community of Croatian Franciscans have worked in the United States
and Canada for over eighty years. They are part of the universal
First Order of Franciscans (O.F.M.). There are approximately 26,000
priests and brothers in the Order who are engaged in every possible
Christian apostolate. The Province of the Assumption in Hercegovina
to which they are juridically bound had its origin as a Custody
in 1852 and became a Province in 1892. Today there are approximately
200 members in the Province itself. Franciscans from various Croatian
provinces came to America in the early decades of the Twentieth
Century to serve the needs of the many Croatian immigrants. At
first, the Croatian Franciscans were part of the Holy Cross Commissariat
which also included the Slovenian and Slovak friars. The Croatian
Commissariat of the Holy Family was canonically established in
1926 with headquarters in Chicago. It was placed under the jurisdiction
of the Hercegovinian Province in 1931. The official title was
changed to the Croatian Franciscan Custody of the Holy Family
in 1967 in compliance with the new General Constitutions.
main Franciscan monastery is St. Anthony's in Chicago. Presently,
they are in charge of many parishes in the United States and Canada.
The friars are engaged in numerous other apostolates. A most important
apostolate is that of writing and publishing for the Croatian
speaking people of this continent. Other apostolates are chaplaincy
work, teaching, and mission-retreat work.
they are a small part of the Franciscan Order, they have a definite
goal and purpose. They care for the spiritual needs of Croatian
immigrants and all others whom God calls to serve.
CENTURY OF FIDELITY TO THE
AND CROATIAN PEOPLE
and edited by:
Robert Jolić and Fr. Jozo Grbeš
Year of Our Lord, 2000
The great Christian Jubilee Year 2000, which marks the
anniversary of Jesus’ birth, is an excellent opportunity look at
our past as well as our future. Looking back, we savor and embrace
times in which good was done in the history of the Church. Also,
in looking back, we must acknowledge and amend wrongs done in the
history of the Church. We need to look ahead so that our future
and the future of the whole human race can be more productive and
Throughout this entire
Jubilee celebration, Pope John Paul II closely examines the
experience thus far in the historical march of the Catholic
Church. While simultaneously uncovering in the Church’s past a
multitude of reasons for pride and inspiration, and publicly
announcing remorse for all the sins committed by the members of
the Church, we hope that such deviations from Christ’s gospel
will never again be repeated.
This Jubilee Year 2000,
is a good opportunity to reflect upon our religious community, the
Custody of the Holy Family, sons of St. Francis of Assisi of the
Croatian people, which has ministered among Croatian immigrants in
United States and Canada. The first Croatian Franciscan (Fr.
Gaudencije Gorše) came to the American continent back in 1900.
This means that the Croatian Franciscans have been active here for
100 years. The independent community of Croatian Franciscans in
America was established in 1926 under the name Commissariat of the
Holy Family (the title Commissariat was changed to Custody in
1969). Until now more than 100 Croatian Franciscans, as members of
this community, have
worked on this continent. They gathered together Croatian
Catholics around the parish centers to give them spiritual food in
their own Croatian mother tongue.
However, it is worth mentioning that the Croatian
Franciscans were not only spiritual leaders. They also tried to
sustain the cultural identity of the Croatian people while bravely
stating the rights of the Croatian people enslaved in their
homeland, depraved of
their freedom and an
independent state. We are all ecstatic that their dream was
realized and today we have an independent Croatian State.
In keeping the religious and national awareness alive,
Franciscans did not only use the sanctuary, but also used other
methods such as various publications: the Croatian weekly Danica,
the monthly Croatian Catholic Messenger, and the yearly Croatian
Almanac. Numerous books were published in the Croatian
printery and by the publishers Croatia or Ziral. The Croatian
Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Family, as members of the
only official clerical organization for Croatians living on the
North American continent, together with other Croatian priests,
were the main and often times only carriers of the Croatian
national identity. Among the Croatians living here, they are
deserving of much praise for the preservation of the Croatian
ethnic community and its ties with the homeland.
The goal of this book is
to present the achievements of that community and to describe the
Franciscan work among Croatians in the United States and Canada.
The majority of members of the Custody were also members of the
Herzegovinian Franciscan Province with headquarters in Mostar.
This tormented province in 1931 was entrusted to care for the
Croatian friars in North America. The Herzegovinian province up to
the present day has sent to America over 90 Franciscans who worked
or still work today whether for short or long periods of time! The
rest of the Franciscans in the Commissariat came from other
Croatian Franciscan provinces, especially in the first decades of
the 20th century.
The book is separated
into three large parts. The first part deals with a general
history of the Croatian Franciscan Custody in America and her
historical growth from the beginning up to the end of the 20th
century. The second part deals with the various
Franciscan activities among the Croatians in the United
States and Canada. Emphasis is placed on the Croatian parishes
that were led by Franciscans and publications. Finally, in the
third part we speak about each individual Franciscan who worked in
this Custody and among the Croatian immigrants in America. Of
course, the Franciscans who have gone on to meet their maker are
mentioned as well: they deserve to be mentioned for all the years
they gave to God and their people.
