By Eli Pacheco

Nine friars. One island. An endless supply of grace and service.  

There may be fewer than 10 friars in Puerto Rico, but their work extends throughout two parishes and beyond, from tutoring to guitar lessons to media ministry.  

“There are few of us, but we do many things,” said Br. Gerardo A. Vargas Cruz, OFM, guardian of the friar community. “That is part of our service to the Kingdom of God, and we do it with joy.” 

The friars live in the Archdiocese of San Juan, cared for by Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, OFM. 

From left to right: Brothers Gerardo Vargas Cruz, OFM, Luis S. Olmo Orench, OFM, and Eddie Caro Morales, OFM. (Photo courtesy of Br. Octavio Duran, OFM)

Br. Eddie Caro Morales, OFM, is a professionally-trained pastry chef. (Photo courtesy of Br. Octavio Duran, OFM)

Br. Junior Alberto Casas, OFM is a talented musician. (Photo courtesy of Br. Octavio Duran, OFM)

Meet the friars 

The San José Obrero fraternity in Sabana Seca, a suburb of Toa Baja, includes:  

  • Br. Gerardo, who teaches at Bayamón Central University, a Dominican school, and serves as the Episcopal Vicar of Priests of the Archdiocese of San Juan. 

    “This is a service requested by Archbishop Roberto, which I carry out with joy,” said Br. Gerardo, who is also the national assistant of the Secular Franciscan Order with the Capuchin friars. 
    He also serves on the board of directors of Niños de Nueva Esperanza, which he co-founded with Br. Eddie Caro Morales, OFM. The nonprofit seeks to break the cycle of social decline in Sabana Seca by strengthening young peoples’ community skills and fostering personal growth through academic support, therapies, assessments and sociocultural workshops.  
    Niños de Nueva Esperanza was formed 26 years ago, when friars went to live in a neighborhood in Sabana Seca and made themselves present to the community without a specific ministry in mind. After a year, by the grace of the Spirit, the friars formed a bond with the local youth and started a tutoring program, which has grown into the nonprofit we see today.
    “I collaborate weekly on a radio program on one of the country's main stations, on which we analyze socio-political topics and others from a faith perspective,” Br. Gerardo said. 

  • Br. José Santos Pérez Castillo, OFM, is a member of the Province of San Pedro and San Pablo of Michoacán in Mexico. A parish priest who also assists two Poor Clare monasteries, he travels extensively. He also works with the municipal government to vet vacant homes to use for low-income housing. 

    “He is capable of construction and renovations, so he has also dedicated himself to beautifying the community's temples, too,” Br. Gerardo said. 

  • Br. Maikel Gómez Pérez, OFM, serves San José Obrero Parish in Toa Baja. He is Cuban and studies theology and works with the Secular Franciscans and parish youth.

  • Br. Alfonso Guzmán Alfaro, OFM, is longtime vocational promoter. He helps Br. José with the Poor Clare sisters and teaches church history at the Dominican School of Theology. He is secretary to Archbishop Roberto and chaplain at Fort Buchanan, a U.S. Army base. 

The Santa Clara fraternity in Carolina includes: 

  • Br. Luis S. Olmo Orench, OFM, a parish priest and guardian who works with the archdiocesan TV channel, Canal 13, celebrating televised Masses.  

    Br. Luis has also created a team at his parish that broadcasts liturgical services and shares the Good News with the faithful on social media. “Br. Luis is a specialist in Franciscan spirituality and a good communicator,” Br. Gerardo said. 

  • Br. Eddie Caro Morales, OFM, co-founded Niños de Nueva Esperanza with Br. Gerardo and serves on the board of directors. Br. Eddie and Br. Gerardo also provide lay and ecumenical formation in Franciscan spirituality. 

    Br. Eddie studied social work, specializing in working with families and children, and also studied French pastry techniques at Le Cordon Bleu in Spain, an institute recognized for its culinary excellence, and artisanal breadmaking in Barcelona. 

    “He is dedicated to creating artisanal desserts for sale, supplying some restaurants, and developing self-sustainability workshops for women in Puerto Rico and with our friar brothers in the Dominican Republic,” Br. Gerardo said.

    Br. Eddie also promotes the writings of the late Br. Ángel Dario Carrero, OFM, a poet, theologian, and defender of civil rights, and has contributed to a collection of Br. Ángel’s writings: “La Calma es la Catástrofe.” 

  • Br. Junior Alberto Casas, OFM, a Cuban brother in formation, Br. Junior works in vocational ministry and teaches disadvantaged kids to play guitar.  

  • Br. Erick López, OFM, a Provincial Councilor who arrived in December and helps in the parish. “The great Br. Erick is a gain for us,” Br. Gerardo said. 

Also working in Puerto Rico is Br. Emérito Gómez, OFM, who serves in the Diocese of Fajardo-Humacao in the eastern part of the island. 

The Provincial Council visited Niños de Nueva Esperanza during its visit to Puerto Rico earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of Br. Larry Ford, OFM)

Br. Eddie shares his baking talents with the community, selling desserts and supplying local restaurants.

The friars' ministries include teaching - from tutoring children and teenagers to educating college-level students.

The friars are devoted to caring for their Poor Clare sisters.

An invitation from the brothers 

Although the fraternities are connected to parishes, not all their work is parish-based, making Puerto Rico a land of opportunity for the friars. 

“Puerto Rico is a space where the brothers can put all their gifts at the service of the Gospel,” Br. Gerardo said. “I have carried out my ministry in many areas, from working in a fast-food restaurant to being a guide in a forest managed by a community to parish ministry. 

“We would like the brothers to know that the friars living in Puerto Rico are their brothers, not only because we belong to the same province but because we always make possible the Kingdom of God and its Good News (Gospel) in every place,” Br. Gerardo added. 

He invites friars everywhere to join him in Puerto Rico. 

“Be among us,” Br. Gerardo said. “Those who want a place to learn Spanish or take a break, the brothers of Puerto Rico are willing to welcome them. For us, the visitor is family, and we will show it from the first day. 

“So, if you want to renew that Franciscan spirit of service to the least, come and see!”