We welcome two new friars to our community: Friar Jason Warrer and Friar Bede Thigpen. They have both been assigned to Mary, Mother of God Parish.
Friar Bede is a transitional deacon on the way to the priesthood. (Read Friar Jason's interview here.)
What drew you to the Franciscans?
I'm a convert; I was raised in the Episcopal church, converted when I was in college, and I would say from the time that I became Catholic, I started to feel a call to religious life. I didn't recognize it as such at that time, but there was some sense of God calling me to follow him in this really particular way. At the time in college, I was excited about my newfound faith, but I wasn't living it very well.
So in an effort to try to rectify that, I moved to Chicago in 2007 – I’m originally from North Carolina – and I started working for a street ministry called Emmaus Ministries that serves homeless men that are involved in prostitution. The ultimate goal is to help them get out of the lifestyle, get off drugs and find housing and finish their GED, but a lot of it is just trying to build relationships and being like "Hey, no matter what's happened to you, God loves you, you're a man made in God's image."
That was really a life-changing experience. I intended it to be a pre-law school thing, but it reoriented all of my priorities. I did that for two years and then after that was done, I was definitely convinced from talking to spiritual directors and stuff like that that God was calling me to religious life. I initially looked into monasticism, because it just seemed like it was the most direct way to get to God. It took me a couple of visits to different monasteries and stuff to realize that while that was a beautiful life, it wasn't what God was calling me to.
Then I reflected back on the Emmaus experience and it was like: "Well, if that was so fulfilling and if grace builds on nature, maybe the life that God might be calling me to looks something like that." So that's when I started learning about St. Francis. There's a popular image of him from "Brother Sun, Sister Moon," a movie from the 70s, as an anti-institutional hippie child, and I hated that image, like that's not me at all.
But I read a couple of biographies that really changed my whole perspective, to see that he was thoroughly a man of the Church and yet one who had this radical vision of God's presence imbuing not only the sacraments, but because of the sacraments, all of the rest of creation too, the leper and nature and one's enemies. So skipping ahead a couple years, in 2013, I was working at Misericordia , and really enjoying that. Then I learned about the Conventual Franciscans, but didn't know much about how they were different from the other branches. But they were right down the street from my apartment.
They weren't a lot different from other communities I visited – they had their own issues – but for the first time it felt like very natural, like I wasn't trying to force myself into something. There was just a sense of being at home and a calmness. I took that as a sign from the Holy Spirit and I've been in it for 9 years now.
In a nutshell: I loved their devotion to the Eucharist; their love of the Blessed Mother, especially in the heritage of St. Maximilian Kolbe; the dedication to ministering to the poor in urban areas, and just that sense of brotherhood.
Before coming here, you were at Holy Family in Peoria with Friar Jason Warrer. What will you be doing at Mary, Mother of God?
While I loved the time at Peoria, in terms of ordained ministry, I didn't get quite as much experience as I probably should have, because [of filling a teaching role]. They said "Friar Bede, would you mind taking this place?" And I just was like: "Well, I guess so? I've never taught a day in my life, I don't know what the heck I'm doing."
The plan was to do that for a couple of weeks until they could hire somebody else, but they never found anybody else, so I ended up being there full-time from September through June.
Fr. Paul Langevin, who was my previous guardian, did a great job giving me what he could, given the circumstances. I baptized a bunch of the school kids, which was really neat, especially during school Mass. But I didn't get to do kind of any wedding or funeral preparations. So I’ll be focusing on those two things. I will preach about three times a week, including Sundays, and do baptisms, house blessings, home visits.
One of the things I liked about teaching was that you know what your hours are going to be. Whereas parish ministry, or ordained parish life is it's kind of a mixed bag. Some days, you may have the whole morning free, and then other days, you'll just have meeting after meeting after meeting until 8 at night. So as somebody who does a bit better with a consistent schedule, that's just something that I'm going to have to get used to- got to have the self-discipline of: if you have two hours free, instead of just staring at YouTube, you could do this.
So what do you do in your spare time, such as it is? And what would you watch on YouTube?
I enjoy working on my car actually. Mostly just maintenance stuff; I enjoyed working with my hands. Honestly though, if I have free time, I just love to nap. Sometimes I'll ask if Friar Jason just wants to go for a walk or something.
I like cooking stuff [on YouTube]. If it's my turn to cook, then I like to try to replicate it. Provided you have the time, because a lot of times you just don't. A lot of car channels, mostly like DIY things.
I love church history, that's probably my favorite subject. That's sort of what led me into the church, is the history of Christianity. There's not a lot of emphasis on history for most Protestants. I was at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, a secular school, but the people in the religion department presented the material in this objective way. So for the first time I learned about the Church Fathers, who I'd never heard of, and they're talking about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and apostolic succession and the Blessed Mother and the three-fold ministry of deacon, priesthood, bishop, and I'm like: whoa, what is all this?
There's a famous quote from John Henry Cardinal Newman, the Anglican convert to Catholicism: “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant." That’s part of the reason I chose Bede as my sort of religious patron. He's the patron of historians, that's pretty much what he did in his life as a monk.
Can you talk a bit about that, choosing a religious name?
In our order, in our province, at least, we have the option to take a religious name at your first profession. Some guys prefer to keep their baptismal name; I'd say most do. I can certainly see the value in that. But I also appreciate the tradition of taking a religious name.
And actually what I did is I didn't get rid of Christopher, my baptismal name, I just bumped it over one slot, so Bede Christopher Thigpen.