It is our great desire
that this book which is being published in this great Jubilee Year will, become a monument
of our past and of the ones who formed our past, as well as an
open door toward the future. Let it be a token of our pride for
everything that this Franciscan community accomplished for our
faith and nation and also a resolution to always strive for
GENERAL HISTORICAL REVIEW
A. Brief General History of the
Croatians in America
Upon their arrival in southern Europe
in the beginning of the seventh century Croatians settled on the
coast of the most beautiful Adriatic Sea where through time they
intermarried with the native Roman-Illyrian inhabitants. This
is where the Croatian ties to the sea were established, and probably
even at times given a destiny. They were known as excellent seafarers,
and for a while, especially during the time of the first Croatian
King, Tomislav in the tenth century, they ruled the Mediterranean
with their navy. In later centuries the independent Republic of
Dubrovnik continued this seafaring tradition and traded with the
whole known world. The majority of historians claim that some
Croatian seafarers were part of the famous Christopher Columbus
expedition which resulted in the discovery of the New World in
1492, the American continent, which at that time was erroneously
thought to be the western shore of India. Others, such as L. Adamic,
hold that the seafarers from Dubrovnik came to the shores of America
even before Columbus! At any rate, it is a historical fact that
with their own ships, the people from Dubrovnik traded with America
in the first decades and centuries after the discovery of that
continent. Of extreme interest is the mention of the Croatian
name as far back as the sixteenth century. One native tribe was
called the Croatan; the children had unusually "pretty light
brown hair", and they used certain words in their own language
that sounded much like Croatian words. They lived in North Carolina,
on the Island called Roanoke and in its proximity. When Governor
White returned to that settlement to see the English immigrants
in 1590, no one was there. All that was left behind as proof of
their existence was the word CROATOAN carved on an oak tree. Unfortunately,
it seems that this long ago remnant of Croatian mention on an
oak tree remains a mysterious secret, bordering between historical
truth and legend, as no one will ever be able to confirm that
fact. The similarity of the names Croatan or Croatoan to the Latin
form of the Croatian name is very apparent and gives credibility
to speak of the existence of "Croatian Indians" in the
long ago sixteenth century.
However, in these first centuries,
Croatian colonies were very few and only a small number of Croatians
continued their new lives in America. Seafarers outnumbered the
ones deciding to stay and settle down in that new lavish country.
At that time, there were more Croatians living on the west coast,
California. In then nineteenth century, when hard times hit Croatians
in their own land both politically and more so economically, the
news of this lavish country began to spread, as did the increase
of Croatian immigration. At that time, the majority came from
the Dalmatian coast and its islands, but also from Lika, Slavonia
and other Croatian territories. The number of Croatians from Bosnia
and Herzegovina was minimal because they had difficulty escaping
the Turkish rule, and most probably news of the outside world
had little chance of getting to them. Only after the Austro-Hungarian
occupation of 1878, did their numbers grow. However, the largest
number of Croatians, as well as other nationalities, started coming
to America in the last decades of the nineteenth century and in
the first decades of the twentieth century. At that time, America
was becoming the strongest industrialized nation in the world.
She extended the opportunity of good wages, and most importantly,
she allowed newcomers the freedom of national and religious expression.
According to some statistics (Emily Balch), up to the year 1910,
around 400,000 Croatians had immigrated into America! However,
it is very hard to give an exact number since when Croatians were
coming into the immigration ports, they were erroneously classified
under the immigrant columns as "Croatians and Slovenians"
while others were classified as "Dalmatians, Bosnians or
Herzegovinians". Therefore, in the latter classification,
it was by regions and not by nationality. However, large portions,
classified both in the first and in the second instance, were
of Croatian ancestry. At this point it is important to mention
that many of them returned to the old country. According to some
statistics every third Croatian up to 1914 returned back home.
Economic conditions at that time in Croatia were very difficult.
Poor soil rendered very little: for every living person there
existed enough sun and nothing more. The political situation became
especially difficult upon the implementation of absolutism during
the 1850's. Croatians lost many of their historical rights because
of the formation of the dual Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1867.
They were torn into three sides: followers of Austria, followers
of Hungary and followers of the independent political leadership
of Starčević and Kvaternik. None concerned themselves
with the Croatian peasants. The government decision to decrease
the number of seafaring ships in the 1870's, causing the seafarers
to lose their jobs, was one of the main reasons for the mass exodus.
Around 200,000 people were left without earnings after the onset
of the vine disease phylloxera in their vineyards. The abolition
of the Vojna Krajina (military frontier) took away the livelihood
of many who had no other way of making a living. The construction
of the railroad between Karlovac and Rijeka took away the livelihood
of many kirijaši who used to transport merchandise from Karlovac
to the Dalmatian seaports as their main source of income. Prior
to the construction of the railroad between Karlovac and Rijeka,
they had to transport goods to the seaport of Rijeka by horse.
A large number of these deprived individuals, inspired by sensational
stories of the riches in America, made a decision to depart from
their homeland and take the "road to nowhere." The majority
discovered, too late, that most of the stories about rich America
were blown out of proportion. At the same time their lands were
being populated by German and Hungarian settlers! There is nothing
worse than being under foreign rule!
New Croatian settlers in
America tried to organize themselves under new conditions. They
helped one another with problems that arose such as job related
injuries, death, little or no knowledge of the English language,
and their rights as citizens. Various support groups were established
in order to take care of funeral arrangements for their members
and to help their families. Interestingly in the beginning some
Croatian colonies owned their own graveyards as a possible illusionary
link to the old homeland. Main gatherings took place in Croatian
owned saloons. Also they often lived together in houses and shared
bedrooms. The main problem was marriage because there were very
few Croatian women there at the time. For this reason many boarded
ships and journeyed for over a month to go back home and find
themselves a wife to bring back to America. A large number married
women of different nationalities. In California they often married
Mexican women, and in other states they married Irish or Polish
women. If they were not able to find a Croatian woman, they had
to find a Catholic one.
Most Croatians lived a hard life. Basically
they were illiterate and did not speak the English language, and
so they had to take on the most backbreaking jobs such as coal
mining and the construction of railroads, other roads and tunnels.
Others worked as longshoremen. In the south and west, namely the
Mississippi delta and California, they were fishermen and raised
shellfish, while others cultivated various fruits and had their
own vineyards. The Gold Rush enabled some to do very well in precious
metal mines, and some became quite rich as a result. Others had
tough lives, dying very young; few lived past forty years of age.
The two characteristics they had in common were being hardworking
and ambitious. There were very few that did not succeed. However,
the fruits of their labor were not going to be enjoyed by them
but by their children and grandchildren.
