New Capuchin provincial sees his ministry as bringing ‘life-changing’ hospitality

Fr. Mark Joseph Costello, OFM Cap., is the new provincial of the Detroit-based Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph. A Wisconsin native, Fr. Costello has served on Native American reservations in Montana and as a design consultant for parishes and religious organizations around the country, where he has learned the deeper meaning of hospitality and ministering to the whole person. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic) 

Wisconsin-born priest didn’t know much about Blessed Solanus Casey, but friar’s simplicity a perfect model of Capuchins’ mission, he says

DETROIT  Fr. Mark Joseph Costello brings a designer’s eye to ministry. 

The Wisconsin-born Capuchin priest has spent many years working as an independent consultant for parishes throughout the U.S. and abroad, working on renovations of churches, hospitals and shrines, including turning a former Chicago post office into a Capuchin friary

In his new role as provincial minister of the Detroit-based Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, Fr. Costello is working to maintain and expand the province’s ministries, which include social services, schools, chaplaincies, retreat houses and parishes in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Montana. 

“We are very much in sync with Pope Francis in terms of being a field hospital or working on the margins,” Fr. Costello told Detroit Catholic. “I’ve been involved in our pastoral planning and am a bit of a retread, since I was on the provincial council and the leadership team before. And when I was on the council, the goal was doing what no one else is doing or willing to do.” 

Born in Fond du Lac, Wis., Fr. Costello went to the Capuchin novitiate in 1982 and was ordained a priest in 1991. Ministering as a formation director in Chicago, working as an independent consultant for parishes in building and renovation projects, and most recently, six years of work with four parishes on an Indian reservation in Montana are among his experiences. 

Appointed in November 2020 to a three-year term as provincial, Fr. Costello has spent his time visiting the various friaries and ministries and accompanying his fellow Capuchins in their service. 

“Capuchins are big on eating together, living with one another and being a brother to one another,” said Fr. Costello, who, like many Capuchins, prefers to go by “Brother Mark Joseph.”

Fr. Costello said a big focus of his energy is on the renovation of a historic friary in Milwaukee, St. Francis, which was first constructed in 1869. 

A Capuchin friar prays with a couple at the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit. Fr. Mark Joseph Costello, OFM Cap., the new provincial of the Detroit-based Capuchin Province of St. Joseph, says service is at the heart of the order’s mission. 

“It has not been lived at, used for social services and meetings and other things for the last 40 to 50 years. But it will become a residence for our postulants, elders and working friars,” he said.  

Fr. Costello brings his design and construction experience to St. Bonaventure Monastery at a time when the Solanus Casey Center is undergoing its own renovation and expansion project, courtesy of a gift from the A.A. Van Elslander Foundation to the tune of up to $20 million. 

“Art Van Elslander had this dream of people being able to come here, because he liked to come here for prayer,” Fr. Costello said. “He had a simple approach, but it fit into the idea of a wider spirituality. He liked the place itself, the environment, so the idea is to extend that experience.” 

Despite being a Capuchin, Fr. Costello admits he didn’t know much about his fellow Wisconsinite Blessed Solanus Casey until recently, but social media, and the 2017 beatification Mass at Ford Field, certainly broadened his appeal. 

“People might have known about Padre Pio, but often wouldn’t realize we (Capuchins) are the same group — partly because he’s Italian, as opposed to this American-Midwestern figure,” Fr. Costello said. “Even though there are many famous miracle stories, (Blessed Solanus) wasn’t a pope or a cardinal. He was very popular, not just in Detroit, but in Huntington, Ind., and New York. Wherever he went, he had a following.” 

Fr. Costello thinks the ordinariness of Blessed Solanus, the simplex priest who served as the porter to the monastery — the guy who opened the door and just listened — is the kind of accessible ministry many people find attractive. 

“The more people learn about his life, the more intriguing he is because of the ordinariness and his real concern for people,” Fr. Costello said. “I used to teach little kids on the (Native American) reservation a whole series of stories about Solanus that were geared toward children. It was amazing how native kids got really into those stories. They weren’t from their timeframe or culture or experience — most of them were urban stories, and we’re out on the reservation in Montana — but for some reason, there is an appeal.” 

That appeal continues to this day, Fr. Costello said, with all Capuchin ministries. 

Unlike other religious orders, the Capuchins are not primarily parish-based or the builders of great learning institutions across the country, but find their place next to the poor, working with people, serving them and living with them, regardless of where they might be.  

“I think hospitality is the big thing — not in the modern sense of you getting an amenity at a hotel or being offered a drink, but being hospitable, like the word ‘hospice,’” Fr. Costello said. “People came to hear Solanus talk, because the counsel he offered was life-changing. Meeting basic human needs is at the heart of being a Capuchin, but it’s more than that. Meeting those spiritual needs, the needs of the whole person, that’s what it means to be hospitable, to have a ministry that’s life-changing.” 

This article has been updated with minor corrections.