“All Are Welcome” is more than a catch phrase here – it is a tradition that long predates the current lay leadership. Early evidence of this welcome was found in an undated entry in the October 1951 House Chronicle:
Kiwanis Visit. “You have made a lot of friends today,” said one of the members of the Wausau Kiwanis Club to the clerics. He had just finished the tour of the friary that had been granted to club members. Over half the members were non-Catholics, many of them sporting Masonic rings and emblems, but they were all deeply impressed by the friary. The visit replaced the customary speech after one of their regular Monday banquets. One said they had never had such a big representation as they had for the visit. Fathers Eric, Emil, Ambrose and Nathaniel were the guides as they went into all parts of the friary and found out how the Capuchins live.
Only those old enough to have experienced the Catholic Church prior to Vatican Council II in the mid- 1960’s can appreciate how truly unprecedented that event would have been in 1951 when Catholics were all but forbidden to interact with non-Catholics and were forbidden to become or even associate with Masons. Still today, we frequently receive skeptical looks and raised eyebrows when we remind people that St. Anthony’s is open to all, regardless of our Catholic roots. Some seem to expect that because we have the Eucharist reserved in our chapel and obviously Catholic artwork throughout the building, we are only open to Catholic visitors and guests. We certainly enjoy welcoming them, and they span the broad spectrum of all that Catholicism is, can be and was meant to be, a universal faith.
But our Franciscan roots also mean that we are open to all seeking a deeper relationship with God, self, others and creation. That charism calls us to welcome other Christians, non-Christians, those who practice Eastern traditions or Native traditions and those who have no religious affiliation. In normal times, the ratio of Catholics to non-Catholics is surprisingly fairly evenly split. With the pandemic stretching well into its second year, we miss so many of our normally regular non-Catholic visitors, our friends who would generally have been here at least once in that span but have been more cautious about gathering in groups.
Maybe the skepticism and confusion of others is rooted in the misconception that someone who is non-Catholic cannot feel welcome in a house that does not hide its Catholic roots. Like the Masonics who visited in 1951, maybe what brings them back is that they were received with respect and asked for no more than mutual respect of our different ways of seeking.
In our society where it seems we are expected to fear the other because they do not look like us, think like us, believe like us, or share our culture, a place like St. Anthony’s presents a rare opportunity to gather as the friars and Kiwanis members did 70 years ago, to meet others on the grounds of mutual respect and learn from others rather than judge them based on gossip or hearsay or misinformation. When we are able to do so, we find we often have much more in common than not, and we see each other as children of the One Creator, regardless of the name we may ascribe to our Creator.
For the opportunities to meet and learn from brothers and sisters who look different, think different, believe different or come from a different culture, we say Deo Gratias!