As staunch Catholics
they longed to have more Croatian churches and more Croatian priests
available to take care of their many needs. They wanted to experience
spiritual guidance as those had in their homeland. However, up
until the very end of the nineteenth century, there were no Croatian
priests available in this new land. For that reason, many attended
other churches but were not totally satisfied because it was not
what they had wanted. Therefore, a lot of them left the church
altogether. The first Croatian priest that worked in America was
Rev. Dobroslav Boñiƒ, born in Kraljeva Sutjeska in Bosnia. He
came to America in 1894, being prevailed upon by Bishop Strossmayer,
and soon thereafter established the first Croatian parish in Allegheny,
Pa. (now Pittsburgh) where a large Croatian colony already existed.
Even though he was not the first active Croatian priest, he was
the first to work with the Croatians. There were others who came
before him who worked with the native Americans or other peoples,
mainly with German immigrants
B. Croatian Priests in America
Stories of early Catholic priests
and missionaries in America often appear like real fairy tales.
They went forth, especially along the western coast, discovering
new regions and new native tribes. They tried to convert them
to the teachings of Jesus Christ and in that way build new missions.
Among those first Catholic priests there were Croatians as well.
In the sixteenth century there was a Dominican priest named Vicko
Paletin, born on the island of Kor…ula, who worked as a missionary
in Mexico. He advocated a humane way to christianize the natives
and he also wrote several interesting dissertations about the
new continent in Latin. In 1570, after many years of work among
the natives, he returned back to his native Kor…ula and built
a large Dominican friary where he lived and later passed away.
The second missionary was a Jesuit named Ivan Ratkay. He was born
in 1647 in Croatia's Zagorje region to a very noble family. He
arrived in Mexico in 1680 where he functioned among the native
tribes converting them to Christianity. He had high hopes of going
up north to California, but an early death prevented his dream
from coming to fruition. He died in December 1683, at the age
of 36, most probably poisoned by the indigenous people. Many hold
him to be a martyr and a saint.
Although Father Ratkay did not
realize his dream of making it up north, another Croatian priest,
Fr. Ferdinand Konšćak (Konsag) did. Father Konšćak was undoubtedly
the most recognized Croatian missionary among the natives. He
was born in 1703 in Varañdin. In 1730 he sailed to Mexico. He
was the first to prove that California was not an island. They
used his map of California up until the middle of the nineteenth
century. He traveled hundreds of miles on horseback through unknown
lands converting the Indians and setting up new missions along
the way. His starting point was the Jesuit mission in San Ignacio,
then the most northern of the fifteen or so Jesuit missions. From
there he founded the Santa Gertrudis Mission in 1751, and soon
after that he planned a mission in San Francisco de Borja, the
place which he discovered in 1758. He never realized this project
as death claimed him in 1759 at the age of 56. His friend, Father
Retz, realized his dream in the year 1762. Father Konšćak also
founded a mining community called San Antonio Reala. He built
mines, roads, and floodgates which were quite simple to him as
he was a renowned mathematician and engineer. In California's
bay there lies a small island called Consag Rocks which was named
after him. Many historians praised him by extolling his diligence,
sacrifice and especially his commendable approach toward the natives
who converted after hearing his words. Once the natives heard
of his death, many of them came as far as San Ignacio wailing
and openly crying because he was a dear spiritual father to them.
The most famous Croatian missionary of the nineteenth century,
was Rev. Joseph Kundek (1809 - 1857), a diocesan priest, born
in Ivanić near Zagreb. He came to America through Leopoldinen
Stiftung in 1838. It took him forty-three days to travel from
Europe to New York. He worked with German immigrants in Jasper,
Indiana and he founded three new cities: Ferdinand, Celestine
and Fulda. He also established a new German parish in New Orleans.
He traveled back to Europe to outline the need for more priests
to work with the German immigrants. He was able to bring back
with him sixteen diocesan priests and two Benedictines. He was
the main organizer and helper of the Benedictines in the establishment
of the St. Meinrad Abbey. One of the priests that came back with
Rev. Kundek was Rev. Eduard Martinović, a Croat, who also worked
among the Germans. Few priests contributed to the spread of Catholicism
in America's Midwest as did Rev. Kundek. German settlers spoke
of him and carried his memory for a long time to come. In commemoration
of the 100th anniversary of his death, a statue was erected honoring
him and a street was renamed after him. The Benedictine Dunstan
McAndrews wrote his doctorate dissertation on Rev. Kundek.
at the end of the nineteenth century, Bishop Strossmayer sent
a priest to America who worked among the Croatians. Rev. Dobroslav
Božić (1861 - 1900) came to Allegheny, Pa (now Pittsburgh) in
1894, and the first Croatian church was established in the same
city. The local bishop, many guests and thousands of hardworking
Croatians were gathered for this big celebration. Because of the
growing number of Croatians in and around Pittsburgh, the successor
of Božić, Rev. Franjo Glojnarić, decided to build a larger and
more beautiful church. It was built on a hill called Bennett (now
Millvale) near Pittsburgh and it was consecrated in 1900. The
next year the members of the original Allegheny parish, with Fr.
Bosiljko Bekovac as pastor, also constructed a larger and very
beautiful church. Both churches were named St. Nicholas. Later
both parishes established parish schools. Rev. Božić then went
to Steelton, Pa. where he established another Croatian parish.
He died at the early age of 40. However, throughout that whole
time, there were not many Croatian priests available, nor are
there even today. Frequently arguments arose between priests and
some members of the congregation because of political views, envy,
illiteracy, or because the individuals had a hard time adjusting
to the new environment. However, and in spite of all these problems,
we have to give credit to all of these priests who were pioneers
of the religious work among Croatian immigrants in America. They
were not only religious and spiritual leaders who built churches
and church facilities, but they also built schools and meeting
halls where Croatians could socialize. They had to act as social
workers, console the grief stricken, as well as publish many Croatian
newspapers and bulletins in America.
The first Croatian Franciscan
in America was Fr. Gaudencije Gorše, who became pastor of St.
Mary's Parish in Steelton after the death of Rev. Božić in 1900.
