The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

For 25 years Msgr. Friend said 'yes' to Hispanics, vocations

Vocations director and vicar general learned to love Church through parents' example

Published: September 29, 2012   
Karen Schwartz
Msgr. Scott Friend lays hands on Father Andrew Hart during his ordination July 21 at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock. Msgr. Friend has overseen a 200-percent increase in seminarians since 2005.

Msgr. Scott Friend learned about compassion and adversity from an early age.

But more importantly, the well-known and popular priest was shown how to live a devout Catholic life even when times are tough.

Msgr. Friend, 51, was raised by his dentist father and homemaker mother. He looked up to his older brother, Jerry. As a child growing up at St. Theresa Church in Little Rock, he remembers loving the Catholic faith.

"My mom and dad, their faith life was important to them so they were active in the parish," he said.

He watched his father, Max, give back to the clergy and religious sisters. Dr. Friend went to the Carmelite Monastery in Little Rock to take care of the cloistered nuns.

His mother, Marie Elizabeth, who died five months before Msgr. Friend was ordained, was the glue that kept everything together at home. She sat in the family den for one hour every day to pray.

"We prayed at home. My mom had a very strong prayer life," he said.

His mother also taught him lessons that he didn't quite fully understand as a child. In the 1960s his mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. After the birth of their first child, the Friends were urged not to have any more children. Years later, Ronald Scott Friend was born.

"They really risked everything. My mom risked her sanity. My dad risked losing his wife to the disease. That is the grace out of which I was born. When my sister was born, my mom had a major break with reality."

As Msgr. Friend matured, he realized why his mother was so devoted to her prayer life.

"I understood my mom would go to the place inside her where she was free from her disease. There was a place where God dwelled in her. ... Even her disease didn't cut her off from the Lord."

When Marie Elizabeth Friend was hospitalized, Dr. Friend and relatives cared for the three children. Dr. Friend, who died in 2009, also cared for patients at the state mental hospital where he knew he could sympathize with their circumstances.

"These folks really needed somebody who understood them," he said. "He never judged them."

When Msgr. Friend entered Catholic High School in Little Rock in the 1970s he was torn between his family's foundation in faith and the popular culture at the time. Even though he was "raising Cain," he still would skip lunch to pray in the school's chapel.

"I knew God wanted me to be a priest, but I was kind of wanting to rock and roll a little bit," he said.

Priesthood was a vocation he had considered, but the pull to attend the University of Arkansas after high school was greater. For three years he studied psychology, and at one point, dreamed of following in the footsteps of his father to study pre-dentistry and get married.

"I was just very empty. I was becoming aware of how unhappy I was. I saw the life I was leading and I was empty. ... I had this love for the Church that I noticed other people didn't have ... I was concerned about people's spiritual life, but I wasn't exactly living my own life like I should."

After going to confession during college, his penance was to read the Bible for a month. Two weeks later, he heard God say to him, "Are you ready to go or do you want to play around some more?"

He finally decided to become a diocesan seminarian and attended St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana beginning in 1982. One summer, he asked to work with Father Joe Biltz, the much respected diocesan director for the Office of Peace and Justice who often took stances on war and nuclear arms that many Catholics didn't like.

One of his assignments with Father Biltz was to visit Warren (Bradley County) to organize farm workers. Msgr. Friend was uncomfortable there because he couldn't communicate with the Hispanic men.

"I remember feeling outside the circle. At that moment I said, 'I am going to learn Spanish,'" he said.

He attended the Mexican American Cultural Center before his ordination to learn the language. In 1987 he was one of the only priests in the diocese to speak Spanish.

"I knew if I didn't speak Spanish, I was going to be illiterate to the majority of the Church and that was just not acceptable to me," he said.

He was ordained on June 20, 1987, by Bishop Andrew J. McDonald. He was first assigned to be the associate pastor at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock. He has spent much of his career working in Hispanic ministry, serving as pastor of predominantly Spanish-speaking St. Barbara Church in DeQueen and St. Raphael Church in Springdale. From 1989 to 1993 and 1999 to 2001 he was the diocese's Hispanic ministry director.

Early on, his blonde hair and blue eyes stood out among the darker skin and hair of Hispanics and he got the nickname Padre Juero (Father Gringo).

Since 2005 he has served as the diocesan vocations director, overseeing a significant growth in seminarians. With the arrival of Bishop Anthony B. Taylor in 2008, he was given the additional duties of vicar general.

He was awarded the Lumen Christi Award by Catholic Extension Society in 2007 and named the Multiple Sclerosis Champion of Hope in 2009.

Msgr. Scott Friend has inspired Catholics in Arkansas with his effectiveness as a pastor and ability to recruit seminarians, but for many others it is his will power to overcome the effects of multiple sclerosis, which he was diagnosed with in 2002.

Many days he says it is painful to walk and stand for long periods, one reason why it is less likely he would become a pastor again full time. He also often has trouble remembering and concentrating.

"It's the greatest job," he said of being a pastor, "being with people, being responsible for their formation, caring for them. I enjoy working with our (seminarians) to be good pastors for the people."

He said it was the commitment he made to the Lord 25 years ago and every day since that keeps him going.

"It's my 'yes' that gets me out of bed. I said it once and for all. I'm not going to take it back. Whatever the bishop asks me to do, I've said 'yes' to it. I already answered that question. I mean I am going to show up whether it's hard or not hard, or whether I like things or not like things, or whether it's difficult, I am going to show up."

  • Click here to see the index of stories in Arkansas Catholic's jubilee series.

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