On Father Val
On May 10th we lost a very dear and special long term friend, Father Valerius Messerich O.F.M.. He died in Springfield, Missouri, and his death was a great loss to us personally, to the BSP and many others. Father Val, as we all called him, strongly supported the life and lifestyle of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis, and was its founding spiritual director and without him it would not even exist today.
Long before the BSP was a gleam in our eyes we professed in the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO), which is the modern day Third Order of St. Francis. The Franciscan friars still provide regular support and guidance to the SFO, and Father Valerius was the spiritual director of the SFO in the Midwest area. Later on, when the BSP was first forming and questions came up about it, he always supported our right to live the Rule of 1221, the Rule now of the BSP, while still supporting and growing the SFO. He had a knack for making peace, and keeping the peace, between the two families. Like us he felt the SFO was the true Third Order of St. Francis, history would certainly support that, but he also felt as we did that it was a wonderful thing to live the First Rule of the Third Order in response to being in the SFO. Unfortunately the SFO leaders did not agree, but somehow Father Val always managed to calm the waters and keep the peace.
There are so many things we will remember fondly of Father Val. He was ALWAYS a priest! If something priestly had to be said or done he did it. He never minced words or actions on his priestly role. He was also always a genuine ‘nice guy', and always respectful in how he treated people. He was always supportive of those who were sincerely seeking to live a holy life. He supported us and our families by his willing presence at family and BSP events and he habitually sponsored regular outings with the BSP members down through the years. There are some real moments we will always remember, aside from his human perfections, that were just plain cute.
Like the time we had him over to dinner and Shelley fixed venison. She has a marvelous recipe, which she has made from scratch over the years, and Father Val loved it! He had three servings! He never ate three servings at any meal we ever shared with him. Almost always just one and sometimes, occasionally, just a bit more or a little dessert. Never three servings! He made us very happy, and we learned he liked venison. Turned out he had only eaten it a couple of times in his life.
Or the time when he went on a week long retreat (one of several) to our cabin in northern Minnesota. He brought a little satchel of clothes. Shelley shopped for his food for the week, and Paul and Donna visited him while he was there. At the end of another trip Bruce joined him for a few days, and he had a couple of beers with Bruce one evening. Then, after having two, he said he did not want to slur his words when he prayed, so he had no more. He called the cabin Shangri-La, i.e. paradise lost, as it was a very primitive little place with an outhouse. He made those retreats annually for a few years. He was 80 or so years old though you would not have known it.
Another time, when we were talking about retirement we asked him when he was going to retire. He was already in his late 70's, and we pointed out that even Bishops retire in their early 70's. He pondered a moment and then said, "I am not going to retire actually, he said, until I retire in heaven." And so he went on and on and stayed busy in the SFO, the BSP, and local parishes well past when the diocesan priests were retiring. He liked to be busy, and he always attended the many various diocesan and Franciscan events in the area, not to mention sponsoring our BSP meetings. He was energetic to the end.
And he was our spiritual director. We had monthly meetings with him. What a spiritual director he was too. He was spiritually very wise. He had experienced so much as a priest there were no surprises to him. He helped us understand where we were at spiritually, and always had good advice on how to grow. The virtue he prized the most was humility, and he had so much of that himself that he managed never to see. He often gave us exercises to increase our virtues. He showed us ways to diminish ourselves and encourage others, and practice virtue in our family dealings.
So, how would you summarize such a man? You can't. He was a truly wonderful priest! He was humble, sincere, helpful, energetic, and wise about spiritual things. He suffered without complaint, and never spoke ill of anyone. He was a peacemaker, a wonderful, warm and special friend to all, and close to the Lord and His Mother. He told us once that Mary had left him a gift on the altar at St. Mathias Church, where he was pastor. He had lost a special ring, it had a crucifix on it as we recall, and it showed up on the altar one day. It was engraved inside with a little message of endearment from Our Lady, in a way that could not have been done by a human engraver. We might be the only people he told that story to.
There are so many other wonderful memories. Too many to list. So, let us all hold this man in prayer and ask his prayers for us. We will miss him dearly, but know he is enjoying his retirement with the Lord. He is a Saint in our opinion. So, enjoy your retirement Father Val, and keep a place where you are for us. Remember us all in your prayers.
May the Lord bless us and keep us and bring us one day to heaven to share life and the light of Christ forever with Father Val.
Sincerely your in Jesus Christ,
Bruce and Shelley Fahey BSP
From the Second Reading on Ascension Sunday
by Janet Klasson BSP
"Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets. "
Dandelions. Our battle with them begins every spring and does not end until the snow covers them. Yet they only sleep in the winter. The following spring they are back, sunny as ever.
