JK and I discovered we shared a connection with the Fargnoli family and the Real Tony Shoe Store. 

One of JK’s outstanding achievements was the creation of ‘Hands Up Out of Poverty’ – https://www.handsupoutofpoverty.com – “…a development program for women and girls in rural sub-Saharan Africa. It embodies the principle of ‘think global; act local’. 

JK’s lifelong optimism was undiminished by age or illness. I will miss his smile and our phone and email conversations. Many lives are better because of JK. Our family is among them.

https://www.legacy.com/ca/obituaries/thespec/name/john-neysmith-obituary?pid=201945272

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My brief life as a friar 1960 – 1968: A family history doodle

INTRODUCTION

During the enforced isolation of the pandemic, doodling becomes my new diversion. Combining it with ongoing family history research provides a new way of sharing those details along with the associated stories.

Ivan Brunetti’s cartooning book (2011) guides my independent learning and practice. A 4-page full colour comic is the final assignment. The 5 pages of panels here are from my inability to tell the story in less. Once the pursuit of a religious vocation became the focus, the challenge becomes condensing my first 21 years. The intent of these pages is an honest, unvarnished look back into those formative years – strengths and weaknesses – mine and the religious community’s. Any misrepresentations or errors are on me.

Creating images and stories uncovers memory, emotion, and events of lasting personal importance. The stories take shape in words, images, symbols and ideas. Creating the story stimulates reflection. After doing these doodles, these are mine:

  • Activities outside the Seminary, including various expressions of Christian community, were almost always more interesting to me than community life inside.
  • I was too young to make a fully considered choice, yet, I can only say thank you for the education, opportunities and blessings received during this early part of my life journey.
  • Bonds with our teachers and spiritual leaders where strained by the emerging changes in the Church.
  • Social shifts, the Cold War, racism, Vietnam, and the Youth Rebellion moved much quicker than the moral teachings and relevant responses of the Church.
  • A few years after my departure, these social changes along with the emerging scandals in the Church contributed to a complete re-vamping of the entry process for religious. That some former colleagues became involved in these scandals is sad for me.
  • Bonds formed during those times continue. Through virtual and face to face events many former friars and current friars continue lifelong friendships.

The full 5 page cartoon  available at:

Toon04-FH-Brief-Fr-Life-ASM

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Photo albums added

Albums are a new addition. Contents are the results of digitizing photos and negatives that I have been carrying around for almost 60 years. Most of these are from my brief exploration of Conventual Franciscan life. The albums contain everything I could find – good and poor quality. Inevitably, they bring different memories to those familiar with that time and place. St. Hyacinth College and Seminary was in Granby, Massachusetts from about 1927 to the late 90’s. I was a friar at St. Hyacinth from 1965 to 1968.

If you wish to add to or correct anything, please contact me or leave a comment here. Facebook users should know there is a St. Hyacinth College page which extends beyond the 60’s.

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We and They

In cleaning up some files while moving to a new computer, I came across this note from Tony Barnicle, an old colleague, now gone. Tony introduced me to the importance of finance and record keeping to successful community development. He was also one of the most ‘out of the box’ thinkers and inspirations in my life. His commentary also has insights on race relations and joining with community.

—–Original Message—–
From: Barnicle
Sent: Monday, September 15, 2014 7:00 AM
Subject: September DROPPINGS

DROPPINGS FROM THE BARNICLE Volume XIII, Number 9, September, 2014

“WE | THEY” (WORDS ON THE TOP OF A BRIDGE SCOREBOARD)
On Friday night, January 15, 1972 Lorraine and I were wed. On the following Monday I reported to work at the Brightwood Economic Development Office. By 10:00 in the morning one of my “certified disadvantaged” clients punched me in the nose and broke it. Several days later someone threw an iceball (a snowball turned to ice and filled with rocks) at me which missed my nose by a centimeter. On Friday night I was the only staff in our office building when another “certified disadvantaged” client barged into my office and slammed the door behind him (cutting off my only exit). Even more intimidating, he brought another “certified disadvantaged” person with him who immediately opened my file cabinet and began trashing my files.

