General Historical Review
Custody Activities (Part 2)

The Printery and Publishing

The Friars (Part 3)
The Deceased Friars
      Who is St. Jerome?
      Cardinal Stepinac Way
      Short History of Our
      Croatian Franciscan
      Directions to St. Jerome
      The Oldest Parishioner

The 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.

The 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.

Though 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.




 Written and edited by:

Fr. Robert Jolić and Fr. Jozo Grbeš 

 Chicago, Illinois

The 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 prosperous.

                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 greater excellence.

Francis Penavic: Journey of Faith


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 Božić, 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 Varaždin. 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. 

However, 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. 

Many 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 đumberak, 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 Medić 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 Commissariat. 

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 it. 

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 Čuturić. 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. 

Fr. Clement 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 surroundings. 

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 Maslač (1985 - 1994). Fr. Slavko Soldo (1994-2001), Fr. Marko Puljic (2001 -).

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 Mandurić (1928), 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 Grubišić, 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 Luburić, Fr. Vilim Primorac, Fr. Celestin Raguž, 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 Ostojić (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 Naletilić (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 Petrović (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 Kućan (1951). 

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 Šilić ( 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 Cvitković 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 Pašalić (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 Majstorović (1999-2000).


F. The Friaries

1. St. Anthony's Friary, Chicago, Illinois

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 friary. 

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, Florida 

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 Grubišić 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 Kordić. The friars who lived in this residence served at Hulbert and Eglin U.S. Air Force Bases as civilian auxiliary chaplains. 

In 1962 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 Bambir. 

3. Our Lady of Peace Friary in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania

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. 

The first 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.

   Custody Activities (Part 2)                                          TOP                                             HOME

Copyright © 2001 St Jerome Croatian Catholic Church. All Rights Reserved.
Website Design: CT5