Here are a few things I know about dandelions. They are the lowest, most common flower that there is and they can flourish almost anywhere. Simple little children find them irresistible—how many bright yellow bouquets are picked free of charge for mothers each summer. Dandelions respond to the sun, by opening in the morning and closing at night. The more industrious of us may use the flowers to make wine, the more adventurous may use the young greens in salads. I understand even the roots can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. Herbalists also make use of their medicinal qualities. Gardeners will tell you that any attempt to do them in will cause the dandelion to let fly thousands of seed parachutes. Alas, the mighty gardener is no match for the lowly dandelion.
Much as we toil to be rid of them in our lawns and gardens, there is much we can learn spiritually from the lowly dandelion. In a way, I think we penitents are called to be the dandelions of God. We are called to be humble, lowly and common. We are not orchids needing constant care, attention and coaxing. We are called to flourish anywhere and everywhere, even in conditions that may be harsh or inhospitable.
Even when fasting, we are called to be sunny and cheerful. If God's lowly ones are not attracted to us, we must ask ourselves if we are fully opened up to the risen Son. We must allow ourselves to be picked and presented to the Blessed Mother in little golden bouquets. We must be useful in all our aspects, not holding back root or stem or leaf or flower. We must give all in service to God and other, bringing healing and joy wherever we go.
Our prayers and sacrifices must be persistent and plentiful. If we are attacked, the parachutes of prayer and seeds of sacrifice we let fly must increase a thousand-fold. We let them go, not knowing which ones will bear fruit, but trusting in the providence of God to miraculously multiply our lowly efforts and our meager offerings.
Little dandelions have to trust in providence, for we have no power of our own. We trust in the same providence that multiplied the small offering of loaves and fishes for the hungry crowd. We must not fear that what we offer is too small or common to give to God or to others. St. Therese, the Little Flower tells us that God delights in all the flowers of His garden, from the most perfect rose to the littlest, most common flower. One flower must not be jealous of another, but be the best flower it can be for the glory of God.
God made dandelions to be in abundance, to fill the earth, to be useful, and to thrive. Even if we are covered with snow for a season, we little dandelions know we will be back in the spring, sunny as ever. The world hates dandelions. But we dandelions have nothing to fear, for Jesus Christ has risen and has conquered the world. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Janet Klasson BSP
(Janet will make her profession to the Rule of the 1221 of the BSP at the retreat this year. Please keep her in prayer. )
NO GREATER LOVE: by PAUL BEERY BSP
"Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of
If anyone deserved to hear those words, it was Fr. Valerius. Those of us privileged to know him well realized his holiness. One cannot live the Christian life in isolation since the Gospel standard has been introduced: "See how they love one another." For we live in communion in the Mystical Body of Christ: "Love one another as I have loved you."
Francis of Assisi had a magnetism like Jesus Himself, being the most Christ-like Saint. True disciples look for the life of Jesus to be replicated today as it was in his time. Of all the followers of Francis I have encountered, I have yet to meet a more Christ-like person than Fr. Val. It will be difficult in a few words to do justice to this man of God. Without Fr. Val, there would never have been a BSP. There are two parts to the story: his association with the BSP, and the man himself. My wife, Donna, reminded me that much of the first part has already been written in the September 2005 issue of the Newsletter of the BSP (bspenance.org: Newsletter archives – included in this issue of the newsletter.). The following will be "the rest of the story."
Vatican II stated that Religious Orders needed to return to the spirit of their founder, and make that spirit come alive today. For those who wish to follow St. Francis, there is nothing more indicative of his spirit than the Rule he wrote. If a person wished to be a better follower of Jesus, he would be told to study and live the Gospel, or Rule, of Jesus
Christ. What if he replied, "Oh no. I feel the Rule of Jesus has become obsolete. It‘s too difficult, and not at all adapted to modern man. It‘s also very judgmental, you know, and much too prescriptive for a free spirit like myself. Plus his version of the truth is not at all like mine." Wouldn't we think that response to be a bit odd? Be a follower of Jesus, but reject what He did and said? Indeed, reject what He COMMANDED us to do? That's more than a bit odd, but it's what has happened. Many alleged Christians follow their own way and call it the spirit of Jesus.