Strangely, in these early years, Croatian parishes were not established
in states where the richest Croatian immigrants lived. For example,
in California there existed only one Croatian parish for many
years and the founder of this Croatian parish was Rev. Anton Žuvić
in Los Angeles in 1909. The church was completed by 1910. Prior
to Rev. Žuvić another priest named Rev. Anton Glumac was there
for a short time among the Croatians but he did not have a chance
to establish a parish. A Slovenian-Croatian parish was established
in San Francisco by a Slovenian priest named Franjo Turk, but
most Croatians were not satisfied with that combination.
Croatian parishes were being established at that time in the eastern
states, especially in Pennsylvania. Rev. Bosiljko Bekavac worked
with the Croatian people in Sharon, but was not able to build
a church because of arguments that arose between the parishioners.
In 1902 Rev. Mate Matina established a parish in Rankin, while
in 1901 Rev. M. Kajić established a parish in Johnstown called
St. Rok and had a church built in 1905. In Cleveland, Ohio, Rev.
Milan Sutlić established a parish and had a church built in 1904.
Rev. I. Dolinac in 1904 tried to establish a parish in New York
without success, but Fr. Irenej Petričak was successful in 1913.
A Croatian Eastern Rite Catholic parish was established in Cleveland
in 1901. Eastern Rite Catholics, whose ancestors were from ðumberak,
attended this parish, and the first pastors were Rev. Hranilović
and Rev. Severović. In 1903, the first Slovenian-Croatian parish
was established in Chicago. The first priest was a Slovene named
Rev. Janez Kranjec. In 1912, a separate Croatian parish, Sacred
Heart, was established and Rev. Ivan Stipanović came in 1913.
A Croatian Eastern Rite Catholic parish was established in Chicago
in 1905. Fr. Leon Mediƒ established St. Jerome's parish in Chicago
in 1912. Also in Illinois there is a Croatian parish in Joliet,
which was established by Rev. George Violić, in 1906. Msgr. Martin
D. Krmpotić in 1902 established a Croatian parish in Kansas City,
Kansas, and he was pastor there up until his death in 1931. He
is credited for bringing over Croatian and Slovenian sisters who
basically ran the Croatian parish schools. The first sisters,
Adorers of the Blood of Christ, came from Banja Luka in 1906 to
Kansas City. Franciscan sisters from Maribor came to Kansas City
in 1909. Later in 1926 the Daughters of Divine Charity came to
Rankin due to an invitation from Rev. B. Bekavac.
C. The Croatian Franciscan Commissariat
of the Holy Family (1926-1969)
Even though a sizable number of Croatian
priests worked in America in the first decades, an organized community
of priests did not exist. In the first decades of the twentieth
century, a large number of Franciscans from Croatia, as well as
Franciscans from Slovenia and Slovakia, decided to establish a
community which would have its headquarters in America and in
that way make their work more organized and fruitful. The Croatian,
Slovenian and Slovak Franciscan community was established in 1912
and named Holy Cross Commissariat with headquarters in Lemont,
Illinois. The Slovenian Franciscans had the lead role in the Commissariat
which also was dependent upon the Slovenian Franciscan province.
However, this joint community of Slovenians, Croatians, and Slovak
had a short life span. In time, the Croatian Franciscans crystallized
their own identity, and a separate Croatian Franciscan community
was formed. The remnants of the beginnings with the Slovenian
and Slovak Franciscans in part remain in some parishes today.
For instance, Croatian Franciscans are still in a parish in Bethlehem,
Pennsylvania, where there is an almost 100% Slovenian ancestry.
The Croatian Franciscans became independent in 1926. Their community
was canonically confirmed on February 9, 1926 and was named the
Commissariat of the Holy Family. The Vatican Congregation for
religious made this decision. The Croatian Commissariat was separated
from the Slovenian one and was placed under the minister general
of the Franciscan Order which is why it was called "general".
The General of the Order, Fr. Bernardin Klumper, implemented this
decision of the Congregation and issued a decree on February 18,
1927. The Croatian Franciscans who worked to establish this Commissariat
were: Fr. Bono Andačić, Fr. Vjenceslav Vukonić and Fr. Irenej
Petričak. They pleaded with the Croatian provincials to support
them in this decision. Fr. Francis Hase, who was the general visitor
of the Slovenian-Croatian-Slovak Commissariat, also deserves credit
for establishing the Croatian Commissariat. All the Croatian Franciscan
provinces in the homeland were responsible for the care of the
The establishment of the Croatian Commissariat was
an important step in the history of Croatian Catholics in America.
The survival of any one parish no longer was contingent upon one
priest's leaving or death; there was no longer an uncertainty
if anyone was available to take his place. This new Franciscan
community would in years to come help out other non-Franciscan
parishes where no Croatian priests were available. The first members
of the Commissariat were: Fr. Clement Veren (first Commissary),
Fr. Bono Andačić, Fr. Vjenceslav Vukonić, Fr. Irenej Petričak,
Fr. Ambroz Širca, Fr. Leon Medić, Fr. Ambro Mišetić, and Fr. Franjo
Čuturić. They worked in five Croatian parishes: two in Chicago,
one in New York, Steelton and St. Louis. The sixth parish was
in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania even though the majority of parishioners
were Windish Slovenians. During that time Fr. Clement Veren was
their pastor, and he spoke their Slovenian dialect. Even today
the parish remains under the administration of the Croatian Franciscans.
In the beginning, the Croatian Commissariat did not have permanent
headquarters. The headquarters were located wherever the commissary
happened to be, and in the first years of the Commissariat he
was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In 1929 Father Blaž Jerković was
chosen as commissary and the headquarters moved to Chicago because
he was also the pastor of St. Jerome's. After the purchase of
the friary in Chicago in 1943, the Commissariat finally had a
permanent residence as is still the case day. The Commissariat
was directly subject to the Franciscan General Minister in Rome.
Franciscans from many Croatian Franciscan provinces worked in
The Franciscan Provincials from the then Yugoslavia met in
1930 in Karlovac, and it was decided at that meeting to entrust
the Commissariat to the Herzegovinian province. So in 1931 the
Commissariat fell under the jurisdiction of that province. Up
to that point there were already numerous Hercegovinian Franciscans
working in America. After 1931, the number of Herzegovinian Franciscans
increased in the next several decades. The decision to entrust
the Commissariat to the Hercegovinian Franciscan province, was
officially made by the Minister General, Fr. Bonaventure Marrani
on November 30, 1931. That is how the Commissariat ceased to be
known as "general" and became known as "provincial",
which means under the administration of one Franciscan Province.
