This is the sixth and final episode of an ongoing series. For the previous episode, click here.
“Never go to the restroom in the middle of a board meeting.” These words of wisdom, learned the hard way, are the reason that Fr. Joseph Nangle, OFM and I ever lived together. A councilor of the province from 2011 to three weeks ago, Fr. Joe, then 82, excused himself from a meeting about replacing the current director of post-novitiate formation only to find, when he returned, that he had been voted the one for the job.
“Never go to the restroom in the middle of a board meeting” he told us in a tongue-in-cheek way when he moved into our house. “You’ll find yourself with jobs you never wanted.”
And yet, the job he never wanted is the job that he found himself doing. With great enthusiasm no less. At 82. That’s Joe Nangle for you.
A Franciscan Friar since before my parents were born, he’s lived an interesting, unorthodox, inspiration, radical life that never ceases to amaze anyone. A former missionary in Lima, Peru, Joe has spent the last thirty years living in an intentional community of lay and religious men and women in Washington, D.C., working at a parish, organizing demonstrations, giving parish missions, and furthering the mission of peace and justice in our Church. As long as there is injustice in the world, Joe has a job to do.
For many in our province, Joe is a legend. Fifteen years in the missions. In the room when Gustavo Gutierrez coined the term, “A Theology of Liberation.” A welcomed guest of Fidel Castro in initial peace conversations. Notorious priest of Washington, D.C. blessing the white house with ashes on Good Friday for the sins of the country, arrested for protests, leading demonstrations, and constantly acting as a rabble rouser of our province of friars, Fr. Joe is a one-of-a-kind friar.
And because of his apparent weak bladder, I found him as my director for eight months when the current director was called away for special assignment. What a pleasure. For all that I had heard of Joe, for the little bit I had experienced myself, I simply enjoyed his company.
Now 85, he lives with a passion for this life that people half his age don’t exhibit. He lives and breaths the message of Jesus Christ and won’t stop while there is still work to be done building the Kingdom of Heaven. Old age? Don’t tell him. Retirement? No reason for that. No, Joe is a man who lives with passion and there’s nothing that could extinguish that. And who would want to? A man like no other, Joe lives a life that cannot be replicated, and yet everything about what he does is a perfect example of what “A Friar Life” can be. Serving as the conclusion of (the first season) of “A Friar Life,” this video of his life captures yet another example of what it means to be a Franciscan friar in the world today.
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