But there is only ONE Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, "Whom God has given TO THOSE WHO OBEY HIM." (Acts 5, 32) St. Francis was most Christ-like in his absolute obedience to the Rule of Jesus, and the Magisterium of His Church. If, like Mary, devotion to Francis does not lead one directly to Jesus, one is on the wrong path. This is where the light of Fr. Val shone so brightly, in showing us through his life, his words and actions, the true Franciscan spirit: "Live the Gospel in the spirit of St. Francis." But what is that spirit? If there is only ONE Spirit of Jesus, it follows that there is only ONE authentic spirit of St. Francis. Yet we see his followers going off in all directions, mostly to the left; into the New Age movement, the Peace (not the Peace of Christ, but of the world) movement, the Secular Progressive movement, some even being converted to the Religion of Environmentalism.
The Rule of St. Francis has been pretty much ignored by these people, and the "spirit of St. Francis," is pretty much what each individual wishes it to be. There is something dramatically wrong with this picture. Jesus said: "When the Son of Man returns, do you think He will find faith on the earth?" Similarly, if St. Francis returned: would he recognize his own spirit in many of his followers? How many different "spirits" of St.
Francis can there be? If ever there was a time for discernment of spirits, now is the time!
That's what Fr. Val did so well. I was talking to a Christ-like person recently about how Fr. Val managed to have a foot in both camps, as it were; to be the Spiritual Assistant of the SFO Queen of Peace Region, while at the same time directing and giving life to an upstart group that believes in actually living the Rule of St. Francis - the Brothers and
Sisters of Penance of St. Francis - and not be heavily criticized for it. She said simply: "Only a Saint could do that." Is there a finer description of Fr. Val?
Even though I've known him for over twenty years, they were nonetheless the twilight years of Fr. Val's life. During all those years, he was always at the top of the list of people I have met who are the most Christ-like. There was never a time when the title of Saint did not suit him. He was forever patient, ready with a kind word, always having the
same joyful disposition, even when he experienced the onset of Alzheimers. He would never complain when he lost his place, or fumbled for the right words to say.
Long ago I was with another holy man on his deathbed who would get angry because he had lost some ability to communicate. He asked me if, to his mind, the greatest calamity had befallen him: "Am I getting senile?" I assured him he was not, that he just couldn't communicate as well, and we were having trouble understanding what he said. It was true, and I was happy to re-assure him of that fact. In contrast, Fr. Val never had such
misgivings. He accepted everything that happened to him with perfect equanimity. He was also a very learned and intelligent man, hardly one fitting the description of a little child. But he had that child-like simplicity, and he could relate to anyone, small or great.
It would have been interesting to see Fr. Val at the beginning of his journey, instead of at the end. He was always so serene, as though he knew his reward was near at hand, and it would not escape him. He had so much wisdom and knowledge built up, and he loved to share with others the gifts God had given him. He was so happy to be a shepherd to his little flock, the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, who could not get enough of his pure Gospel teaching and true Franciscan spirit. I have learned at least what the latter is, from him, even if I am sorely lacking in living it out as he did. Perhaps few could have.
Francis lived the Rule of Jesus, the Gospel. He listened to Jesus speak to him in that Rule, to direct his life. The most Christ-like Saint then said in effect: "If you wish to live the Gospel of Jesus as I have, follow the Rule I have written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."
Fr. Val lived the Gospel of Jesus in the true spirit of St. Francis. He had great respect for the Rule of St. Francis and lived by it. No one can become such a saint without living out the prayer and penance it entails. Prayer and penance. Not popular, but necessary. And Fr. Val, like St. Francis, was completely obedient to the teachings of Jesus, and the Magisterium of His Church, as are the Brothers and Sisters of Penance.
Donna and I were blessed to be with Fr. Val during a private retreat he had in Bruce's cabin way back in the woods in northern Minnesota. It was only a short time before he had to give up his active ministry. We didn't want to leave him completely alone, yet there was no greater privilege for him than to be alone with his Lord and Master. We stayed at a nearby resort, and would visit him each morning for Mass, and morning prayer. We returned in the evening to absorb some of his inspiration, like the disciples of John the Apostle who would tell them: "My little children, love one another." Fr. Val mastered the art of loving, becoming like a little child once again, who could associate with the lowly.
He had to endure a very painful three-week trial before the end. But he died as he had lived: trusting, cooperative, transparent, peaceful, ever-ready to get on that elevator to see the Face of God. Fr. Valerius, pray for us sinners, the faithful sheep of your little flock.
FAREWELL FATHER VAL!
Reprint from BSP Newsletter – September 2005
The primary focus of this issue is to wish a final farewell to our long standing friend and spiritual guide, Father Valerius Messerich O.F.M.. Father Val, who is 85 years old as of this writing, has been moved to a nursing home in Illinois and he will no longer be able to attend BSP events here.
