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Home WHO WE ARE Assumptionists Profiles Fr. JOHN FRANCK, A.A.



February 2011
Interviewer - Would you share a bit about your background: family, childhood, early education etc.?

Fr. John - I was born and raised in the Pittsburgh area.  I had three younger brothers. My Dad came from New York City and met my Mom at a W.T. Grant’s five and dime store where he was the assistant manager and she a clerk. I attended a number of Catholic grammar schools, mostly in the Pittsburgh area.  My early experience there has had a great influence on me.

Where/how did your Assumptionist roots begin? Did anyone in particular have a significant impact on your life?

In eighth grade, somewhat remarkably, since I had never been an altar boy or super-involved in school or church, I decided that I wanted to go to a minor seminary for high school.  The bishop of Pittsburgh at the time, Bishop John J. Wright, had been the first bishop of Worcester, where he came to know and appreciate the Assumptionists. Since the diocese of Pittsburgh had no minor seminary of its own, he sent a number of us each year to minor seminaries run by the Capuchins, the Assumptionists, and other religious orders.  There I came to know many dedicated and happy Assumptionists. Eventually I went on to Assumption College where I met even more members of the community.

Would you share some of your later education and formation memories? Do you have any favorite scripture passages?

After my second year of college, I chose to go to the novitiate. I met one of the Assumptionists who would the greatest impact on my life, the novice-master, Fr. Edgar Bourque. He was a bright, hard-working, committed religious; but, above all, for me, he was like a father, taking a personal concern in the lives of his novices. He remained, till his death, a powerful influence in my life. One of the most important phases of my formation came when I decided I wanted to go to Africa after college to teach in one of high schools in the Congo. Back in 1970, not too many young religious (actually none) requested such an experience. At first, the provincial was so taken aback by the request that he refused permission. It was then that Fr. Edgar stepped in and pleaded my case. Eventually I got the go-ahead.  My experience there was formative in many ways. Personally, because I was so far from home and given considerable responsibility, I matured in a way that would not have been possible back home. I became much more aware of the international character of the congregation, of political and socioeconomic realities of which I was unaware previously, of other cultures, and of what it means to be a minority in a foreign country.  Another of my favorite formation experiences came later when I was in theology.  The first summer I was back, I volunteered to help out at our house in Jerusalem as a guide (we run a church built on what is considered to be the Palace of the High priest Caiaphas). Tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the shrine every year. While in Israel that summer, then the next summer, and finally in the summer of 1976, I came to love this land and its peoples. I came to appreciate all the more the Scriptures and set out to study Hebrew. Eventually I would go on to Boston College to obtain a Master’s degree in Biblical Studies and had a chance to participate in an archaeological dig in Caesarea Maritima.  I have loved the scriptures in a special way ever since and have even been able to organize a few pilgrimages to the Holy Land to share that enthusiasm.

Where and what did subsequent community assignments take you?

My first assignment, ironically, was in a parish (I say ‘ironically’ because when I first entered the seminary I was studying for the diocese of Pittsburgh and then chose to join the Assumptionists, not even knowing that they ran parishes). I loved it, especially my time with young families. I consider it to be one of the happiest times of my ministerial life. Subsequently, I was asked to become master of novices and Vice President for Student Life at Assumption College, a position I held for 11 years. As I look back, these first three assignments put me in touch with a lot of young people, either at the parish or college level or in our formation program.  Finally, in 1996, I was appointed the provincial of the North American province. During these nine years, I had an opportunity to serve my brothers in the USA, Canada, and Mexico. I had an opportunity to visit our missions in East Africa and to set the foundations for our mission in the Philippines.  I was able to work closely with the Major Superiors of Men here in the USA and to collaborate with members of our international publication house, Bayard Press, to establish their presence here. Finally, in 2005, I accepted the position of vocation director for the congregation here in the USA, a position I have enjoyed. It has allowed me to reconnect with the College and to be involved with young people once again.

How have you experienced growth in the living out of your Assumptionist charism?

I love Fr. d’Alzon. I can’t say that was always the case because we didn’t hear too much about him when I first entered. At first, I was drawn by the common life and the Assumptionists who embodied the charism, men who were holy, happy, and hard-working. Only with time (possibly beginning with my time as novice-master) did I begin to appreciate Fr. d’Alzon all the more. I happened to become novice-master the year we celebrated the centennial of his death (1980). A lot of books, even in English (!) began to appear. There seemed to be a rediscovery of this spiritual giant of the 19th century. The more I read, the more I came to know this man, the more I was impressed by his generosity, his vision, his zeal, his intuitions.  I have to come to see that what he sensed in the wake of the French Revolution has only now come to full blossom – indifference toward and ignorance of the faith, as well as outright unbelief. As Assumptionists we are called by our common life, our teaching and preaching, and our personal lives to address these modern ills.

What hobbies or other interests do you have?

I love to travel and read stories about travel, am a sports fan (mostly of Pittsburgh teams like my Steelers), and an avid hiker. I like to read, mostly personal stories, whether of the saints or of exemplary individuals. I also like spending time with my family, even though they live quite far away, unfortunately.

What is your vision and or hope for the future of the congregation and/or the Church?

Because I believe that Fr. d’Alzon had such profound insights and intuitions, it is my hope that the congregation can deepen its appreciation of him and find the ways to pass that on to young members in formation and to find more and more creative ways to address the ills he sensed would so adversely the world in which we live. In some ways, I think what he sensed has been eloquently articulated by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI in their call for a new evangelization.  D’Alzon, from his earliest days, wrote that “world needs to be penetrated through and through with a Christian idea; otherwise it will collapse.” This is the task that we as Assumptionists are called to assume.  It goes to the heart of the Church’s call in the 21st century.

Is there anything about you that you would like to share or that would surprise others?

In recent years, what I have just discovered and begun to share with others is that my father, who was never very talkative when we were growing, was of Jewish background. I always had a suspicion but was never able to corroborate it until a few years ago when I received a strange phone call from a woman claiming to be a cousin on my father’s side. Since none of my father’s two siblings had any children, I wondered how that was possible. To make a long story short, she informed me that my great-grandfather had two wives. After the first wife died, of which she was the offspring, he married again and had four children, one of whom was my grandfather. What was even more surprising was that when her father (who is still alive) immigrated to the USA in the 1930s they lived with my dad’s family and he had stories about him that I never knew. The cousin who called also told me that my Dad’s father had a sister who never4 immigrated to the states as the three boys did and that she had her whole family, the grandson of whom was still alive and living in southern France. I have since been able to visit him twice in Toulouse on the occasion of two pilgrimages I led to Lourdes, have baptized one of his grandchildren in Paris, and had a whole new chapter in my past opened up. I’m still looking forward to discover new pages. By the way, now I understand why I loved Hebrew so much back in my seminary days and why it seemed to come so easily!!!!

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