In the meantime, during World War II (1939-1945), it was impossible
to have communication between the Province and the Commissariat,
so it once again became known as "general", under the
administration of the Minister General. It remained in that state
until 1969, when a decision came from the General Council on September
23, 1969 and the Commissariat was once again entrusted to the
Hercegovinian province. At the same time, it was renamed to "custody",
since it became a provincial commissariat, and the provincial
commissariats in America were renamed "custodies" already
in 1950 through the General Constitutions of the Franciscan Order.
The Custody, in the meantime, was "provincial" for only
a short time. Because of well-known occurrences in which the Hercegovinian
province found herself for the last several decades (the so-called
"Hercegovinian Question"), the Custody in agreement
with the Province in 1976/1977 ceased to be legally dependent
on the Province and again became dependent on the Minister General.
This is the situation today. However, the Croatian Franciscans
who work in the Custody remained linked with numerous and unbroken
ties with the Province, because in most cases, their roots originated
from that Province.
The aforementioned Fr. Gaudencije Gorše was
in America for only two years,1900 - 1902. After him followed
others. Some Franciscans came to America before the First World
War. They were: Fr. Ambrozije Širca, Fr. Luka Terzić, Fr. Leon
Medić, Fr. Placid Belavić, and Fr. Irenej Petričak. Upon their
arrival, they immediately began identifying as many Croatians
as possible and started to establish parishes. The first Herzegovinian
Franciscans came to America after World War I. They were: Fr.
Bono Andačić, Fr. Ambro Mišetić, and Fr. Franjo
All of them, no matter what Franciscan province they came from,
ended up being full fledged members of the Croatian Franciscan
Commissariat. Many of them were there until ripe old ages and
were able to tell the younger priests about their beginnings and
all the work involved with the American Croatians.
Veren was the first commissary of the Croatian Commissariat from
1926 to 1929. A member of the Zagreb Franciscan province of SS.
Cyril and Methodius, his ancestry was Windish Slovenian. He came
to America in 1923 and worked in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania among
the Windish people, who came from Prekomurje, Slovenia. After
he was chosen as the commissary in 1926, he also continued with
his parish duties in Bethlehem. His successor was Fr. Blaž Jerković
(1929 - 1935), a Hercegovinian Franciscan, who at the same time
was pastor at St. Jerome's in Chicago. Fr. David Zrno had the
role of commissary for the longest period of time, 15 years (1935
- 1949). During his administration the first friary was purchased,
St. Anthony's in Chicago in 1943. It became the formal headquarters
of this community up to the present day. Fr. Vendelin Vasilj,
Fr. David's successor, led the Commissariat for nine years; first
from 1949 - 1952, then from 1961 - 1967. The administration of
the Commissariat was assumed by the well-known Hercegovinian Franciscan
and renowned Croatian Historian, Fr. Dominic Mandić (1952 - 1955).
After him Fr. Ferdinand Skoko was chosen as Commissary (1955 -
1961), then Fr. Vendelin Vasilj, and following him came Fr. Vjekoslav
Bambir (1967 - 1973). During his administration the Commissariat
was renamed "Custody" and the Commissary, Custos.
D. The Croatian Franciscan Custody
of the Holy Family (1969 - 2000)
Numerous reasons, especially those
of political nature, had an impact on the growth of the Croatian
population in the United States and later in Canada, as well as
the growth of Croatian Franciscans in the same areas. In 1945,
the tragic changes in the homeland had an enormous influence in
the Croatian community in America. The slaughter of Croatian youth
in Bleiburg, various convoys of death, and the Communist persecution
of anything Croatian or Catholic led large numbers of Croatians
as well as Franciscans to flee the homeland. A large number of
them ended up in America and Canada. It caused further extension
of pastoral, national and cultural activities. The Custody, being
the only clerical organization among Croatians living in America
and Canada, took over many of these obligations. Hard economic
times in the communist Yugoslavia, especially in the first few
decades after World War II, forced out the new generations of
Croatians. The Franciscans established new parishes, took over
parishes that no longer had pastors, published newspapers and
magazines, as well as helped the Croatian Diaspora in their new
Because of the growing number of Franciscans in
Chicago, two more buildings were bought, one in 1944 and the other
in 1952. St. Anthony Friary , consisting of three buildings, is
a fine complex for the Croatian Franciscans in America. The seminarians
resided in the first building until the second building, bought
in 1952, was appropriately renovated. . Besides these three buildings,
the Franciscans opened up two more Franciscan residences which
had different functions. There was a plan to establish a novitiate
at Our Lady of Peace Friary in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. The
house and grounds were bought in 1965 and the residence was canonically
confirmed in 1966. As there was a decline of vocations to the
priesthood, the friary's primary reason for existence was never
actualized. St. Francis Friary in Gulf Breeze, Florida was established
in 1956 so that the brothers could have a vacationing spot. In
1977 the Croatian Franciscan Custody had its largest number of
working places; the main friary in Chicago and two other friaries,
while the brothers ministered in thirteen American and seven Canadian
parishes or missions. Later in 1989 the parish in Kitchener, Ontario
was assumed. The friars published various pamphlets, magazines,
books, and they had their own printery.
