The Provincial Chapter of 1925 elected Fr. Benvenutus Ryan, O.F.M. to succeed Fr. Mathias Faust, O.F.M. as Minister Provincial. The same Chapter appointed Fr. Mathias to be guardian of St. Francis Friary, as Fr. Anselm Kennedy, O.F.M. had completed his second term. However, in recognition of his excellent pastoral ministry, Fr. Anselm remained as pastor at 31st Street. He continued to improve the parish properties and to provide for the ever increasing numbers of clients who flocked to the church. Early in 1929, sickness forced the energetic friar to relax the intensity of his efforts. He sought treatment at a Michigan hospital, but when he perceived no noticeable improvement, he begged to be taken back to New York. He was taken directly from the train to St. Francis Hospital in the Bronx, where he died later on the eve of the Feast of St. Anthony, June 12, 1929.
The funeral of Fr. Anselm was the largest ever held in St. Francis Church until that time. Practically every parish in the city was represented. The funeral took place on June 17, 1929 with Patrick Cardinal Hayes presiding. There was genuine sorrow at the funeral Mass for the kindly friar who had looked out for the welfare and comfort of those who attended his church. Many in the congregation wept openly. This was the friar who would look for empty seats for those he found standing, or erect provisional confessionals when people had to wait too long. This was the friar who always put the convenience of others before his own, and who knew them by name. The death of this gently friar was a great loss to the people whom he loved and knew so well.
Fr. Anselm left a vibrant spiritual center in the midst of New York’s largest department stores, grand hotels, subways and railways. The thousands of people streaming day after day from these various locations found a true spiritual oasis. The noonday Mass, the confessionals and the various devotions were crowded with grateful worshippers. The church parlors were filled with people seeking advice, consolation or instruction. Eight public Masses were offered daily, and on Sunday 14 Masses were available.
At the side altars, during the age before concelebration, visiting bishops and priests could be seen offering Mass every half hour. Novenas and spiritual devotions were well attended, and confessions were heard throughout the day. In 1934, during the Great Depression, it was ascertained that 350,000 confessions were heard by the friars. Though not the largest church in New York City, St. Francis of Assisi had become the most popular and busiest house of worship in the world.
This series of articles on the history of our parish is adapted from the writings of Fr. Flavian Walsh, O.F.M., Pastor from 1985-87.