STEUBENVILLE - Twenty-one years after arriving in Steubenville, the Rev. Richard Davis, TOR, is preparing to leave.
The 67-year-old self-described "bridge builder" who spent his first 16 years in religious life as a Franciscan brother, will be moving to the Franciscan Third Order Regular Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Provincial offices in Loretto, Pa., where he will assume his new duties as minister provincial.
"I am in a state of my life where many people are thinking and planning for retirement. They are ratcheting down in their lives. But my life is ratcheting up. And I thank God for giving me another opportunity to serve him. I was surprised when I was named minister provincial, but at the same time I knew it was always possible. I was often kidded about being a heart beat away from the position, but I felt Father Nicholas Polichnowski, TOR, was in good health and would be there for a long time. When we held our general chapter meeting of Franciscan Third Order Regular delegates from all over the world in Gaming, Austria, in May, Father Nicholas was elected minister general of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis. He will now oversee the ministries of more than 900 TOR priests and brothers serving in 12 countries. And in turn I was named minister provincial," related Davis during a Monday interview.
IN THE GARDEN — The Rev. Richard Davis, TOR, stood in the courtyard of the Holy Spirit Friary on Monday. Davis said he worked with the artist who designed the statue of St. Francis of Assisi embracing Jesus on the cross. Davis also cares for the roses in the garden area and said he will have to prune them one more time before he leaves the friary. -- Dave Gossett
Davis has spent the last 49 years as a Franciscan brother and priest. He served as a high school teacher at Franciscan-staffed high schools for 21 years before his initial assignment to Franciscan University of Steubenville.
He has most recently served as vice president of community relations at the university.
"During our meeting I realized in a matter of minutes my whole life was changing. As it was happening I prayed to God to give me the grace I need to be a father and brother to my fellow friars. I also realized my love for the people of Steubenville and the Ohio Valley was going to change. And I had to come back and prepare people for a transition. As the new minister provincial I am called to be a servant to my brothers," continued Davis.
"I have very much enjoyed working with people of all faiths in the area. But our lives as Franciscan friars is all about moving on. You have to have the spirit of detachment. This is the best example of the vow of poverty because I am letting go of something I love and people I love. But I will still be involved in an indirect way," he said.
Davis said he plans to be moved into his new home in Loretto by July 1.
"I will be part of the community there, but for the first time in 49 years I will have my own private residence and office," Davis explained.
"As a kid growing up in Buffalo I never dreamed I would be where I am today. I have very much enjoyed living and working in the Steubenville area and meeting so many wonderful people. When I arrived here in 1992, this was the last place I ever thought I would be stationed. The charismatic renewal was taking place at the college and I wasn't a member of the renewal. But I was welcomed to this community and God has used me as his instrument to reach out to different people and organizations in the community," Davis said.
"When I joined the Steubenville Rotary I was told it was a very Protestant group. But Rotary is 'service above self' and that was a natural fit for me. I have met so many good people in the Rotary, the chamber of commerce, the city government and regular people in town, and of course the students at the university. I will miss being here and seeing so many people," said Davis.
"I hope people will pray for me as I will continue pray for them. I will still be part of the university as chairman of the board of trustees. I will also be involved in the ministry at St. Francis College in Loretto. I will always call Steubenville home. It has been a wonderful 21 years for me. But now it is time to go to our motherhouse," remarked Davis.
"Since 1946, it has always been one friar after another. More than 170 friars have served in Steubenville since they first arrived in the city. God gave us the grace to serve him. And 20 Franciscan friars will continue to serve the university and the community after I am gone," Davis said.
Davis hesitated when asked about any particular event or achievement during his tenure at the school.
"God gave me the ability to be a bridge builder in the community. There was a feeling of the university people on the hill and the rest of the town. I was involved in the Academy of Life Long Learning that brought together people of all faiths and beliefs. Those people inspired me. And I have really been blessed. This has been a wonderful assignment for me and I am glad I was able to build bridges into the community," stated Davis.
Davis said he also is proud to have been part of the planning for the new Holy Spirit Friary on the university's campus.
"Our old monastery was getting a bit old and this one is so beautiful and welcoming. We have a very, very happy community which isn't always easy to find in a religious order. And our Franciscan community will be in the good hands of Father Terence Henry who I appointed as university chancellor and local minister of the Holy Spirit Friary," Davis said.
"We pray together here in the Friary. We give praise to God and pray for the university. And we spend time in our community together," said Davis.
And as he walked through the Friary he helped design, Davis paused for several minutes in the chapel.
"This is the heart of our house. I also serve as the sacristan for our chapel and I have told my brothers they will have to choose someone to take on those duties as well as taking care of the roses in our courtyard," laughed Davis.
"The Franciscan friars who came here in 1946 arrived with nothing. Now we have a very settled place with our rooms and community rooms and a beautiful garden. God's grace will continue to work here. We have two candles always lit outside of the chapel for the benefactors who made our Friary possible for many years into the future," he noted.
"I will soon be announcing the Franciscan friar who will take my place in the community relations office. I believe the university and the community will be pleased with the appointment," added Davis.
Davis is fond of quoting a French born Quaker missionary who came to the United States in 1795 seeking religious freedom.
"Stephen Grellet said, 'I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.' I try to follow those words," Davis said.
"I remember going to the cathedral downtown. It must have been a winter month because it was very cold outside. And as I walked toward the cathedral steps I saw a man with no coat standing outside. He asked if I could help him. I gave him the $20 in my pocket but then worried he might use it for something else. Then I saw him go into a building that rented rooms and I knew he was going to get warm. I felt I had just met Jesus. That's why I don't ever want to pass anyone by," related Davis.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)