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Fr. Menard leaves Triangle parish

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Franciscan Father Charles J. Miller, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, and more than 500 parishioners threw a party recently for Franciscan Father Robert J. "Bob" Menard, parochial vicar, celebrating his years of service to the parish. Father Menard will be leaving St. Francis in April for on an eight-month sabbatical through Africa and the Middle East before he accepts his new assignment from the Franciscans.

Father Miller said that serving in one place for 16 years is unusual - Franciscans generally turn over their assignments every six to nine years.

Father Menard was ordained as a Franciscan priest for the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in 1972 by then-Bishop Joseph Bernadin.

The farewell party was held at the parish center on the feast day of St. Joseph, with a St. Joseph's Table as part of the celebration. The St. Joseph Table is an Italian custom, where a statue of the saint is enshrined on the table and guests bring food to be blessed and shared. For Father Menard's party, a table was set up with a statue of St. Joseph, but guests were asked to bring a non-perishable food item for the parish's food pantry at Francis House. Other tables were set up with food for the party.

Father Miller said that Father Menard will be remembered for his work on interreligious dialogue with Jews and Muslims as well as ecumenism with other Christian traditions. He also was active in the plight of undocumented immigrants.

Father Menard will spend three months following in the steps of St. Francis with the Friars of the Custody of Morocco, where he'll help in their ministry in the diocese of Tangier and Rabat. He said he hopes to engage in a "dialogue of hearts" with those looking for a deeper understanding and appreciation for interreligious and intercultural understanding.

He'll follow that with several months in Egypt, staying with residents at St. Leo the Great Seminary in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo. He'll work with Franciscans in their parochial work and community outreach. Father Menard said a goal of the Egypt leg of his sabbatical is to visit the Egyptian city of Damietta where, in the middle of the Fifth Crusade in 1219, St. Francis of Assisi crossed enemy lines to meet with the Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt, Malik-al-Kamil.

Finally, he'll have a period of study and reflection at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Israel.

When asked how he feels about leaving after 16 years, Father Menard called it, "Bittersweet."

"I've been here almost as long as I've been at my birth home," he said.

He thought the party was a fine ending for his work at St. Francis.

"It was wonderful," he said. "People came and went, and had an opportunity to say good-bye."

In a letter to Father Menard, Franciscan Father John F. O'Connor, provincial minister of the Holy Name Province, thanked Father Menard for his service to St. Francis Church.

"You have shown yourself to be a generous and compassionate minister who preached the good news of the Gospel by your words and actions," wrote Father O'Connor.

He went on to thank Fr. Menard for his "groundbreaking work" in the area of ecumenism and his efforts on behalf of immigrants.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011