When approaching St. Anthony’s, the first thing I encounter is a beautiful stone wall.
Originally, this wall was built to protect the seminarians from the distractions of the larger society found “outside of the wall”. In medieval times, walls surrounded the city; outside the wall was where the marginalized, the lepers, and other undesirables were forced to live. The city wall was also a protection against enemy armies which could do harm to the residents. This understanding continued into the early 20th century in religious thought and life; thus, a wall to keep the friars removed and therefore protected from the perceived contamination of the larger world.
In time, this theology developed due to a deeper understanding of the Franciscan charism. The friars realized that they were called to minister to those “outside the wall” as their spiritual father, St. Francis, had done. Instead of removing themselves from the world, the friars felt called to those on the margins of society. So, the Capuchin friars moved themselves and their seminarians from St. Anthony’s to Milwaukee’s inner city, were they continue to minister to the poor and homeless.
When encountering this beautiful wall, you will notice that there are no gates at the entrance. The wall remains; however, it no longer serves to separate us from society. Now it stands as boundary of protection, a welcome to cross into a safe place. This wall marks off a space that allows us to reflect, renew, and regenerate. When I pass St. Anthony’s wall, I feel I have entered a place where I can be accepted and loved for who I am (as we all are), beloved of God. This wall is a symbol of the protection from the wounds and scars that we continue to carry. Behind these stone walls, our personal boundaries are respected. St. Anthony’s is a safe place to share your pain or concerns, knowing that whatever is shared is held in confidence, without judgment, and with unconditional acceptance. We are thus enabled to return to our homes, churches, and workplaces “beyond the wall” to become “living stones” to protect the dignity and honor the worth of all we encounter, recognizing the Christ who is mirrored in each one.