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Franciscan Faces
When Worlds Collide: Faith, Friars and Furniture

John Boissy, OFM, displays a beautiful table he crafted in his woodworking shop, Friar Furniture & Crafts, in the basement of the St. Anthony Shrine Friary in Cincinnati.

If he hadn’t answered the call to Franciscan vocation, John Boissy, OFM, probably would’ve chased his God-given gift by opening a woodworking shop. Despite no formal training, transforming wood into furniture and household furnishings was a passion he came to know as a high school student. It was around the same time he developed a steady prayer life and felt more connected to his faith. It was difficult for John to choose between what God was calling him to do, and what he wanted to do. As it turns out, the two weren’t mutually exclusive, as the Cincinnati, Ohio, native would later learn.

Nine months ago, John opened his woodworking ministry, Friar Furniture & Crafts, in the basement of the friary at St. Anthony Shrine in Cincinnati’s Mt. Airy neighborhood. John says he is blessed to be living the best of both worlds, and is especially grateful during this season of thanksgiving for the prayer, support and fraternity that is friar life – while still being able to ply his craft in his ministry.

“That’s what makes Franciscans unique. We share our talents in our ministry work. The friars encouraged me to continue my woodworking. That comes from St. Francis, who encouraged the brothers to continue their skills for the benefit of the entire community,” said John, who lives with the friar fraternity at Brother Juniper Friary, five miles from his workshop.

“We all live the Gospel message, but in different ways. Some are in education, others at parishes and outreach ministries. Most of the time I am in the workshop, but it’s enriching to meet with customers and the opportunity to share our faith and life stories,” he added.

John originally wanted to be an architect, so he decided to forego Catholic high school for public school to major in design and construction. He crafted a bookshelf and shoe cabinet for his parents with the first set of power tools he received in high school. By senior year, his love for furniture and cabinet making set his sights on North Bennet Street School in Boston, Massachusetts, one of the oldest and most prestigious trade schools in the country. But with a two-year waiting list, John took a night job in customer service at a parking garage in downtown Cincinnati.

Every night, he bought a sandwich from a fast-food restaurant and offered it to a different homeless person. “Looking back, God was telling me something,” said John, who apparently got the message. He relocated to Boston to explore religious orders, but none seemed to be a good fit, so he returned to Cincinnati and soon realized what he was seeking was in his own backyard. He attended a weekend retreat hosted by the Franciscan friars at St. Anthony Shrine.

John Boissy, OFM, plying his trade in his woodworking shop, which is stocked with some of the tools he used as a high school teenager when he first discovered this God-given gift.
John Boissy, OFM, busy at work in his shop, where he crafts cabinets, chairs, desks, tables and other household furniture.

“I felt an instant connection with the friars through their fraternity, prayer, and service to the poor,” recalled John, who joined the friars in 2014.

A few months later, he got the other call he had been waiting for: someone dropped out of the Bennet School, opening a space for him. But he stayed with the friars. The Bennet School would now have to wait for him. After professing his solemn vows in March 2021, John entered the two-year program and earned a certificate in cabinet and furniture making in February 2023. Within weeks, he overhauled the friary basement at the Shrine, brought equipment and tools stored in his mother’s basement, and opened his woodworking ministry. Through word of mouth, he has been crafting cabinets, chairs and other household furniture (desks, tables, etc.) for private homeowners and friars.

“I love the creativity and brainstorming with others – taking an idea, using different techniques.

It’s prayer for me to take this natural beauty of God’s creation and use my hands to craft something beautiful. There’s a joyful sense of accomplishment,” said John, whose current projects include a book cabinet and fireplace mantel, and who also refinishes and repairs furniture. He’s also in the planning stages of crafting an altar for the new chapel being constructed at Roger Bacon High School, and a wall-mounted tabernacle for a church.

Since becoming a friar, John has served at a Lutheran church-sponsored program providing donuts, coffee, lunch and welcome to homeless and low-income poor, and he has worked at a soup kitchen and other outreach ministry. John served at a residential memory care center for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia – a ministry that affected him deeply because both diseases run in his mother’s family.

“Playing cards, having lunch, watching television, listening to music with the residents – and being a loving presence, getting to hear the stories they shared – was a graced privilege. I am blessed and thankful for my friar life and for being able to share God’s gifts,” said John.

Content for this article compiled and written by Steve Mangione.

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