Priest assumes new role as guardian of Franciscan Friars


By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Until recently, Father Louis Maximilian M. Smith, F.I., has served as the so-called “Father Guardian” of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate at Our Lady’s Chapel in downtown New Bedford and the general manager of the order’s Radio CorMariae FM 88.5 radio station.

Now, Father Maximilian’s longtime vicar, Father Matthias Sasko, F.I., has been appointed to take over the role of what is akin to the order’s superior.

“It’s just a normal thing for different Friars to be assigned the task of superior or guardian as he’s called specifically in the Franciscan life,” Father Sasko recently told The Anchor. “So his three-year term was simply coming to an end and since I had been his vicar for the past three years, I was asked to continue in his place for the next three years. So nothing extraordinary happened, really.”

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Father Sasko will now oversee the important apostolic work of the five Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate who currently live and work within the Fall River Diocese. This includes not only maintaining Radio CorMariae, but also the daily operation of Our Lady’s Chapel, and providing Sacramental and Liturgical support to diocesan parishes and priests as needed.

“Our mission is to be an auxiliary force, a helping force for the diocese and a parish in wherever our community is situated,” Father Sasko said. “We offer help like hearing Confessions daily, which maybe not every parish is able to do. We also celebrate daily Masses — one in the early morning, one at noon — and one-on-one ministries when people need to talk, that type of thing. Just having the chapel open all day from 5 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., is what many individual parishes are unable to offer for different reasons. So we try to supply those ministries in collaboration with perpetual Eucharistic Adoration.”

Founded by two Franciscan Friars — Father Stefano Maria Manelli and Father Gabriel Maria Pellettieri — the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate was established as a diocesan institute by St. John Paul II in 1990 and later erected as a pontifical institute of religious life in 1998. The order, which is comprised of ordained priests, Friars, Sisters and laity, follows the example of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe and maintains a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother as the conduit or “Mediatrix” to Jesus Christ.

“In addition to that we offer apostolic endeavors of evangelization,” Father Sasko said. “For example, we are closely involved with book publishing. So we are actively spreading the Good News, especially leading people to Our Lord through Our Lady — to Jesus through Mary. That’s kind of our charism.”

Given the shortage of ordained priests and the increasing number who are reaching the age of retirement in the diocese, the support of the Franciscan Friars remains critical.

“When a priest maybe needs help covering his Masses or being on call, we can assist at a parish or sometimes by being on call at the hospital to substitute as a chaplain,” Father Sasko said. “We definitely make ourselves available as much as we can, and we’re privileged to be able to offer that help.”

The presence of Our Lady’s Chapel in downtown New Bedford, located next door to the city’s central police station, is also invaluable to the diocese.

“There are a lot of people who visit us, there is a lot of foot traffic, so we have many visitors to the chapel,” Father Sasko said. “We don’t always get to know all of them personally, because maybe they’re here just once, or they just come in for a quick prayer, but it seems to be a place that attracts a lot of the faithful.”

As a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate for the past 13 years, Father Sasko was ordained a priest five years ago, and his first assignment after ordination was Our Lady’s Chapel.

“Since almost the beginning of my stay here, I’ve been helping the superior in one capacity or another and as vicar specifically since 2015,” he said. “Vicar is a term that kind of means vice, like a vice superior, so to speak. So when a superior is absent or unable to get something done, you step in to help; you’re there to be his closest collaborator. That’s kind of the mission of a vicar.”

Now that Father Maximilian’s three-year term as Father Guardian is up, he will remain at the friary in New Bedford and will continue working with various ministries, including providing Sacramental support to the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta that also serves the diocese.

Having just begun his tenure as Father Guardian, Father Sasko was recently honored to speak at the local Coast-to-Coast Rosary Rally held October 7 at Fort Taber in New Bedford, which the Friars helped organize along with St. Anthony of Padua Parish in the city.

“It was an initiative from St. Anthony’s Parish in New Bedford, and a good number of parishioners there are also chapel-goers here as well, so there’s a lot of overlap,” Father Sasko said. “And the chapel kind of emerged as one of the leaders in this initiative, with the Friars being involved in different ways. I was involved minimally, except for just being asked to speak when everything was all done.”

Looking ahead, Father Sasko said the Friars will be celebrating the 16th anniversary of Perpetual Adoration at Our Lady’s Chapel with a special Holy Hour on Sunday, November 18 that will this year be offered up to pray for our American bishops and the Universal Church in the wake of the recent sexual abuse crisis.

“Usually we commemorate the anniversary with a holy hour for some specific intention, (and) this year we’re hoping to dedicate the holy hour for that intention,” Father Sasko said. “We try to do something twice a year. We did one in March for the Holy Father. Not all parishes can offer perpetual adoration — it’s a precious service and it is very much appreciated.”

Noting that prayer is one of the strongest responses to the crisis, Father Sasko agreed it’s an issue that needs to be discussed openly so that “people can cope with it, deal with it, and kind of persevere through it.”

“Different people have different questions and different struggles with it, so it’s multifaceted and sometimes you might deal with an actual victim, and that, of course, is very one-on-one and very personal,” he said. “But I think now maybe people are struggling with trusting the Church. You’ve got to find a way to reach out with answers of faith.

“We all have to pray. I also think a heroic observance of chastity would help because that’s kind of what’s conspicuously missing now. You have to encourage people to just continue living a life virtuously offered up, for that intention of healing the Mystical Body, through prayer and sacrifice. It’s almost always the same — one person makes the mess, and the others have to clean it up. That’s kind of the reparation part of it, the redemptive suffering. But we shouldn’t be afraid to confront it. We can’t just ignore a problem that the faithful are very keenly feeling. We have to be able to talk about it and guide people through it.”

Father Sasko said the order will continue to help organize the popular A Day With Mary events at various parishes around the diocese, and they recently resumed a similar apostolate known as the Marian Cenacle.

“The Marian Cenacle is a family apostolate that was active years ago,” Father Sasko said. “Because the members involved in the past had their own families, they had to tend to their own kids. But recently we’ve been able to resume it.”

The Marian Cenacle is similar to the Pilgrim Virgin statue apostolate wherein a statue of Our Lady is brought into a family’s home for a week or two stay. The families, in turn, are asked to pray the Rosary daily and consecrate themselves to the Blessed Mother.

“After that, Our Lady does the rest,” Father Sasko said. “We go from family to family, so it’s been a beautiful apostolate. It’s been really touching families and we are primarily conveying the necessity of prayer and asking Our Lady for those graces that sometimes she wants to grant, but can’t unless we ask for them. 

“We usually do it every two weeks, but in October we’re doing it every week as it’s the month of the Holy Rosary, so every week we visit a new family and we’ll be bringing the statue and it will stay there for the whole week at one home. We’re booked already into 2019, so it’s become very popular.”

The term “cenacle” refers to the Upper Room where Mary gathered with the Apostles after Our Lord’s ascension, and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit so they could go out and proclaim the Gospel to the world.

“So that’s kind of the etymology of it and the reasoning behind it,” he said. “In the same way, we try to gather families around Our Lady to receive all the gifts of the Holy Spirit necessary to courageously live out their faith.”

Although he’s only a couple of weeks into his tenure, Father Sasko is confident he can handle the role of Father Guardian with the help and support of his fellow Franciscans, especially Father Maximilian.

“It’s been good for me, having been the vicar under him, it’s been a real learning experience,” Father Sasko said. “So you get to learn the job before you’re asked to take it and I am very appreciative of that. I had a relatively good amount of time without any weighty responsibilities, and I’m glad I had someone here in the community to learn from.”


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