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Franciscan Faces
Becoming a Friar Was No Pie-in-the-Sky Reach for This 4th-Generation Pizza Artisan

Pizza Night at St. Joseph Friary in Chicago, isn’t take-out from the local pizza place. Joshua Richter, OFM, who comes from four generations of pizza artisans, makes a smorgasbord of pies – traditional cheese and a number of specialties. While he shares his pizza-creating talents, don’t expect him to share his family’s secret recipes!

It would’ve made perfect sense for Joshua Richter, OFM, to settle into the family pizza business started by his great-grandfather. But after seven years of making pies, greeting diners and training employees at his uncle’s restaurant while in high school and college, Josh had his fill of the pizza profession and followed what he had been planning since the age of 12. He became a Franciscan friar.

Just as he seemed destined to join the family business, there was a strong argument that Josh was preordained for Franciscan life – a combination of his mother’s love for St. Francis (she is a lifelong Secular Franciscan); the strong impression left by Manuel Viera, OFM, a joyful and welcoming friar assigned to the family parish; and his close relationship with nature and deep connection to community and service. Josh, who was homeschooled with his six siblings and attended daily Mass with his family, later taught religious education to kindergarten students and religion classes to teen migrants at his parish.

Despite these many influences, it hasn’t been a straight path to friar life. But Josh seldom takes the direct route on any of his journeys. The ebb and flow of Franciscan discernment was 

much like his adolescent adventures in the forest preserve near his childhood home in Hamilton, Ohio, a suburb 20 miles north of Cincinnati. Josh would ignore the marked trails and disappear for hours deep into the wilderness.

“I always ventured into the preserve with the intention of getting lost so I could find my way out. It was meditative and spiritual, getting lost in the natural beauty of God’s creation. It was the same with my Franciscan discernment, surrendering to – and getting lost in – the moment so I could find my way to what God was calling me to do,” said Josh, who loved cultivating the family garden.

But he seemed to be trying to find a way out of vocation, walking back his declaration as a youth. Dating and other typical teenage distractions, and pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in environmental earth science and sustainability at Miami University Ohio, pushed Franciscan vocation to the back burner. But after college graduation – as Josh likes to say – God circled back with him. His response? Still not a wholehearted yes.

“I was excited about where it could lead, but I had my doubts right up until the day I left home. My attitude was – I’ll give the Franciscans a try just to get it out of my system, and then get on with my life – maybe a job in energy or food science,” said Josh.

What he thought would be a three-month look-see has now been six years of formation and diverse service ministry that has been as enriching and fulfilling for Josh as it has been for the lives in which he has been a presence. Since making his first profession of vows in 2020, Josh has lived at St. Joseph Friary, a Franciscan formation house in Chicago, Illinois, with a community of simply

Joshua Richter, OFM, slicing roast beef in the kitchen at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia.

and solemnly professed friars. He is also completing his master’s in divinity at the Catholic Theological Union.

His ministries, among others, have included helping children with homework assignments at an after-school program in an economically depressed community; working in an African American parish in the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana; hosting “Questions with Br. Josh” at a Chicago Catholic school to help pre-K through 8th-grade students “unpack their faith,” and bringing Communion and prayer to hospital patients. He and other friars have formed a Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation committee at the friary to devise ways of reducing their carbon footprint – among other things, starting a composting program.

“I have learned much about humanity and the universal need to reach out and care for each other. It starts in our fraternal community – the freedom to be yourself, and the way we support each other and then go out into the world to care for others,” said Josh, who has also spent time at St. Francis Inn soup kitchen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – describing his ministry there as “a life-giving experience, getting to know the community of guests, the privilege of hearing their stories, and being a presence to them.”

Joshua Richter, OFM (right), a self-taught guitar player, brings his talents to friar gatherings, communal prayer, and wherever he is assigned in ministry.

As for the pizza career that could’ve been, Josh says his experience in the business, in many ways, taught him how to be a Franciscan.

“I learned how to feed people. When someone walked through the door, you could simply hand them a menu. Or, you could make it an experience, walk them through the menu, help them decide what they really wanted. That’s how friars care for others – we feed people with sustenance, but also spiritually, with compassion and understanding,” explained Josh, who’s on track to profess his final vows next year with pursuit of priestly ordination.

“I also learned the importance of developing the skill sets of the high school students we hired. It helped them succeed in the moment and later in life. Friars come with different gifts and talents that we are encouraged to use for the benefit of 

the people we minister,” added Josh, a self-taught guitar player who brings his music to communal prayer, large friar gatherings, and wherever he is assigned in ministry.

Living with Josh has its benefits. Pizza Night at St. Joseph Friary features traditional cheese and at least two or three of his specialty pies! But one thing Josh won’t share – his family’s secret recipes passed down through four generations!

Content for this article compiled and written by Steve Mangione.

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