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Ordo Fratrum Minorum

Former Baptist sails into port with Franciscans

Former Baptist sails into port with Franciscans

RAMON GONZALEZ – WCR
August 31, 2015

Less than a decade ago Benjamin Ripley decided to leave his Baptist faith to become a Catholic. Today he is a fully-fledged Franciscan brother, wearing the famous brown habit the Franciscans have donned for the past 800 years.

The 41-year-old former sailor made his final vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a Franciscan brother in Lumsden, Sask., Aug. 21. Family, friends and friars from across Western Canada were present at his solemn profession.

“I’m very excited for the future and for me; this is a milestone within my Franciscan life,” Ripley said excitedly from Lumsden. “Now I’m ready to continue my journey as a full-fledged and professed friar with the Franciscan order.”

Upon his return to Edmonton, where he lives in community with other friars, Ripley is expected to receive new assignments and to continue his theological studies. He is two years away from completing his master of divinity degree at Newman Theological College.

Ripley’s vocation is to be a brother so he is not seeking ordination. However, he hopes his vocation leads him to similar forms of ministry as a priest. “After all, I’m taking education similar to a priest.”

In the Church today being a brother does not mean you are lesser or relegated to domestic services, explained Father Pierre Ducharme, leader of the Franciscans in the Edmonton Archdiocese.

Pointing out that Ripley is working toward professional ministry in the Church, Ducharme said he “applauds Ben for really trying to be an authentic Franciscan and follow in the footsteps of St. Francis by being a religious brother.”

Ripley’s profession of vows is a sign of great hope and encouragement for the Franciscans, Ducharme said. “We’ve been fortunate; in the last seven years Benjamin would be the fifth to make solemn vows.”

Ducharme thinks the world of Ripley, whom he recommended for final vows. “I know him very well; I would consider him a brother and a friend. He is a person of joy; he is a person who attracts people to himself with his welcoming spirit,” he said.

“He does embody what it means to be Franciscan – just a simple, kind and generous person but also somebody who is capable and extremely disciplined. I have never met anyone who could tackle a task and follow through with it with such efficiency as Ben.”

Born May 18, 1974 in St. Thomas, Ont., the oldest of three brothers, Ripley grew up in the neighbouring town of Dutton and did his elementary-junior high school there. He completed high school in the adjoining town of West Lorne.

“It’s a public high school. We weren’t Catholic,” he clarified. “We grew up in the Baptist tradition and we were regular attenders, very active.”

After high school, Ripley went into the workforce, working in factories around the area. He worked in an auto parts plant in Blenheim. When he was 25 he joined the navy, where he became a radar operator. He was stationed for five years in Halifax, before he was transferred to Esquimalt, B.C.

BEAUTY OF THE CHURCH

In Esquimalt, Ripley started to think about his early life, recalling how as a youngster he attended Catholic Masses with his friends and enjoyed them. “I was struck by the beauty of the sacraments and the beauty of the Church.”

That train of thought slowly led him to question his Baptist beliefs and, while in Esquimalt, he decided to become a Catholic through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Victoria. He was confirmed at the Easter Vigil in 2006.

Shortly after he joined the Catholic Church, he decided to leave the military and discern a call to religious life. He felt God was leading him to a religious community but he didn’t know which one.

While discerning, he went to Drayton Valley to work in the oil patch. “I had to be able to support myself,” he said. In April 2007 he moved to Saskatoon to work in a factory that makes agricultural equipment such as combines, ploughs and seeders.

FELT AT HOME

During this time, Ripley found the Franciscan Friars of Western Canada online, and he soon started to meet with them. “I felt at home with them, and I was very impressed with what they were doing in Western Canada.”

Ripley said the Franciscan charism of service to the poor and the marginalized struck a chord with him so he decided in September 2009 to become a postulant with the order. “It has been a great process ever since.”

Over the years, he has done ministry in places like St. Michael’s Care Home, the Royal Alexandra Hospital and Lurana Women’s Shelter.

The process of becoming a Franciscan has changed Ripley profoundly. “It’s given me a sense of putting others before me,” he said. “It has given me sense of purpose to go out to the fringes and go out to the margins of society and bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to them.”

CHAPLAINCY

Currently Ripley is discerning whether to become a prison or hospital chaplain. But he says he is open to whatever God has in store.

The Franciscan order is also welcoming to initial or temporary vows Edmonton Brothers Michael Perras, who just completed his novitiate in the United States, and Joseph Glab, who is expected to profess his solemn vows next summer.

Both will live at St. Francis Friary, 8106 Jasper Ave., with various other Franciscans, including Ripley and Ducharme, the house guardian.

Also, Franciscans from across Canada will gather at St. Francis Centre in Caledon, Ont., Sept. 20-23 to renew their missionary charism and to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the congregation’s arrival in Canada with Samuel de Champlain in 1615.