Benjamin Ripley is a Franciscan. A Franciscan brother. By choice, he preferred not to become a priest. Being a brother is his call, his mission. Brother Ben is a happy Franciscan brother, following in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi.
Originally from Ontario, he lived in Saskatoon from 2007 to 2009. He now lives in Richmond, British Columbia. As a member of the Royal Canadian Navy for 10 years (sailor and submariner), he sailed various waters in the Caribbean, Mexico and the United States, from Canadian waters to the Middle East. He was a combat information operator (radar, detection systems) in the Persian Gulf region before returning to terra firma and civilian life after several years of service.
He has fond memories of his time in the Forces, and sees a lot of similarities with his daily life in a religious community. “In the Navy as with the Franciscans, I have learned to live in close proximity with others and to deal with different personalities from various backgrounds, while working toward the same goals.”
Born into a practicing Protestant family, he decided to join the Catholic Church in 2006. In 2008, he looked into joining a religious community, but didn’t know yet which community fit his values. “The Navy gave me the chance to discover other parts of the world with very different characteristics and ways of life. This adventure opened my eyes to the injustices that occur when human beings experience violence and exploitation.”
In doing Internet research, he learned that the Franciscans are present in the Canadian West, where he was at the time. “I was impressed by the Franciscan charism and their way of serving the poorest people and the marginalized. I took part in a weekend on vocations at the Edmonton fraternity in January 2009. After meeting the Franciscans there, I decided to take the next step and apply. I entered as a postulant in August 2009.”
A life choice
During his Franciscan formation, he obtained a BA in history from Concordia University College of Alberta in 2014 and a master’s in theology (M.Div.) from Newman Theological College in Edmonton in 2017. Since the beginning of his faith journey, he has known that he doesn’t want to become a priest. It’s just not what he aspires to. The Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans, allows him to do this. The Order allows him to grow, to deepen his faith and his knowledge, and to get involved in a ministry, while not being ordained a priest. “That just isn’t my call.”
Brother Ben explains that brothers are full-fledged religious, involved in their community as much as priests are, but in a different way from their ordained confreres. “This vocation suits me well and is in line with my way of serving.” It’s simply a choice. The main difference lies in the fact that brothers do not preside at mass or at sacraments such as marriage. Otherwise, they can be fully involved in the parish with the different groups they serve.
“In general, parishioners are very happy that I am there with them, but when I tell them I am a brother, many of them are surprised because they thought all Franciscans were priests.” When they find out this is not the case, they tend to be amazed, because they were not at all aware of this vocation. “Some think I am an aspiring priest, a priest in training. That gives me the opportunity to tell them about the different vocations.” Once they have gotten over their surprise, members of the parish community are not concerned about whether their pastoral assistant is ordained. It is no longer important to them. What matters to them is the quality of his presence and his involvement with the groups of parishioners for whom he is responsible.
Rolling up his sleeves
At the moment, this young 44-year-old brother is carrying out his ministry in St. Joseph the Worker parish, where he is pastoral assistant and leads the ministry for seniors. Every week, he is involved in organizing faith development gatherings for seniors. He also coordinates communion in a nursing home, as well as friendly home visits to older people. He serves parishioners as spiritual assistant of two Secular Franciscan fraternities: St. Anthony of Padua in Richmond and St. Francis of Assisi in Surrey.
In addition to all these tasks that he enjoys, he is guardian of the Richmond fraternity. This role allows him to develop abilities as a leader and coordinator. His daily tasks involve everything from finances and management of the parish office to meal preparation.
Giving and receiving
His work is giving of himself. He gives a lot of himself, without stinting. In his view, the people he interacts with bring him more than he gives them. Through contact with others, he learns courage and patience. This work that he loves so much and that he is proud of enables him to meet seniors who have a rich life experience. He learns wonderful life lessons based on what they have gone through and their journey of faith. “Their wisdom and their view of life and faith are really inspiring for me.” He adds, “I like how my ministry connects parish life to the community.”
The near future
Wherever he is needed, he is there. Ready to serve, once again. Soon, that will be in the fraternity of Trois-Rivières, Québec, where he will be called to serve. He was recently named master of the temporarily professed (for their first year after the novitiate). This means moving practically to the other side of the country. This new responsibility will begin in August 2019. He will go from the suburbs of a cosmopolitan city like Vancouver, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, to a mid-size city much farther north, in a francophone province. But that doesn’t seem to be a major upheaval for him. It’s just a new reality where he can be useful and serve.
He envisions the future with optimism and eventually would like to work in a hospital. “I would like to work in spiritual care in hospital setting; that’s an area where there is so much to be done.” From September 2017 to July 2018, he completed half of the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program in Edmonton to become a hospital chaplain. He really hopes to finish this training in the near future. “During my training, I had the chance to do a placement at St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Hospital and at Edmonton General Hospital. I want to get the final credits to finish the program and get my chaplain’s accreditation in spiritual care.”
“I hope to be able to bring God’s love and mercy to the people who need it most, such as the sick and the dying. That is the essence of the Franciscan charism.”
Written by Julie-Isabelle Baribeau