No other priest has had the influence on the Association of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance that Father Valerius has had. He loved the story and image of the butterfly for us, and he personally blessed all of the crowns of thorns thus far given within the Association. He has been present, and spiritual director and visitor to the BSP, through its long history of development and refinement in Minnesota and within the Church. He has been active in guiding the formation of dozens of members since 1991. He accepted the first pledges to the Rule of 1221 of 17 people on the feast of St. Francis in 1997 at St. Mathias in Hampton, Minnesota where he was pastor making them novices and members of the new Association for life. These first members all received certificates of membership, and their names are recorded in the history of the BSP. This happened just one year after we were recognized as a private Association in the diocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis by Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, all with the support and loving attention of Fr. Valerius.
Father Val's fingerprints and approvals are on all of the documents of the Association now used to guide it and he confirmed to the writers before his leaving that he was most pleased with all that we have done with the BSP in Minnesota and as the Private Association of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis in the Church.
All that Father Valerius ever asked of us was prayer, and that we be faithful to the treasures of St. Francis that we guarded. His First Rule and call to the life of penance. Fr. Val himself was an easy advocate of a firm life of penance, and he often said we needed to ‘become the Rule' as his best counsel on how we should live it in our daily lives. He was and is always a brother in Christ and St. Francis and we will make every effort to remain close to him in his final, golden years. Let us all remember him in our daily prayers. We are who we are in large part because of Father Valerius Urban Messerich O.F.M.. God bless you, and thank you, Father Val!
Bruce and Shelley Fahey BSP
FR. VALERIUS URBAN MESSERICH O.F.M.
THE BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF PENANCE
FIRST VISITOR AND SPIRITUAL GUIDE
Urban John Messerich was born on December 17, 1919, as one of three boys in a family of four children living in West St. Paul, Minnesota. He was baptized and confirmed in St. Matthews parish in West St. Paul, and entered the seminary when he was thirteen. He was ordained into the priesthood on June 20, 1946, taking the name Valerius Urban Messerich.
Father Valerius has worked all over the world as a Franciscan since his ordination primarily within and for the Franciscan Order. He taught theology in the seminary for years, both here in America and in Europe. He said that the highlight of his priestly career occurred when he was living in the Antonianun friary at Via Mesulana 124, in Rome, Italy from 1962 until 1969, during the days of Vatican II. He served the Secular Franciscan Order from 1978 until 2001 as a spiritual assistant. First to local SFO fraternities and then to the Queen of Peace Region of the Secular Franciscan Order. This was the second region of the Secular Franciscan Order to be established nationally when the SFO made it's transition from provinces to regions in the early 1990's. The canonical establishment of the Queen of Peace Region was accomplished in one year through the dedication and sacrifice of Fr. Valerius, working with Bruce Fahey, its first minister, his wife, Shelley, also in the SFO, and other secular Franciscans in Minnesota.
Father Valerius has supported the founding of the Private Association of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis from it's earliest roots within the Secular Franciscan Order. He authored the name for the "Stella Matutina Movement" in the early 1990s, and guided it's vision and mission. That movement was one of the first steps towards the Association as it exists today. The movement itself began in the home of Bruce and Shelley Fahey SFO, now administrators and officers of the BSP of St. Francis, and it is still having a residual impact within the SFO locally.
Fr. Valerius was spiritual guide to the publication of "Reflections in a Morning Star" also. This was a book of compilations and excerpts of various modern and historical Franciscan documents published by Brother Not SFO and Sister Not SFO for use in the Secular Franciscan Order. The book was aimed at summarizing arguments and data from Scripture and the writings of St. Francis promoting the lifestyle of the Rule of 1221 as a viable response to living the Pauline Rule of 1978. Fr. Valerius blessed this book by including in it an "Open Letter to All Franciscans," which is itself a classic endorsement of the need to live a committed life if one wants to be called "Franciscan."
In 1996 Archbishop Harry J. Flynn canonically blessed the Brothers and Sisters of Penance and gave his permission to us to live the Rule of 1221, gather in support of it, and promote it gently in the Church. He personally designated Fr. Valerius as the first Visitor to the BSP. Father Valerius continued to faithfully serve as Visitor to the Association from then until May 2003. He conducted BSP retreats and Days of Recollection, and took the first pledges of BSP members. He briefly retired to a friary on the Eastside of St. Paul early in 2003, at which point he resigned from work in both the SFO and the BSP. He has since come out of retirement and is again serving the Church as priest-in-residence at St. Mathias parish in Hampton, Minnesota. He still happily joins in discussions with area leaders on life in the Association of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, which he helped found.
