Saturday, September 28, 2013


The funeral yesterday of the late Cecilia Hara Kosaka (above, right) gave me an occasion to remember this wonderful couple; her and her late husband Manuel Borja Kosaka (left), who passed away many years ago.  These two humble and devout Catholics were the parents of a Capuchin priest, Father Paulo Kosaka.

I didn't know Cecilia well, but her husband, Manuel, was the friary cook while I lived in it in the 1980s and into the early 90s, so I knew him much better.  I saw him almost on a daily basis.  He only had Saturdays completely off, and most of Sunday, coming in only to cook the Sunday evening meal.

Manuel had an interesting youth.  He was born in Palau, of a Chamorro mother (Amalia Borja) and a Japanese father who became Catholic to marry Amalia, Paulus Kosaka.

Palau was part of the Japanese Mandated Pacific Islands when he was born in the 1920s.  Palau had had a small community of Chamorro living there since Spanish times.

Manuel found himself stuck in Japan at the end of the war.  If I recall correctly, he had no idea what became of his family in Palau because the war cut off all contact between him and them.

So he settled in Japan and, as one can see in the photo above, he became part of a small Japanese Catholic community.  I believe that's him standing in the far right corner.  The priest looks Caucasian.  I believe the year this photo was taken is 1956.

He would have been married already to Cecilia, a full-blooded Japanese woman he met in Japan, by 1956.  She's probably in the picture, too, but I can't tell which.

Eventually, Manuel made contact with his family, who had left Palau and settled on Guam, the homeland of the Borja family.  They set up home in Talofofo.  Their son, Paulo, grew up active in San Miguel parish and got to know the Capuchin friars who were the pastors.  He eventually became a Capuchin himself.

Manuel would arrive at the friary around 10AM and he would always make his first stop the friary chapel and say a short prayer.  He was dedicated to his job and cooked lunch and dinner for about 12 friars, many of them old and retired, and for about 30 friars, clergy and others on Thursday and Sunday nights when the bigger community gathered.

He was soft-spoken and spoke only when necessary.  He spoke basic English, but he was one of the first with whom I was able to start practicing my Chamorro.  He spoke Chamorro and his Japanese was even better.  I was always fascinated to catch him and Father Ferdinand Pangelinan, a Chamorro friar from Saipan who spoke good Japanese, speaking in that language.  Father Ferdinand had been in a seminary in Tokyo during the war.

Once in a while he would say something to encourage our vocations (we, the young ones just entering religious life).

I once learned a neat trick from Manuel; how to kill a snake in a bloodless way.  We found a snake in our chapel and told him about it.  He filled a bucket with soapy water and took a broom to the chapel.  He let the snake curl onto the broom stick, then he shook the snake into the soapy water and then - well, it was "rest in peace" for the dead, but clean, snake.

Father Paulo accompanied his mother to visit her relatives in Japan some years ago.

As he got older, Manuel started to show more signs of fatigue.  He would take breaks, sitting outside on the top of a rather long cement staircase.  When the superior saw this, he had us make up a guest room for Manuel which he could use anytime he needed a break.  Manuel used it once.  He didn't feel comfortable being given that opportunity to have his own room in the friary, even in the guest quarters.  He went back to dozing off a little on his short breaks, sitting outside on the top of the stairs.

I finally had my one and only chance to do something for Manuel, who worked so hard for us.  A Japanese teacher at the same school I taught at learned I liked old Japanese songs; songs from the 1940s and 50s.  My mother had taught me a Japanese song she learned during the war.

So this Japanese lady gave me the present of a cassette tape of these types of Japanese oldies.  I played it for Manuel, asking him to tell me the Japanese words so I could learn to sing them.  But then he asked me to make him a copy of the tape.  These were the songs he heard in Japan when he lived there in the 40s and 50s but probably hadn't heard since then.  I made him a copy and he would play it at home, where Cecilia certainly heard them, too.

Cecilia, I didn't know too well, but she was also a worker in the cooking department, but for Notre Dame High School.  She made the best sushi, so they tell me.  She lived much longer than her husband and suffered very poor health in the last year or so.  She would go into a coma.  They thought the time had come.  Then she'd revive.  Father Paulo said in his sermon that they started to call her Lazarus, as she seemed to come back to life every time the end seemed imminent.  But last week the Lord finally called her and her battle was over.

May she and Manuel come at last to the place of eternal joy.  They were simple, humble and hard-working people, believers in the Lord and His Church.  I think the Lord finally has for Manuel that room to rest in up in heaven, instead of that guest room that he didn't feel worthy of,  even in our friary.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Father Joe Cavanagh was a Jesuit missionary in Micronesia, who recently passed away.

Like many Jesuits in Micronesia, he would spend a few days at our Capuchin Friary on Guam when going to or from the States.  I found him to be an easy-going, relaxed and pleasant man.

During one of his Guam visits, when I was a brother in simple vows, I needed to go to confession.  I had been going regularly to the same Capuchin, and, rightly or wrongly, I thought the friar could use a break from me!

So I knocked on Fr Joe's door.  And he heard my confession.

His first words to me were, "What do you want to do?"

I was taken aback by those words.  No confessor had ever said those words to me.

In hindsight, I can see how good an approach he had taken.  He had taken the focus off my guilt, and put the focus on the future that lay in my hands, or at least a great deal of it.

I was guilty of sin, I knew it, I was contrite, God forgave me.

