For many years in the Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, it was customary for friars to profess their vows on August 16, no matter day of the week it was. In recent years, the date is much more flexible. But it was 60 years ago today (August 16, 1960) that Br. Phil Wilhelm professed his first vows. It was 65 years ago today that Fr. Dennet professed his first vows (1955), and Fr. Jeremy did so 69 years ago, 1951! So we honor them today as well! We invited Br. Phil to share some of his story.
With 60 years behind me, I am most thankful for God calling me to serve him as a Franciscan brother. I have been blessed with good health and the opportunity to serve the Order, young seminarians, especially through working with my hands. I appreciate that my parents gave us 11 children a solid foundation – being examples of prayer and devotion: to Mass, to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, to the Blessed Mother. I started serving Mass in the 4th grade, which I did until I left to join the Franciscans in 1955. It was in my senior year at Catholic Central High School that I found a pamphlet telling of the life of Franciscan Brothers. I remember seeing a picture of Br. Francis Williams who cooked and Br. Giles who served as porter. I asked my mother if I could write for more information. I think I surprised both Mom and Dad because I had not talked much about what I might do after High School. They agreed, and within a month, the Vocation Director, Fr. Paul came to visit. The idea of “working with my hands” as a Brother appealed to me. I entered St. Anthony Friary in Cincinnati with eight other men. My year of Novitiate was important to me because I learned much about the life and spirit of St. Francis. After first profession, I was assigned to Duns Scotus College, here in Southfield, for five years. While there, I began to feel the calling to serve in the Philippine missions. In 1966, I was sent to Baybay, Leyte to assist in the training school for Brothers. I worked there for two years with eight young men, and then I was transferred to the seminary so that the students could attend college. I worked with the college students while assisting in the laundry and kitchen. Later I took over the accounting. In time I came to work with three Secular Franciscan communities. I was also invited to visit a leprosarium near the Seminary, a ministry I came to love. I took some seminarians with me, and we learned of their way of life, repaired houses, helped in clean up, and visited homes and nurseries. I still keep in contact with some of the people with Hansen’s disease to this day. In 2002 I returned to the US for a vacation and treatment of colon cancer. When I returned to the Philippines, I served in the Novitiate. I continued my work with Secular Franciscans. In looking back, I feel grateful for my health and the opportunity to give of myself to seminarians, members of the Secular Franciscan Order, and those with Hansen’s disease. I am grateful that I could spend time before the Blessed Sacrament, and pray Morning and Evening prayer in community. I am grateful to have a chapel to pray in! If I were able to return, I would first visit the Hansenite patients and would enjoy ministry with the seminarians. I am grateful to God for His mercy, his patience and his love.