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New habits, old roots: Have you heard of the Little Friars and Little Nuns of Jesus and Mary?

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little friars little nuns - The Catholic Weekly
Sr Caterina Curth, Friar John Paul and Fr Antonio. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

With their unusual habits, green rosary beads and “crown of thorns” tonsures, the Little Friars and Little Nuns of Jesus and Mary are not your ordinary religious community.  

“At a religious conference I attended before joining, people were asking me if I had seen the ‘Jedi sand people,’” laughed Friar John Paul Tsatsoulas. 

“What were they talking about? Sand people? Then I saw this community going up the escalator and thought, ‘Oh, that’s who they mean.’ 

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“I just had to figure out who they were and so I went up to Sr Caterina Curth and she explained.” 

Now visiting Sydney from the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana, Fr Antonio Farrugia along with Sr Caterina and Friar John are at St Catherine Laboure in Gymea for a series of talks and a spiritual retreat for Catholics in Sydney. 

The friars’ and nuns’ habits might remind passers-by of space monks from a galaxy far, far away, but their spirituality draws deeply from the first Carmelites and early Franciscans.  

From the former, they take a dedication to contemplative prayer. From the latter, a spirit of evangelisation. All through a devotion to simplicity, poverty and competence. 

Left to right, Fr Noel Assistant priest at St Catherine Laboure, Sr Caterina Curth, Friar John Paul, Fr Antonio and Fr Dr Greg Morgan parish priest at St Catherine Laboure. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

“Our morning prayer is perhaps the most sacred time of contemplation we have, then along with our formation, other prayer and homily preparations,” said Fr Antonio. 

One of the more unique ways they fulfil their evangelising mission is by hitchhiking. 

“We don’t have our own cars, a part of our vows of poverty, so it’s a significant part of our charism that finds us out on the streets,” Fr Antonio said. 

“In a simple half-hour ride you can connect with people that have been Catholic and help them to come back again or even those who aren’t Catholic but want to find out more and go to RCIA.” 

The community was founded 25 years ago by Sicilian Friar Volantino Verde, a former night club manager, building contractor and avid motorbike enthusiast.  

After trouble with the “mafia” he planned to take justice into his own hands when a radical conversion stopped him. 

Torn between two paths, Christ appeared to Volantino in a dream and revealed what his future would look like if he took up the call, which he did soon after in Sicily. 

Now the US community live “down the bayou,” a tributary off the Mississippi populated by a mix of Native-Americans, local Cajuns and wealthy summer house owners.  

“We’ve had a lot of difficulties, as religious communities often do. It’s the labour pains of giving birth to a new reality—we’ve been through a lot of them over the last 25 years,” Fr Antonio said. 

Friar John Paul. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

“But we think in the last five years, the child well and truly has been born and is growing healthy.” 

The Little Friars were canonically approved by the Catholic church in May 2019 and now include more than 50 members across seven different dioceses in Italy, USA, Mexico and Brazil. 

That includes Louisiana-born Sr Caterina, who wanted to be a nun for as long as she could remember. Rather than “why,” it was only a matter of which community. 

“I think my parents figured out my vocation before I even did,” she said. 

“I originally didn’t want to stay in Houma-Thibodaux. I didn’t like the swamp, with the mud, the humidity, the mosquitos.  

“I wanted to get out and was looking perhaps in England or other parts of the US, but as the Lord would have it, he ended up calling me right back to my hometown.” 

The trip is a happy return for Fr Antonio, who was born and raised in Adelaide, before he had a chance encounter with the founder while on an overseas trip after graduating from art school. 

“When I left Australia, I remember that there wasn’t a lot going on in faith-based areas and so it’s great to see this thirst now reignited in the culture,” Fr Antonio said. 

Parish priest Fr Greg Morgan said their trip is a welcome visit to the youth of the Shire. 

“You might be familiar with seeing a priest, but you definitely don’t see nuns and friars,” he said. 

“As the culture becomes more disillusioned, people are naturally disappointed. The chaos of trying to live in a truthless society and in a state of contradiction, human beings can’t live like that. The anxiety is too overwhelming.  

“That’s why this robust witness is so prophetic. Just to see friars and nuns like this is the kind of radical witness we need. The culture responds to it, people are hungry for it.” 

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