That night, Lorraine and I talked about my job. I was the third director in the six months since the Chamber of Commerce took the contract. I didn’t like the job but decided it wouldn’t work unless we would move into Brightwood. Within a week we found an apartment there.

The results of this decision were astounding! The day after our move I was called into the Program Redevelopment Director’s office to be chastised for breaking an unwritten law. Social workers don’t live in their client’s neighborhoods. His biggest worry was we would start something. His worry was founded. Simon and Sue, John and Peggy and many other organizers followed us into the neighborhood. The threats and intimidation from my clients ended.

Within a month I gave the “jobs” program to staff and began talking with my advisory board about changing our program goals from neighborhood jobs to neighborhood wealth.
If we hadn’t moved to Brightwood, I couldn’t have started the Chores Corporation, built the Brightwood Shopping Center and founded the Brightwood Development Corporation. If I hadn’t been a neighbor, I couldn’t have helped my neighbors build CASA Credit Union to a $2,000,000 + credit union which helped Brightwood break out of its “red lined” walls. These events are described in Chapter V of my book, WHAT A LIFE, WITH MY WIFE ….

The psychological and spiritual results were more profound. Anyone who plays bridge knows WE = us. THEY = the enemy. In 1972 we had dared to move from the WEs to the THEYs. Because I had moved in with them, I was able to accomplish the measurable results listed above. But, a collateral effect of our move was the way it changed forever the way we think. As we watch the experts on National TV suggesting ways to solve the riots dividing WEs and THEYs in Ferguson, we can’t help remembering the police brutality we witnessed in Brightwood. Until you move, and lived, as we did for four years, with the THEYs, you will never understand the almost unbreakable wall we have built around them and the terrible divide this wall has caused.

I hope the Ferguson riots don’t end with another Blue Ribbon Commission telling us we live in a divided America. I hope it doesn’t end in another affirmative action program to put more blacks on the police force. I don’t think hiring blacks living in Ferguson to replace whites living outside Ferguson will solve the problem. If anything, I think it will exacerbate the problem. But how about persuading two or three or even more Ferguson Police Officers to move into the community? How about a program that will offer attractive home mortgages to young officers with families? What a difference would it make if these officers witnessed their fellow officer shooting their unarmed neighbor’s son? Imagine an officer marching in a demonstration with his son on his shoulders as I did one time in Brightwood. What a benefit it would be if these officers’ children attended Ferguson schools.

How the chemistry would change if the wife of one of these officers served on the Ferguson School Board.

I remember the night two lawyers came “down to Brightwood” to sell my neighbors on the benefits of bussing their children. Their idea was going nowhere when I suggested they should consider moving to Brightwood. ‘We would love to have lawyers living in our community.’

After living with THEYs for years, we never stopped being WEs. But you don’t forget. We had just moved back to our WE neighborhood in Jefferson City when Rob, my oldest son, saw a black boy and shouted, “Dad stop the car. I see a real boy.” He ran to a house, knocked on the door and asked if he could play with him.

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Christmas Letter – 2021

The world became more remote this year. Going into our second year of staying away from each other in order to protect one another we moved relationships and Mass and event attendance to the screen. When experimenting with ‘shared visual and acoustic space’ at UofT in the 80’s we did anticipate work and counselling online, but not at this scale of social shift.

We lost friends and family. Don Forgie, the UofT professor who invited me to join into those experiments and who remained a life long friend and mentor; Heather Stecher, a vocal advocate for Justice and Access and a Co-op member; Donnie Raphael, Sue’s step-brother passed after years of debilitating illness; and with the passing of Allan Mackellar, I become the last grandfather in our immediate family. Sadly, COVID prevented us from attending memorials in person.

