How Friar Jack Got His Name

[ Father Jack Wintz, O.F.M. ] A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a Catholic subscriber in India who was upset with—or at least questioned—the fact that my name "Friar Jack" did not seem religious enough. He argued that I should have a more obvious Christian name and patron saint. He thought "Friar Jack" was too secular-sounding and gave my "E-spirations" a worldly feel. Well, that is certainly not the intention of this e-mail effort.

Let me give you the story of my name. It's a story with strange twists and turns, but in the end I hope readers can decide for themselves whether my name is religious enough. I was given the name Ronald George Wintz when I was born in 1936 and was baptized in a Franciscan parish under that same name. When I entered the Franciscan novitiate in 1954, I took the name Alton from an obscure Irish monk, Saint Alto, who made his way to Germany in 743. So I began my Franciscan life as Friar Alton.

In 1959, during the presidential campaign of Jack Kennedy, while I was a student in our Franciscan theology school near Dayton, Ohio, my confreres began calling me Jack. They said that my hair length at the time was like Senator Kennedy's. Well, the nickname stuck and most of my friends called me Jack. My official name, however, was still Friar Alton, and also Father Alton after I was ordained a priest in June of 1963 (the same year President Jack Kennedy was assassinated. I taught English literature in Franciscan high schools in the Midwest for five years as Father Alton. Then I spent three years in the Philippine Islands, teaching literature to Franciscan seminarians, still as Father Alton. More and more people, however, seemed to feel more comfortable with the familiar name Jack than with Alton. Sorry about that, St. Alto!

When I returned to the states in 1972 to begin working at St. Anthony Messenger, I got my provincial's permission to officially change my name to Friar or Father Jack since most people were calling me that anyway. Since Jack is derived from the name John, I have adopted John the Evangelist as my primary patron saint, not a bad patron for a writer, but I also claim John the Baptist as an honorary patron, too. I'm happy to let you decide whether my name—and indeed its story—is too worldly or not.

I'm content with my two chosen patron saints—and my link, as a Franciscan friar, to St. Francis and St. Clare. I am also content to be working in the midst of this world and in the midst of the human family, as an "ordinary Jack." Christians are not called to "flee the world," or condemn it, but to live in its midst and seek to transform it from within. Jesus and St. Francis have been good models in this regard. Jesus was not sent to condemn the world but to transform and save it. The Incarnation does not represent a "flight from the world" on God's part but, on the contrary, an entering into it for the good. St. Francis took Jesus' message into the city square for the same reason. We at St. Anthony Messenger Press are bringing our presence into cyber space—into the world of the Internet—to try our best to be a transforming presence.

Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

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