Norman Perry, O.F.M.
St. Anthony Messenger's
Friar at the Helm

By Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

(From St. Anthony Messenger, "Followers of Francis and Anthony," June 1992)

Almost every morning, when Editor-in-chief Father Norman Perry strides through the editorial offices of St. Anthony Messenger, he calls out a cheery "Good morning, good people!" It's the same greeting St. Francis of Assisi made famous when he saluted the townspeople of 13th-century Italy.

The greeting reveals a lot about Norman, as does the friar's habit of warbling lines from Broadway musicals at the drop of a hat. For one thing, it represents his desire to imitate the joyfulness of St. Francis and the saint's confidence in the goodness of people.

The task of Franciscans today, as well as that of St. Anthony Messenger, "is to bring Good News to the world--to bring optimism, hope and joy," he believes. "We should never despair of the world," Norman says. "We have a great deal of confidence in God's grace and the presence of the Spirit. We don't advocate that people run or hide from the world, but rather that they stay right in its midst as the salt of the earth--a light and a leaven for its transformation. We believe the world can be changed!"

Father Norman was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on December 17, 1929, alongside a (fraternal) twin brother. Being the shorter of the pair, he became known as "Little Perry," a title that brings smiles to those who today affectionately know the king-size friar as "Big Norm."

After graduating from Cincinnati's Franciscan-run Roger Bacon High School, Norman joined the Cincinnati Franciscans. He was ordained a priest in 1958. His supervisors, seeing the young friar's remarkable speaking and dramatic skills, assigned him ministries that would prepare him for the preaching apostolate.

After two years as a parish priest in Cincinnati, one year as a high school teacher in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and another year back in Cincinnati as retreat master at Friarhurst retreat center, Norman was ready for the Franciscan Mission Band. For three years (1963-1966) "Big Norm" roved about the country from Texas and Louisiana to Michigan, Iowa to Pennsylvania, preaching parish missions and retreats.

"I can identify with St. Anthony of Padua in his role as preacher to everyday people because that was my ministry during those years," says the friar.

In 1966, Father Jeremy Harrington, O.F.M., became editor-in-chief of St. Anthony Messenger. Father Norman, who has held prominent posts among the friars ranging from councilor to vicar provincial, was asked to put his popular communication skills to work as associate editor of the publication. With the election of Father Jeremy as provincial of the Cincinnati friars in 1981, Norman was appointed editor-in-chief.

How does St. Anthony Messenger try to reflect the values and spirit of St. Francis today? "I hope that in our editorials and other articles," replies Norman, "we are translating the vision of St. Francis for our society and world." He likes to think that this vision is upheld when we foster values like "peace-making, reconciliation, forgiveness, concern for creation, respect for life."

We are also called by Francis, he believes, to be "advocates of the minores--the minorities and the poor. I hope we reflect that in our pages when we focus on racial, ethnic and other minorities and on the homeless and hungry in our cities." The friar, who has served on the diocesan marriage tribunal, adds, "Supporting healthy Christian family life is also a part of our vision." Children, too, he says, are among the poor and the needy, as they are often oppressed and abused.

"And as for the Church, we come from a position of love--even if at times we may be critical. Like Francis, we love the Church," says Norman, "and want it to be the best it can be, realizing that the Church is us!"

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