But Fr Joe put in front of my face the next, and perhaps even more important question : what was I going to do about it now?

His words gave me hope and direction.  Despite my sinfulness, I still had a future ahead of me and it was up to me, to either forge ahead and give it another go, or drown in self-doubt and wither away.

So I told him, "I want to stay in the Order."

And he said, "OK.  Do it."

And I've stayed.  28 years I've stayed.

Thanks Father Joe Cav, as we all called him.   As my Irish relatives say of their dead, "May God be good to you."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


The Bishop's Secretary

Fray Jesús de Begoña

Fray Jesus was a Basque Spaniard from the Province of Vizcaya and came to Guam in the 1920s.  He was a lay brother - not ordained.

He was stationed in Agaña and had a major role to play in building projects, like the construction of churches and chapels. 

But his main work towards the end was being the personal secretary of Bishop Olaiz and then Bishop Olano.

By September of 1941, the US Navy succeeded in replacing all the Spanish friars with the American friars.  But Bishop Olano had not been replaced yet by an American bishop, so Olano and Fray Jesus stayed on.

So they were here when the Japanese invaded Guam on December 10, 1941.  Olano was made to strip to his underwear and run a little around the Plaza de España in an attempt to mock him and show the Chamorros that the Japanese ran the show now. 

When Olano and the American friars were shipped off to Japan in January of 1942, Fray Jesus went along with the bishop.  He stayed by Bishop Olano's side the whole time of the war.  First in Japan and then in India.

When Guam was liberated from the Japanese, Olano was able to get permission from the US Navy to return to Guam, but not Fray Jesus.  He was not given permission.  So he stayed in the Philippines where he served for a very long time.

Because Fray Jesus was the shadow of the bishop, he met a lot of people, especially the elite of Guam Catholic society.  They all knew Fray Jesus, and they told me that he could speak very good Chamorro.  He kept in correspondence with some of his Guam friends for many years after the war while he lived in the Philippines.

The Humble Worker

Fray Crispín de Imbuluzqueta

Most of the lay brothers were rather simple men, most of limited education.  So they did a lot of the humble but important tasks of the mission : cooking for the priests, laundry, cleaning, running the sacristy, serving Mass, stocking the kitchen pantry, minding the altar boys (tanores), doing maintenance and even carpentry and construction.  If one of the priests was in a village far from the capital, sometimes a lay brother would go live with him to provide companionship and mind the domestic affairs of the rectory.

Fray Crispín was one of these humble, manual workers in the Catholic mission.  He served a long time on Guam, mainly at the Agaña Cathedral.

Many of the lay brothers were truly holy men.  They knew very little academically, but some were good at their crafts.  They prayed the rosary and other devotions and served Mass and did the humble work.  It is said in the Franciscan life that it is the lay brothers who keep the true Franciscan spirit alive.  Among our Capuchin saints and blessed, a great many of them were not priests but these humble and holy lay brothers who begged for food among the people or took care of the people who came to visit the friary.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


A number of people have asked me why my Facebook name is "Fray Eric."  They have never heard of the title Fray.

Fray is the Spanish form of the word friar.

Most people have heard of that word. 

For example, Robin Hood's famous sidekick Friar Tuck....

There are friar coffee mugs....

...and friar cookie jars, usually with a nice warning, "Don't steal cookies!"

But what exactly is a friar?


When some men in the Catholic Church many centuries ago wanted to live in community as brothers, living a life of prayer, service, in chastity, poverty and obedience to a superior, they took the Latin word for "brother."  Even though many of these brothers were priests, they lived together as brothers, the priests and the non-priests alike.

As the Latin word frater was changed by their native pronunciation, new forms of the word frater were created as seen above.   Fray is the Spanish form of the Latin word frater.  In English, it became friar.

It seems the Franciscans are the most famous of all the friars in the Catholic Church.

Saint Francis of Assisi and his Friars

Saint Francis, who was not a priest, wanted his companions, whether priest or not, to live together as brothers (friars) and to be brothers to everyone and everything in the world.

So we Franciscans traditionally have stressed the fact that, whether priest or not, we are friars.

I like to use the Spanish version of the word Fray in honor of the Spanish Capuchin Franciscan friars who brought our way of life to Guam in the year 1901.

There are Other Kinds of Friars, Too

Like the Dominicans...

....the Carmelite Friars...

....and Augustinians....

....among many more!


Where these friars have established colleges and schools, sometimes their sports teams are named Friars.

On Guam, the athletic teams at Father Dueñas Memorial School are called the Friars because it was the Capuchins, when they ran the school, who began the intramural sports program there.

In Providence, Rhode Island, the Dominicans established a college whose teams are called the Friars.

And in a school run by the Servite Friars, their mascot is the Fightin' Friars.


Friars have also appeared in children's songs like "Frere Jacques."  Frere is French for friar.

And in cartoons, like the famous Brother Juniper series.

So "FRAY ERIC" simply means "Friar Eric" and points to my core identity as a Capuchin Franciscan friar.  I am not only a priest, but a friar as well.

Here is a great example of how the two identities - priest and friar - are combined in Spanish.

Father Aniceto Ibañez del Carmen was an Augustinian Recollect priest and friar on Guam in the 1800s.  So his name published here is P. Fr. Aniceto Ibañez del Carmen.

The "P" stands for "Padre," or "Father" and points to his priesthood.

The "Fr" stands for "Fray" and points to the fact that he was also a friar.