Despite Covid, we we were able to enjoy many birthdays together IRL. The biggest was Sue’s 70th celebrated in September when both Simon and Lisa and their families joined us in the 1000 Islands at Harmer’s Cottages. Lots of outdoor activities in the water, on the lawn, and in-town Ganonoque.  Son Simon turned 50, a big milestone when many Senior discounts start becoming available. All other birthdays were hybrid events. 

Sue and I enjoyed family getaways in Chelsea, Quebec City, the Thousand Islands and Montreal with Lisa and family (our bubble). We are grateful for those opportunities. For indoor activities Sue and I streamed too many TV series with reading and puzzles to fill in the rest. I continued my cartoon doodling started in 2020. Whenever possible, that is, weather permitting, we walked the neighbourhood and Gatineau Park. Walking around Costco with a shopping cart is our indoor alternative. My late 2019 leg injury is a major barrier to long walks. Cortisone, meds, exercise and swimming help, but I’m still dependent on a walking stick to get around. 

On the way home from Quebec Sue and I stayed overnight in Repentigny to explore the area around St. Paul l’Hermite. The munitions factory, still there, was a Displaced Persons Camp in the late 1940’s when mom and I came to Canada from Germany. After hearing so many dinner table stories, it was very emotional to experience the place in person.

The outdoors are easily accessible in Ottawa. We try to suppress cabin fever with day trips throughout Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. During the summer we enjoyed the flower and herb oasis that is our balcony. Early in the Fall, John and Mary Macmillan came to visit us in Ottawa. We miss them and the cancelled Woodsworth Co-op celebrations.

There were some disappointments. In February our cared for 2010 Sentra was totalled in the parking lot. On the up side, we now have a more comfortable Rogue for our trips. For the third year, the annual Alumni Memorial Mass trip to St. Francis High School was cancelled. Maybe 2022, but maybe not. 

Vaccinations gave us physical and mental support. We are counting on the booster to continue that protection through this latest wave of spread. 

Grandchildren are a never ending source of stories and inspiration. We had the pleasure of watching Owen in a Cross Country race at Ft. Henry in Kingston; Violet and Henry playing baseball; Charlie sharing stores of child care as a Counsellor in Training; Cole speeding to the net and getting breakaways and a hat trick; Rowan becoming a very skilled sketch artist; and Olivia expanding her creativity and leadership at Ashbury. Charlie and I enjoyed a camp out in Gatineau Park.

When the impromptu memorial for Indigenous Children appeared on Parliament Hill, Rowan and Charlie brought prized personal possessions to place by the eternal flame.

As 2021 comes to a close, we are thankful for our health, our Co-op home, and our friends and family. The past two years have re-focused what is truly necessary and valued in our lives. 

Peace and blessings to all during Christmas and the coming year.

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Perfect weekend

Just the perfect week-end. Wnuczek Charlie shared his birthday weekend to celebrate a delayed Father’s Day. Daughter Lisa and son Simon gifted a Magic Mouse for my MacBook Pro purchased last year. I was getting better with the trackpad, but, as a life long mouse user, still frustrating myself with clumsy moves.

In a totally unexpected move, Lisa and Sue watched Godzilla vs Kong with the boys and me! Out on Apple TV; too early for rental, they purchased it. Now we can watch it again and again to uncover depths and nuances missed — especially during my brief nap :) .

Charlie, now 15, was showing moustache, chin and sideburn growth. Couldn’t let him start his Counselor in Training summer job without a perfect groom. What a honour to instruct him on the intricacies of sliding a razor across the face. Results approved by the ladies in the house.

Thank you family in Ottawa and Toronto. You are the best.

 

 

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Remember the 215 children

When they buried the children
What they didn’t know
They were lovingly embraced
By the land
Held and cradled by a mother’s heart
The trees wept for them, with the wind
They sang mourning songs, their mothers
didn’t know to sing
bending branches to touch the earth
around them. The Creator cried for them
the tears falling like rain.

