The Help of a Friend

As dawn breaks after the cold darkness of a winter night, a kind man prepares to guide young men to eternal life through Mass. This by itself is an extraordinary event. However, Fr. Patrick Friend does this every single day, bright and early at 7:15. And that’s just the beginning of the generosity that Fr. Friend displays daily. 

From the beginning, teachers could sense the potential of this young man. “Academically, Fr. Friend was very good,” said Mr. Tom Handloser. “He was great to be around, and he had a great sense of humor. He was looking out for his teachers back then, including me. He had a lawn mowing service where he worked his tail off. With his hard-earned money, he decided to buy two spears for my classroom. It was awesome, and it meant a lot to me. You could tell there was something special about him.”

Fr. Friend had little trouble finding his love for the school as a student. “I loved it here. I bought into the school pretty quickly. My grandfather, my dad, my uncle, and my great uncle all went here,” said Fr. Friend. “I was super involved. I did the plays. I was on the physical fitness team. I did church league basketball and intramurals. I was the vice president of my senior class, I had a great group of friends, and I started the REACH program. It was challenging, and I had to work really hard to keep my grades up. I always had a really good relationship with my teachers.”

Fr. Friend’s commitment to faith and school was immediately apparent, but his call to the priesthood didn’t follow the same pattern. “I think that in the back of my reptilian brain, I knew I was called to be a priest. But I didn’t want any part of it,” said Fr. Friend. “I was involved in youth ministry and stuff, and it seemed clear to me that that’s what the Lord wanted for me, but I was dating someone at the time. I was scared of what the life of a priest would be.”

After graduating from the school in 2007, Fr. Friend attended Westminster College. He felt called to the strong student-teacher relationships that Catholic High provided, wanted a small school, and wanted to get out of Arkansas to meet as many new people as possible. Westminster provided all of that and more. “I never wanted to just be a number,” said Fr. Friend. “Being on a small campus, ironically, means that you can meet more people. On a big college campus, you’re only around a certain amount of people every day. On a smaller campus, you see the same people daily and get to have a better relationship with them because of that.”

Fr. Friend also appreciated his experience with graduates who had also attended Westminster. “There are actually a number of Catholic High graduates who went there, and they’re all men that I respected,” said Fr. Friend. “They’re all living meaningful lives. They’re good fathers and good husbands, so I thought it would be a good place for me.”

Poetry and literature have always called Fr. Friend, so he knew immediately what he wanted to major in. He thought he wanted to go into dental school, though, so he prepared for that. But his father was thinking farther into the future. “My dad was like, ‘You need to get all your prerequisites for dental school,’ and he kind of tricked me,” said Fr. Friend. “I got to my senior year, and if I had taken only two more classes, I would also have a biology major, so I double-majored in English and Biology. 

“It all came down to my love for creation. I’ve always been so grateful for the world that we live in. You can see biology as a study of the beauty and intricacy of life on every level,” said Fr. Friend. “Humanity is clearly the crown of creation. Nothing else is studying creation itself. So what do we, as humans, do unlike anything else? We have literature and art for art’s sake. I love the creative world.”

Fr. Friend’s coworkers and superiors could see his fulfilled potential. “[Fr. Friend’s character is] impeccable,” said Mr. Steve Straessle. “He’s one of a kind in the way that he blends passion, energy, knowledge, and good humor in a way that is both unique and uplifting for the boys and families that he serves.

“He taught here for a year before going to the seminary. He pulled me aside at the end of the year and said, ‘I have something to tell you,’ and I thought that he was getting married or something,” said Mr. Straessle. “He said that he was going to the seminary and wouldn’t be teaching here anymore. We hated to let him go. He was such a young, bright teacher, and we like to hang onto those.”

With that, Fr. Friend headed off to the seminary. In the seminary, as a part of a program at Mexican American Cultural College, Fr. Friend headed to a Catholic Charities outpost in Brownsville, Texas, to assist immigrants. “We would receive people who the courts let go. But the courts would drop people off at a bus stop and say, ‘Good luck getting where you need to go,’” said Fr. Friend. 

“So the Catholic Charities outpost would send us seminarians to receive them. We would give them a warm welcome after having been in essentially — prisons — and find out where their destination was by using maps,” said Fr. Friend. “We’d help them get cleaned up a bit and give them something light to eat, like soup.

“Because I can speak Spanish, I was able to talk to the families,” said Fr. Friend. “Some of these guys were coming from places like Guatemala and wanted to end up in Chicago. But it was January, and they didn’t have a jacket or any warm clothes. We got to give them clothes that they needed.”

This service didn’t only help the adults in the immigrant families. “It was incredible to see kids coming in with holes in their shoes and a defeated look on their faces,” said Fr. Friend. “They would get cleaned up and shower, and they would come back in TOMS shoes and a Hello Kitty shirt or something like that, and they looked like kids. The demeanor in the children and women especially changed, because we gave them a safe place from any abuse they potentially went through. The next day, we’d take them to a bus stop, with an actual ticket to where they were wanting to go, and send them off. I loved every second of it. I wish we could’ve done more.”

Learning Spanish allowed Fr. Friend to connect with people on a deeper level. “I still love learning Spanish. I’m not learning it for a grade or a business venture. I’m learning it so I can spread the Gospel to people and let them know that they matter to me,” said Fr. Friend. “Hopefully, if they see that they matter to me, they can see that they matter to God.”

The process of actually getting Fr. Friend back in the walls of the school wasn’t very difficult. “During my fourth year at the seminary, Bishop Taylor asked if I was open to returning to the school. I was truly excited at the prospect,” said Fr. Friend.

One day, Mr. Straessle got a call from Bishop Taylor saying that he wanted to meet with Mr. Straessle and that he was coming to the school. “When Bishop Taylor calls me and comes to the school for a meeting, it can either be really good or really bad,” said Mr. Straessle. “Fortunately, in this case, it was really good. 

“He mentioned that he wanted to assign Fr. Friend here. He thought that Fr. Friend had some special instincts and skills that were going to be helpful to the boys,” said Mr. Straessle. “Bishop Taylor was adamant that no teacher was going to get fired to make room for him. He wanted to make sure it was done the right way. I told the Bishop that we would love to have Father Friend, we had a classroom for him, and we were looking forward to it.”

Upon his return as Fr. Friend, the entire school recognized him as the spiritual guide that he is today. “Working with Fr. Friend is fantastic,” said Mr. Handloser. “I view Father as a friend and colleague, but also a spiritual counselor now, which I think is great. I used to help him out, and now he’s helping me out. I hear him talking with and helping the boys all of the time. He is always thinking about other people.”

Fr. Friend couldn’t be happier to be back at the school as a priest. “My favorite thing is saying Mass every day,” said Fr. Friend. “I love providing the Sacraments to the students and being here for counseling. Adolescent years are hard. It’s amazing to see guys I know who struggle greatly have small successes. They continue to duke it out even though they’re suffering. You can always see redemption happening here.”

Fr. Friend would like students to take away something from his life experience. “Do not be afraid. We have to be reminded of that constantly because we make so many decisions out of fear. But God will not deceive us. If you accept the life and vocation that He calls us to, whether that be a father, priest, or religious brother, and adhere to His will, you will be happy,” said Fr. Friend. “You’ll have your bad days, but you will be joyful.”

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