WAUPACA — To say that Harlan Swift’s spiritual life has been influenced by religious communities is an understatement. He has attended Catholic schools and worked with religious orders and Catholic organizations since he was a child, with the exception of three years in the late 1980s.
“I’ve been really fortunate,” said Swift. “I was born into a large Irish Catholic family in Dubuque, Iowa. My parents somehow got us all into Catholic schools. I grew up as the middle child of seven. My parents were great believers in the propagation of the faith.”
Swift’s family moved to Crown Point, Indiana, when he was young. He was educated by the Sisters of St. Agnes. He then attended high school at St. Lawrence Seminary in Mount Calvary, Wis.
“I knew nothing about the Capuchins until a week before going there,” he said. More education in the Agnesian tradition followed when he enrolled at Marian College (now Marian University) in Fond du Lac.
“In my professional life after college, I began teaching in a Catholic high school. I taught (math) in Catholic schools for 10 years. I began at Beloit Catholic and then taught at Winona Cotter (Minn.) The Agnesians and Capuchins kept popping up in my life over and over.”
While in college, Swift met his first wife, Roberta. Her life was also strongly influenced by women religious. Roberta worked for 25 years in ministry health care with the Sisters of Sorrowful Mother. Working with religious orders was not necessarily intentional, said Swift, but they appreciated the faith-based environments.
“You make decisions along the way,” he said. “We both wanted to work in places of value, places that had values, places that added value to our life. The choices that you make come from your basic belief of what is of value to you. Valuables were never a primary concern for us. A value-oriented environment was.”
Swift returned to Marian as financial aid director and to pursue a master’s in business administration. He worked in a for-profit position seeking a career path to utilize his advanced degree. Instead of continuing that route, he answered a call “literally and spiritually” to become the business manager at St. Lawrence Seminary, which began 25 years of working with the Capuchins.
“My 14-year ministry in finance to the school and the friars at St. Lawrence led me to serving the Province of St. Joseph as treasurer and secretary for the past 11 years,” he explained. “Assisting the Capuchins and all who partner with them the last 25 years has been God’s daily gift to me. They do tremendous good attending to the spiritual and other basic human needs.”
The couple moved to Waupaca in 2004 when Roberta began working in Stevens Point. Swift worked primarily out of Detroit as treasurer for the province. They became members of St. Mary Magdalene Parish. Swift served two terms on the parish finance committee and continues to minister as a lector.
The Capuchins and Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother served as a support system when Roberta became ill. She died in 2011 from ALS.
“When Roberta got sick, the Capuchins said, ‘Why don’t you work out of your house? You know when we need you to come to meetings,’” said Swift.
He is also touched by the personal sacrifice his sister, Chris Johnson, made during that difficult time. She quit her job in the Chicago area to provide assistance.
“Her sacrifice continued because she wouldn’t land a job for a while after Roberta’s death,” said Swift. “Eventually, she hooked up with the ALS Association in Chicago. It gives her tremendous fulfillment.”
On Dec. 31 of last year, Swift retired from his position with the province. On Jan. 1, he started as treasurer and secretary for the North American Pacific Capuchin Conference.
“I work part-time from home,” he said. “The NAPCC is somewhat like the USCCB (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops). I do less work as treasurer of the conference than I did for the province.”
Last November, Swift became an official affiliate of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph at an event held at St. Lawrence Seminary.
“I’m thankful for 25 years of working for Capuchins, men and women who were just committed to doing good,” he said. “It’s such an amazing experience to work in that type of setting day in and day out. Affiliation with the Capuchins is an invitation to join them spiritually. It is a tremendous honor.”
Swift added that he is constantly learning from the Capuchins, including lessons about prayer.
“You would think after 16 years of Catholic education, I would know a lot about prayer,” he said with a laugh. “As you go through adulthood, you learn what’s important and how to give thanks and praise and converse with God.”
The upcoming year may bring more changes for Swift, including a possible move.
“God revisited me as he does often,” he said. “God brought someone else in my life two years ago and we just got married two months ago.”
Swift and his wife, Barbara, a widow, may find a new home to be closer to grandchildren located in Cincinnati and Nashville.
“As long as I stay grounded in my values,” said Swift, the father of two and grandfather of two. “I know the decisions I make will be of value to me or someone else.”