Mother Earth held them
until they could be found.
Now our voices sing the mourning songs
with the trees. the wind. light sacred fire
ensure they are never forgotten as we sing
JUSTICE.
— abigail echo-hawk

Abigail echo-hawk poem

This past Friday I took Wnuczki Charlie and Rowan to the impromptu memorial at Parliament Hill. Since the horrific discovery of 215 bodies of residential school children, people have been leaving shoes, stories, poems – including the one above, stuffies, and toys in remembrance. Rowan brought his Winnie the Pooh bear. Charlie left two toy cars.

I was surprised at how much they knew about this recent event and the residential school system. We talked about how this system was created by leaders who believed that this approach ‘was best’ and continued to be officially supported for a hundred fifty years. Which ‘best approaches’ of today will seem incredulous to our grandchildren?

Parliament Hill memorial

215 shoes

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Spring smile

The springtime of your smile saves 

Uprooting and rejection by storm winds 

Bringing loving hope to a new shelter

Where the avowed purpose continues

And blooms during summer

Nourishing readiness for a new future

And lifetime of next springs

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St. Francis Alumni Mass – 2021

For the third year in a row, I was unable to attend the St. Francis Alumni Memorial Mass. After more than a dozen years of annual attendance, most times with my friend John Macmillan, a schedule change made attending impossible. Last year we’d planned to attend with two former Franciscans. That trip, like this year’s, was sidetracked by Covid-19.

This year, however, the Mass was taped and available on YouTube.  Mass on the screen is hardly the immersive experience that is being in the Chapel. 1960 was my first chapel visit as a Freshman. Now 61 years later it remains a mental refuge for prayerful thought.  The production crew did an excellent job of making viewers feel a bit like being there.

1940s Alumni remembered:
Thomas Cieslica ’48
Anthony Cisek ’44
Joseph Sasiadek ’49

1950s Alumni remembered:
Louis Bartus ’57
Edward Bystran ’59
Frank Jarmusz ’50
William Kania ’58
John Klimczak ’51
Richard Klimowicz ’54
James Pasko ’59
Leonard Prusak ’55
Aloisius Rynkowski ’50
Dr. Leon Strenkowski ’58
Edmund Trella ’55
Carl Wappman Jr. ’55

1960s Alumni remembered:
Ed Bajer ’62
Lt. Col. Zygmunt Bystran ’62
Dr. Micheal Davis ’66
Victor Galdes ’60
Pierre Gervais ’68
Larry Jay Jarzynski ’61
Carlos CJ Justiniano ’69
Paul Kuebler ’66
Martin Miller ’69
Andrew Preisler ’65
Nelson Rivet ’68

1970s Alumni remembered:
Geofrey Brinkman ’73
Patrick Callaghan ’79
Dennis Gaughan ’74
John Germain ’70
John Nyitrai ’75
Bruce Sage ’77

1980s Alumni remembered:
James Carbeck ’86
David Rhoads ’87
Andrew Rosnow ’85

1990s Alumni remembered:
Dr. Ronald Garrow ’91
Jamie Jayes ’97
Daniel Piotrowicz ’95

2000s Alumni remembered:
Maxwell Besch ’06
Eric Brege ’02
Joseph Dietterich ’04
Anthony Miranda ’00
Christopher Winkelman ’01

While none of the above are from my class of 1964, several last names above also appear in that class –  Prusak, Kania, Cieslica, and Bajer. These may be family members or simple coincidence.

Missed catching up with alumni at the after Mass brunch in the oh so familiar cafeteria. Over the years some of them moved on from attendee to those remembered. Each one of us is part of the brotherhood who prays for and the brotherhood prayed for. Certainly hope that there will be a few more opportunities to get together face to face in the Chapel and in the cafeteria. And I hope that next year John and I will be back at one of our favourite Western New York breakfast haunts.

Thank you again for the Mass, the singing and for making this remote participation possible.

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