The first American Capuchins arrived in 1939. During the sixties and seventies, over thirty were engaged in a variety of ministries. Their work to establish a native clergy coupled with the decrease of vocations in the United States has resulted in fewer friars now ministering in the country. Those who continue all have devoted many years laboring there. At the present time, they are located in the capitol city of Managua, in the Diocese of Esteli, and in the Bluefields Vicariate.
Managua: The Managua house, or the Fraternidad de San Jose, has three US friars. Bernard Wagner functions as the business manager of the community that has a history of hosting gatherings and being involved in the religious activities of the city. August Seubert travels throughout the entire Central American region conducting workshops and is involved in the religious education of the native leadership, especially in sacred scriptures. He has authored a series of popular books on Biblical themes in a language comprehensible to the native people. Francis Solanus Fary, who is recovering from a stroke, has returned to his beloved Nicaragua after a period of recuperation in the United States. He serves as spiritual director in the intra-diocesan seminary. Although his active ministry is limited from that which he did in earlier days, his prayerful presence enhances the contemplative spirit of the house.
Esteli: Evarist Bertrand has devoted his life seeking justice for the downtrodden and engaged in empowering the natives, especially the youth. He was one of two Capuchins who began ministering in 1965 in this diocese which borders western Honduras. He has the distinction of having been expelled from two countries, Honduras and Nicaragua, because of his defense of the defenseless. At the present time, he resides at Mozonte in Nueva Segovia.
Bluefields Vicariate: The present Bishop of the Vicariate of Bluefields, Paul Schmitz, must have a busy Guardian Angel. Shortly after his arrival, he was buried alive in the Managua earthquake. Some years later, his arm was shattered by an unknown sniper rifleman when his car was ambushed during the civil unrest in Nicaragua. Paul was ordained as an auxiliary to the second American bishop, Salvator Schlaefer. After the latter's death, he became Vicar Apostolic in 1994. Hurricane Mitch in 1998 almost destroyed his See City, but he was one of the leaders in its recovery. The growth of the vicariate's population resulted in the naming of David Zywiec as auxiliary bishop in 2002. David's residence is Puerto Cabezas. There he is living in the midst of the Miskito people whose language he speaks.
Three other veteran missionaries continue their ministry in the jungles, fields and towns of the vicariate. Theodore Niehaus has been the "river priest" for over forty years. His principal mode of transportation is by boat and mule, as he visits the scattered communities along the many rivers and streams that dot his "parish." Glenn Gessner pastors the parish at El Ayote. Wilbert Lanser has overseen the construction of many community chapels. He is also a spiritual builder, devoting much of his time to the Marriage Encounter movement and the formation of the lay ministry program. He presently calls Siuna his home. All three Capuchin friars have established radio stations in order to reach their parishoners in the rural areas.
Brothers Chico (Francis Solanus Fary-Hammond, IN) and Evarist Bertrand (Antigo, WI) enjoy a cup of coffee
Fr Theodore Niehaus and Bishop Paul of Bluefields at the parish church in La Cruz de Rio Grande.
Traveling in Nicaragua is an adventure
Some of the Fox Valley group with villagers
Father Theodore travels up the Sulu Tara rapids enroute to San Pedro del Norte. Father Ted is pulling a rope, wearing a white hat.
Now all are back in the boat, readying for their next portage. The trip takes 8 hours to go from La Cruz to San Pedro.
Capuchin priest Wilbert Lanser doubles as a D.J. for his radio station. The materials were donated by supporters back home.
The passengers arrive in San Pedro del Norte. The all wheel bus behind them is the only type of vehicle that is able to navigate the deep mud holes in the road during the rainy season.
The market area of San Pedro del Norte
Fr August Seubert
Gus giving an introductory course to the New Testament at the
Capuchin friar Wilbert baptizes a child in the mission fields of Nicaragua.
(L) Wilbert Lanser ministers the sacraments; (R) Here he is shown with Isabel Perez.