Friar Focus: Brother Brian Newbigging

A fire-fighting Friar who has kept the candles burning
from Spring 2021 Edition

A familiar face is returning to the grounds of the Shrine of St. Anthony in Ellicott City, MD.

Br.Brian Newbigging, OFM Conv., who has served nearly 30 years on the campus, over two different stints, as a facilities director, will soon return to the Shrine, bringing the Province’s Franciscan Soy Candles operation with him.

Br. Brian, who professed his final vows in 1974, rescued the candle ministry in 2019 from the brink of extinction. Br. Andre Picotte, OFM Conv., the program’s founder, could not continue due to health issues. After an attempt to find an outside partner failed the ministry was set to be dissolved.

“Fortunately, just by a chance at the last minute, I found out about the dissolving of the candle making ministry,” said Br. Brian. “I asked to take it over and move it to the friary here in Hamburg (NY). Since I took over the ministry we have made and sold 1,150 candles.”

Br. Brian Newbigging in his role as an EMT with the Lake Shore (NY) Volunteer Fire Company.

Of course, rescues are nothing new to Br. Brian. His religious life has coincided with his career as a fire fighter and EMT, serving in various positions in the field in Maryland, New York and Massachusetts over the last 30 years.

“I caught the bug for fire fighting while in the Boy Scouts and I earned a badge for Fire Fighting,” said Br. Brian. “The 70’s TV show Emergency inspired me to be in EMS. It’s a great feeling when you make a difference by providing life saving medications or interventions. It’s these types of calls that keep you motivated to stay in the profession.”

His co-workers in the emergency services field often are surprised when they learn of Br. Brian’s “other life.”

“Some can’t believe it when I tell them that I’m a Friar Brother,” he said. “Many of my co-workers at the Baltimore City Fire Department were grads of Archbishop Curley High School and the only way I convinced them that I was a Friar was by telling them about some of the Friars who taught them in high school. The Friars serve in lots of different ministries. I chose the EMS field. I don’t walk in the door and just blurt out that I’m a Friar but rather I let it come out gradually.”

Br. Brian Newbigging in his current workshop where the Franciscan Soy Candles are produced and sold.

An avid outdoorsman, Br. Brian has been hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail since 1979, covering all but 180 of the Trail’s 2,100 miles. He has also hiked in the Rockies, on the Pacific Crest Trail in California and, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his vows, in New Zealand. He has enjoyed downhill skiing and was a certified SCUBA diver before bouts with blood clots in his legs forced him to give it up.

Br. Brian was taught by the Friars at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Tonawanda, NY. Although he was learning towards a career in forest service, he got a calling “out of the blue” while on a retreat during his senior year. “I heard a voice that told me to join the Friars.”

Upon his return to Maryland, Br. Brian hopes to continue to work as a paramedic part-time and is also seeking to regain a position he once held as a forensic investigator with the Medical Examiner’s office. He will also contribute to the facilities work and, of course, he will make candles, which, in his view, serve a greater purpose.

“I believe just spreading our name and mission to more people across the country is a good thing,” added Br. Brian. “Who knows what lives we might touch in the process?” †

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