However, for many reasons
which will be presented later, the Custody started to minimize
the scope of its activities. As a result, the friaries in Florida
and Pennsylvania were sold. The friars withdrew from some parishes,
and certain publications had to be discontinued. The major reason
for this was the end of many decades of the Serbo-Communist regime,
and the long awaited independence of Croatia. Certain activities
in the immigrant world were no longer necessary. Up to this point
seven friars led the Custody with the title custos: Fr. Vjekoslav
Bambir (1967 - 1973), Fr. Častimir (Timothy) Majić (1973
- 1976), Fr. Marko Kozina (1976 - 1979), Fr. Steve Raich was Custos
(1979 - 1982), Fr. Jozo Abramović (1982 - 1985), Fr. Paul
(1985 - 1994). Fr. Slavko Soldo (1994-2001), Fr. Marko Puljic
E) Waves of Franciscan arrivals
Some Croatian Franciscans came to
America at the beginning of the century. The main reason for their
coming to America was their pastoral work among the Croatian immigrants,
and they were truly the pastoral pioneers. By World War II the
majority of parishes were established, and also the construction
of churches, parish rectories, schools, convents and halls were
completed by that time. However, we should note that a large number
of Franciscans did not come at that time. There were only twenty-six
of whom most returned soon after to their homeland. We can credit
the establishment of parishes or some sort of building construction
to almost all of those first priests. Some ministered as traveling
missionaries seeking Croatians all over the expanse of America:
Fr. David Zrno, Fr. Ljubo Čuvalo and Fr. Franjo Čuturić
were most active in this field.
Up to 1920 only seven Franciscans,
who became members of the future Commissariat, came to America:
Fr. Ambroz Širca (1909), Fr. Bonaventure Bilandžić (1910), Fr.
Irenaeus Petričak, Fr. Luka Terzić, Fr. Placid Belavić, and Fr.
Leon Medić (1912), Fr. Vjenceslav Vukonić (1920). Twelve priests
came in the third decade to work among the Croatians: Fr. Vjenceslav
Vukonić (1920), Fr. Bono Andačić, Fr. Franjo Čuturić, Fr.
Ambro Mišetić (1922), Fr. Clement Veren (1923), Fr. Hugolin Feysz
(1924), Fr. Blaž Jerković (1927), Fr. Filip Šeparović, Fr. Gabro
Cvitanović, Fr. Špiro Andrijanić, and Fr. Zvonko
Fr. Egidija Horvath (1929), and Fr. Vladislav Luburić (1930).
In the fourth decade another seven priests arrived: Fr. David
Zrno, Fr. Anzelmo Slišković (1930), Fr. Ferdinand Skoko, Fr. Teofil
Pehar (1933), Fr. Ljubo Čuvalo (1935) and Fr. Silvije
and Fr. Kornelije Ravlić (1938). We need to also mention Bro.
Alojzije Soldo who came to America in 1910 as an ordinary worker,
then later became a Franciscan and took his solemn vows in 1931.
He was a Franciscan lay brother. Of that first "wave"
of Franciscans none are alive today. The majority are buried in
our Franciscan plot in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery near Chicago, but
some are buried in their homeland. Interestingly, the priest that
lived the longest and died in 1996 when he was 107 years old,
was Fr. Irenaeus Petričak.
The second wave of immigrant Franciscans
came after World War II fleeing the bloody communist regime. In
this new wave we need to include those young Franciscans, who
as youngsters fled their homeland for the free world only to end
up in refugee camps for some time in various European countries,
and later became candidates for the Franciscan Order. They completed
a good portion of their education in Europe then later came to
America in order to complete their studies in philosophy or theology
and to be ordained as priests. There was also a small number of
Franciscans that came from Croatian families already living in
America. They were born in America but had a strong desire to
become Franciscans and work amongst the Croatians in America.
There was a total of thirty-four priests in this group. A large
number of these priests are still active, while some are retired
in the friary in Chicago and some have gone on to their eternal
peace. Immediately after the war, the following priests came to
America: Fr. Vjekoslav Bambir, Fr. Myron Lasić, Fr. Slavko
Fr. Vilim Primorac, Fr. Celestin Raguñ, Fr. Serafin Vištica, Fr.
Ignacije Jurković, and Fr. Vendelin Vasilj (1946). Following them
came: Fr. Ivo Sivrić (1947), Fr. Berto Dragićević, Fr. Kruno Pandžić
(1949), Fr. Kvirin Vasilj, Fr. Oton Knezović and Fr. Zoran
(1950), Fr. Timothy Majić, and Fr. Dominic Mandić (1951), Fr.
Tugomir Soldo and Fr. Predrag Kordić (1952), Fr. Trpimir Musa,
Fr. Franjo Radišić (1953), Fr. Dominik Ćorić, Fr. Vitomir
(1954), Fr. Gracijan Raspudić, Fr. Bruno Raspudić (1957). Four
"war-time" candidates came to America in 1951 following
the abolition of the seminary in Grottaferata, Italy: Fr. Marko
Kozina (ordained in 1959), Fr. Eugen Petroviƒ (ordained in 1960),
Fr. Jozo Abramović (ordained in 1961) and Fr. Paul Maslač (ordained
in 1962). During the war and post war years, there were six priests
ordained who were of Croatian descent and were members of the
community: Fr. Charles Pleše (ordained in Mostar in 1940, and
in 1941 returned to America), Fr. Steve Raich (1943), Fr. Bono
Bilandžić (1943, who came to America as a youngster in 1910),
Fr. Theodore Benković (ordained in Mostar in 1941, and returned
to America in 1946), and Fr. Patrick Cigich (1946), and Fr. Jerome
Some of the aforementioned friars were professors
and youth counselors to the seminarians in Italy and then came
to America once the seminaries closed. Others were studying for
their doctorates in various European universities and because
of the war in their homeland could not return. Hence, they went
to America. Finally, the third wave of immigrants includes all
the friars who came to work among the Croatians after World War
II up to the present but not as a direct result of the war. Here
we also include the friars who were born in America or educated
here and are members of the Custody. Some from this "wave"
returned back to their homeland while others left the Order. Fr.
Rufin Šiliƒ ( 1965) , Fr. Mladen Čuvalo, Fr. Nenad Galić,
Fr. Zvonimir Kutleša and Fr. Karlo Zovko (1967), Fr. Leon Galić
and Fr. Ilija Puljić (1969), Fr. Ivan Bradvica (1971). Fr. Ante
Čuvalo (ordained in 1972) and Fr. Hrvoslav Ban (1973), Fr.
