By Mary Best
Fifty-eight years ago in the St. Bonaventure University chapel, Father Robert Struzynski, O.F.M., began his journey to becoming a Franciscan friar. On May 15, Father Bob will retire to St. Anthony Friary in Butler, N.J., concluding an extraordinary journey at Bona’s.
As a member of the Holy Name Province, Father Bob has had a plentiful life as a friar since discovering his vocation here in 1955. He has dedicated his life to service, including opening the St. Francis Inn, a soup kitchen and shelter in Philadelphia, working as a missionary in Jamaica and starting a prison ministry in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1993, according to a July 23, 2008 Holy Name Province Newsletter.
In 2005, Father Bob left Buffalo for Mount Irenaeus to continue his ministry in the Bonaventure community, he wrote in a 2008 essay that appeared in The Antonian.
“The community of friars has an amazing life of contemplation and hospitality, Mt. Irenaeus truly is home to anyone who comes there, and we friars simply caretake their home,” Father Bob said. “We also join the friars at the university in a common ministry that is very unique.”
Father Bob, who was unavailable for comment, continued to reflect on his journey in the year he celebrated his 50th anniversary of profession, grateful for the students he has met over the years.
“My journey has been awfully satisfying, and it continues at Mt. Irenaeus,” Father Bob said. “Here, I am able to use my experiences in a unique and exciting way. I thank the students for keeping me young at heart and the good Lord for his great mercy and love.”
Bonaventure students who have interned at the mountain during the summer have their own unforgettable memories of Father Bob, including senior English major Steven Kuzara.
“When he was able to go to the chapel and preside for mass, he took his time and really enhanced the spiritual experience for me,” Kuzara wrote in an email. “During mass we would share what the homily meant to us, and each time he would have eye contact with who was speaking, and you can tell he was truly listening and making a connection to that person.”
Kuzara also spoke to Father Bob’s relationship to other friars at the mountain and what makes him unique.
“When I think of Father Bob the immediate thing that comes to me is how he is such a contemplative human being that listens well to those who are speaking instead of thinking of what he is going to say in response,” Kuzara said. “Father Bob without a doubt is someone that anyone can go to for advice, just talk, or for one of his solid hugs — he’s surprisingly strong — and with each of these a sense of connection is immediate, he is that attentive; which makes him such a vital asset to the mountain and the St. Bonaventure community.”
Kuzara said he will also miss seeing Father Bob around campus and at the mountain, especially since he always said hello during lunch at the Hickey Dining Hall.
“He is a friar who exemplifies the Franciscan tradition of a contemplative lifestyle, which carries with it a connection to those he is in accompany with whether it be one of his mountain brothers, students on campus, or even someone in the Gowanda prison program,” Kuzara said. “With all those people, I got a sense of him seeing the inherit goodness in others.”
Brett Keegan, a senior philosophy major, has worked with Father Bob on campus, at the mountain and as a part of the Gowanda service program.
“In both capacities he was a gentle guide rather than a traditional leader, ordering us. He worked alongside us at the Mountain, joking,” Keegan said. “He always made the work seem more meaningful and pleasant, almost like a meditation. With Gowanda, I got to see his tough side come out. Father Bob could be hard, but he was hard out of love. Above all, he strove to be real. ”
Keegan also said he would miss Father Bob’s gentle and peaceful nature that contrasts with his powerful story.
“He is so humble and peaceful that he’s like a smooth pond, reflecting back his peace, while concealing his depth in stillness,” Keegan said. “I don’t normally say I love people, it’s a strong word, but I feel like I love Fr. Bob. He was just such a gentle soul that every time I saw him, I would feel happy, as if the world were right. I’ll miss having him to talk to here or at the Mountain, laying down his gentle wisdom.”
Allie Leis, a senior math major, said Father Bob has an unforgettably kind personality.
“Father Bob is one of the sweetest, kindest people I have ever met. He’s just so gentle with everything that he does, and he’s so humble,” Leis said. “I hope he knows how much everyone loves him. He’s one to remember the little things and always makes everyone feel remembered and appreciated.”
Leis said her favorite mountain memories of Father Bob include making dinner with him because he always answered all of her questions, and will miss the sense of peacefulness he brought to everyone he met.
“I’ll definitely miss the friendly smile and hello every time I pass him on campus. Father Bob is one who can always make my day better.”