We have all been deeply blessed by the prayers, works, and wonderful guidance of this holy man of God. Let us all keep Father Valerius in our prayers!
This commentary is based on an interview with Father Valerius and approved by him, at his parish home in Hampton, Minnesota in November, 2003
MORNING STAR: News on the Association
The Chapel at Prior Lake Retreat Center
The Universal Call
to Deep Contemplative Intimacy with the Holy Trinity
By Father Thomas Dubay – Retreat Master
Archbishop Harry J. Flynn will celebrate Mass for us on Saturday.
Friday July 27th to Sunday July 29th
Franciscan Retreat Center—Prior Lake, Minnesota
Put it on your calendar!
From Archbishop Coadjugtor Reverend John Nienstadt:
We have written Bishop Nienstadt about the BSP and he has replied. He the BSP, intends to discuss the Association with Archbishop Flynn, and meet with us near the end of June. We will keep everyone posted on the outcomes of any future meetings with our new Archbishop as they occur. Please keep Bishop Nienstedt and Archbishop Flynn in your prayers.
Bishop John Nienstedt
Ordination of Abb'e William Avis:
We would like to announce, with great joy, that Abb'e William Avis, who is the first member of the Association (after us that is) and pledged to live the rule of the BSP before Fr. William Garut O.J., in St. John's parish in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin in 1997 will be ordained as a priest in the classical Roman Rite by the Archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri, on the feast of the Sacred Heart, June 15th, of this year. His first Mass will be on Sunday, June 17th. At St. Frances de Sales oratory in St. Louis. We extend our congratulations to Abb'e William, and let us keep him in prayer.
New Chapter of the BSP:
A new Chapter is in the process of forming in Cincinnati, Ohio. Members Kathy Holbrook and Jason Roberts are working to put it together there. There are also Chapters under consideration in several other places. Please keep these folks in your prayers. If anyone wishes to begin a new Chapter they should notify BSP Headquarters for assistance and guidance through the process.
The member forums of the Association are a good way to share spiritual stories and seek answers on how to live the Rule and the spiritual life more perfectly. These are not chat rooms per se, and should always be used respectfully to promote the Rule and spiritual life of the Association. If you can find the time to go through the history files there you will find much interesting information from previous member dialogues. Questions can always be referred directly to BSP headquarters at
Also we call on everyone to remember the prayer causes of our forums in their daily prayers. There are many prayer requests there that need our attention.
Father's Day – June 15th:
Let us all remember and pray for all of the fathers in the BSP, all of our priests, and all of our fathers (and mother's) on Father's day.
THE ADMONITIONS OF ST. FRANCIS
Our Lord says in the Gospel, "Love your enemies" (Mt. 5:44). A man really loves his enemy when he is not offended by the injury done to himself, but for love of God feels burning sorrow for the sin his enemy has brought his own soul, and proves his love in a practical way.
The wedding feast at Cana, painted in 1305 by Giotto
Padova, Italy, Scrovegni Chapel
BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF PENANCE OF ST. FRANCIS
a.k.a. the BSP, is a non-profit Private Association of the Faithful, which is dedicated to renewing the ancient way of penance as contained in the First Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis of 1221 for lay people in our modern world. We have the blessing of the Catholic Church to do this through several of its bishops. If you are bound by another Rule of life in another profession of the way of St. Francis that does not permit you to enter other religious families you are nonetheless invited to become an Honorary member of our Association and add the elements of this beautiful way of life that Saint Francis of Assisi gave us to the lifestyle of your profession.
All members, and Franciscans, are welcome to submit articles for consideration for inclusion in this newsletter if they are directed towards the spiritual formation of members or are the outgrowth of the lifestyle of the Association. Just send them to the BSP at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to share this newsletter with your friends or neighbors. It is intended to be the primary monthly communication of the Association. And if you can find it in your heart and in your budget remember that donations to the BSP are used strictly to promote the lifestyle and are tax deductible. We remain, always, sincerely yours in the love of Jesus Christ!
Bruce and Shelley Fahey BSP
Welcome to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance!
"O Lord our God, under the shadow of Thy wings let us hope.
Thou wilt support us, both when little and even to gray hairs.
When our strength is of Thee, it is strength; but, when our own, it is feebleness.
We return unto Thee, O Lord, that from their weariness our soul may rise towards Thee, leaning on the thing which Thou has created,
and passing on to Thyself, who hast wonderfully made them;
for with Thee is refreshment and true strength.