Slavko Soldo and Fr. Rafo Romić (1973), Fr. Jozo Čuić (1975);
ordained as priests in 1977 in America were Fr. Jozo Grubišić
and Fr. Svetozar Kraljević (who came here in 1975); Fr. Dionizije
Lasić, Fr. Ljubo Krasić (1974). Of the priests born in America,
Fr. Anthony Dukić was ordained in 1957, Fr. Leonard Mepugorac
(1958), Fr. Lawrence Frankovich (1966), Fr. Vincent Cvitkoviƒ
and Fr. Robert Galinac (1969), Fr. Matthew Ruyechan (1980), Fr.
Gregory Furjanić (1980) and Fr. Stjepan Bedeniković who came from
Croatia in 1966 as a youngster (1985).
In later years the following
priests came or were ordained here: Fr. Drago Tolj (1977), Fr.
Šimun Ćorić (1978), Fr. Vlatko Mišetić, Fr. Marijan Pehar, Fr.
Stjepan Pandžić (1982), Fr. Marko Puljić (1983), Fr. Stipe Pervan
(1984), Fr. Miro Grubišić (1986), Fr. Ljubo Lebo and Bro. Alojzije
Topić (1987), Fr. Veselko Kvesić (1988), Fr. Ivan Prusina (1992),
Fr. Jozo Grbeš (came 1992, ordained 1993), Fr. Slaven Mijatović
(1994), Fr. Robert Kiš (1994), Fr. Valentin Vukoja (1995), Fr.
Jago Soče (1996), Fr. Robert Jolić (1997), Fr. Nikola
(1999) . While in training, several candidates lived in the Custody
for a short time, and they were: Fr. Mile Vlašić (1992-93), Fr.
Ante Ivanković Jr. (1992-93), Fr. Šimun Romić (1996-97), Fr. Danko
Perutina (1998-99), Fr. Dario Dodig (1998-99), Fr. Mario Knezović
(1999-2000), Fr. Tomislav Puljić (1999-2000), and Fr. Ivica
F. The Friaries
1. St. Anthony's Friary, Chicago,
Every religious community must secure
for itself an administrative center. That was an especially important
factor for the community of the Croatian Franciscans who performed
extensive pastoral duties throughout the United States of America.
The need for a central friary became more evident especially after
1931 when the Commissariat of the Croatian Franciscans was entrusted
to the Hercegovinian Province, from which the substantial number
of the priests arrived after that date. Aside from the fact that
the friary would be the administrative center of the community,
it would also have to assume another specific goal in the immediate
and distant future. Since many friars remained in the United States,
there was a need for living quarters where in dignity they would
spend their much deserved retirement. Since most of the friars
were fulfilling their pastoral duties in the Chicago area, and
since Chicago was geographically most convenient and central for
other friars, it was the most logical location for the central
The members of Commissariat at their 1941 meeting in South
Chicago made a decision to immediately set up headquarters, possibly
one which would not be associated with any one parish. Fr. David
Zrno, then the Commissary, suggested that the friars in Chicago
find an appropriate location and facility spacious enough for
a friary. Because of limited finances it was felt that a used
building might be most appropriate. At that time the University
of Chicago was selling a well maintained building in Hyde Park
at a very reasonable price. At one time the building was owned
by a wealthy Mr. Ryerson. To confirm the beauty of this structure,
it is sufficient to say that this building received the first
prize at the 1893 Columbian exhibition for the best architectural
design in Chicago for that year. Fr. David left Rankin, where
he was conducting missions, for Chicago to conduct the negotiations
with the University.
The building on Drexel Blvd. was purchased
in 1943. Its advantages were that it had a large courtyard, was
well built, in a good location, almost secluded and the price
was very reasonable.. Its disadvantage was that it could not be
immediately occupied, since it required some repairs. In addition
to the purchase of that building the friars bought another with
a sizeable piece of land and courtyard which measured 90m x 70m.
This building had served as the horse stable and quarters for
the workers. Immediate renovations were started on the building
to conform it to the needs of the friars.. The work went along
quickly. Some of the friars were anxiously waiting for a place
to work on their publications. In 1942 the community started printing
a publication, The Croatian Catholic Messenger and in 1944 the
Croatian Almanac. The Commissariat administrative office also
moved into the newly established friary. Fr. Silvije Grubišić
wrote in 1945: "When the holy cross was placed above the
massive stone blocks and columns on the facade of the building
above the main entrance, the building took on the appearance of
a structure which could have only been meant to be a monastery
during the rise of Medieval Christian architecture." The
friars moved into their new headquarters on June 5th, and the
solemn dedication was on September 3rd,1944. Fr. David Zrno, Commissary,
was the celebrant, and a Dominican priest, Fr. Reginald Rabadan
delivered the sermon. Friars and friends participated in the mass
celebrated in the courtyard. The choirs of St. Jerome and the
Sacred Heart from Chicago sang under the direction of Sr. Kalista.
The benefit of the decision to acquire this building and convert
it to a Franciscan friary, would best be seen in the events which
followed World War II. After the fall of the Independent State
of Croatia, and the beginning of the horrifying slaughter and
persecution by the atheist Partisan Army and their leaders, numerous
Croatians, and among them, not a small number of Franciscan priests
from Herzegovina, escaped to Western Europe, and from there to
United States. The first shelter on the new continent for many
of the Franciscans was in fact the friary of St. Anthony on Drexel
Blvd. At one time as many as 19 priests resided there. Those Franciscans
who were not fortunate enough to flee endured a tragic destiny;
sixty-six of the Franciscan priests from Herzegovina alone were
slaughtered by the Communists. Many other innocent priests slaved
for many years in the Yugoslav prisons.
Fr. Dominic Mandić, a
well known Franciscan priest from Herzegovina, organized in Italy
a seminary for the youth who wished to become Franciscan priests.
However, that seminary was short lived. Thereafter, the seminarians
were relocated to the United States in 1952. Their accommodations
had to be considered, and for that reason a new building was purchased,
the third in line, next to the one on Drexel Blvd. That building
had been owned by Swift Packing House and at that time was vacant.
It was purchased in 1952 and immediately renovated under the supervision
of the commissary, Fr. Venedelin Vasilj. The friary was relocated
from the original location on Drexel Blvd. to the new home on
adjacent Ellis Avenue, and at the same time the seminarians were
housed in the building on Drexel Blvd. The new friary was formally
dedicated on August 3, 1952. His Eminence Cardinal Samuel Stritch
was present for this festive occasion. Through these five decades
these buildings were well maintained and improved, but the new
activities, and especially publishing, motivated the community
leaders to renovate the basement area of the Drexel building in
1975. The middle building, between the Drexel and Ellis buildings,
which at one time served as Swift's and Ryerson's horse stable,
was transformed into a very functional facility. A small chapel
was constructed on the ground floor of that building in 1945;
to this date it is used for that purpose. Beautiful European marble
covers the inside walls. Stained glass windows and statues enhance
the interior. The chapel as well as the friary is dedicated to
St. Anthony. In 1947 the printing presses were purchased for the
Franciscan publishing house which was located in the same building
next to the chapel. The rooms on the top floor were renovated
for the use of the sisters who since 1968 have worked at the friary
. These are Franciscan sisters from the Hercegovinian Province.
The original friary on Drexel Blvd.
now houses the administrative offices of the Croatian Franciscan
Custody. In recent years the building was renovated and furnished
so that it can accommodate a larger number of friars, especially
during the time of meetings and the annual retreats. The building
housed a number of Franciscan publications such as the Croatian
Catholic Messenger, Croatian Almanac, Danica and ZIRAL-books.
Likewise it houses the very active Croatia Ethnic Institute. Valuable
documents are preserved there especially those closely tied to
the history of the Croatian parishes throughout the United States
and Canada. There is also a well maintained library within the
premises of the Institute. As the building deteriorated in the
last decade, the brothers at the chapter in 1994 decided to renovate
and make alterations. In the period from 1995 to 1997 the ground
floor was renovated; a very attractive showcase was made for the
displays of the Croatian Ethnic Institute. After that renovations
took place on the second and third floors. Due to a large number
of retired friars there were no longer enough rooms available
in the Ellis building of the friary. Therefore in 1997 the office
of the Custos was relocated to the second floor on Drexel Blvd.
The third floor was designed to be used by those friars who come
to Chicago for their retreats or meetings. The roof was first
repaired and then storm windows were installed. The woodwork of
the interior was repaired on the staircases and in the hallways
and bedrooms. Only then did the shades of color which were once
created by the magnificent carpenters become evident. The house
once again showed forth its original glory.
2. St. Francis Friary in Gulf Breeze,
Since the Commissariat owned only one friary, many felt
the need to establish another residence. They looked for a place
with a warmer climate, so that the friars could use it for retreats
or vacations. The commissary, Fr. Ferdinand Skoko, authorized
Fr. Silvije Grubišiƒ to find an appropriate location in Florida.
Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen of Mobile, Alabama was ready to give
the friars permission to establish a residence in his archdiocese;
therefore the friars found a suitable location in Gulf Breeze,
Florida on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, near Pensacola. The
house was purchased in 1956, and in the same year it was established
as a residence. Fr. Ivo Sivrić as the first local superior resided
there for a short period of time. He purchased all the necessary
furniture for the friars who would come to this newly established
friary.. In the same year a new superior, Fr. Patrick Cigić, arrived
with two other friars, Fr. Oton Knezović and Fr. Predrag
The friars who lived in this residence served at Hulbert and Eglin
U.S. Air Force Bases as civilian auxiliary chaplains.
a decision was made to expand the residence and to purchase six
and a half acres of land. The renovations were entrusted to the
house superior Fr. Theodore Benković. The extension to the house
and additional expansion were finished in the same year, and the
formal blessing was given by Archbishop Toolen in 1963. The friars
left the residence in 1977 because its main purpose ceased to
exist. Namely, the friars did not use it enough for their vacations
or retreats. The last superior of the friary was Fr. Vjekoslav
3. Our Lady of Peace Friary in Beaver
The Franciscans had the intention
of opening another friary in the United States where the novitiate
would be located. This would not only be for the young Croatian
friars but also for other European based Franciscan communities.
After permission was granted by the Bishop Wright of Pittsburgh,
in 1965, a house was purchased in Beaver Falls, near Pittsburgh.
Many Croatians lived in that area. The Franciscans committed themselves
not only to establish the new friary, but also to assist in the
parishes of the area.. Already in 1966 this house, with the permission
granted by the General of the Franciscan order, was canonically
established. Twenty acres of land, with much greenery and orchards,
on which the house was located were also purchased.
Franciscans who arrived in Beaver Falls were Fr. Bruno Raspudić,
the superior of the residence, Fr. Ivo Sivrić, Fr. Rufin
Šilić and the candidate for the Franciscan brotherhood Josip Bedeković.
They renovated the existing houses and altered it for use as a
friary. Since room was scarce a small chapel was built, so that
spiritual exercises could be conducted. Bishop Vincent Leonard,
auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh, blessed the chapel and the renovated
building in 1970. The grounds surrounding the friary were beautified
so that the entire area took on a new and much nicer appearance.
However, the original intention of establishing a Franciscan novitiate
in Beaver Falls never materialized for the simple reason that
there were not enough candidates. For that reason this house was
eventually used for days of recollection and other such activities.
The Franciscan fathers who resided at this residence conducted
these activities. Eventually the residence was closed on October
4, 1996, the feast of St. Francis. There were many reasons for
this including the closing of many Croatian parishes in Pennsylvania
were the friars served; such as Ambridge, Monessen, Rankin and
Steelton. There was no longer any need for a central facility
for the Franciscan parishes in that part of United States. The
house was sold, and today this facility is used to house the mobile
elderly, under the symbolic name of "Franciscan Manor".
The last superior of this friary was Fr. Bruno Raspudić who
took care of this residence for many years.
Activities (Part 2)