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Fr. Justin Belitz, OFM passed into eternal life on October 13, 2023, at the age of 88. Fr. Justin was being treated for internal bleeding and a compressed vertebrae at Community Hospital North following a fall.
Fr. Justin was born as Frank Belitz on April 3, 1935 to a close-knit family in “Sheeley Town,” a Polish neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, John, owned a filling station where Buddy (as he was called) and his three brothers worked as boys. Justin was very close to his mother, Helen Belitz, and grandmother, Mary Kudlacz, who had a grocery store and was known for her charity. The Belitz extended family were especially musically-inclined and Justin learned to play the accordion early, often appearing with the family band at professional engagements and charitable events. Music became central to his life.
During a vocation talk given in his first-grade classroom in an Omaha Catholic school, Justin knew he was being called to the priesthood, a conviction that never left him. Through grade school and high school at Creighton Preparatory, even as a socially popular young man, he continued to prepare to follow the call, entering the seminary after high school in 1954. Justin was accepted into the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart on July 4, 1954. Although he found that his dyslexia presented difficulties in his seminary studies, he persisted in preparing for the priesthood and was ordained on June 13, 1961.
Fr. Justin‘s first assignment was to teach music at Padua Franciscan High School in Parma, Ohio. During his thirteen years at Padua and Trinity High School in Garfield Heights, Ohio, he authored a book on the teaching of music to high school students. While teaching, he also obtained a master’s degree in Music Education from Case Western Reserve University. In addition to his work with music, Fr. Justin developed a program on Franciscan Spirituality and meditation for high school students, calling the program “Success: Full Living,” based on the Scripture quote from Jesus: “I came that you may have life and have it to the full.” Fr. Justin began to offer this program to adults as well and also agreed to lead tours to the Holy Land, Rome, and other religious locations.
In 1974, Fr. Justin attended a program on the Silva method of meditation that set the course for much of his subsequent ministry. He saw meditation as essential to deep spirituality and as an approach to world peace and physical and spiritual healing. In 1978, he accepted an invitation to move to the Alverna Retreat House in Indianapolis to continue his work in spirituality and meditation.
Before beginning at Alverna, Fr. Justin took a sabbatical year to do more study on the Silva method in Laredo, Texas, and to explore mystical phenomena at St. Bonaventure University in New York. He then moved on to Jerusalem to do biblical scholarship and to Assisi, Italy, to focus on Franciscan spirituality and meditation. During this year, he became a certified Silva instructor and taught his first workshops on Silva meditation.
Fr. Justin returned to the United States in August of 1979 and offered his first parish renewal based on the Success: Full Living material. He began teaching this workshop on a regular basis from his home base at the Alverna Retreat House. Thus began a long mission of serving parishes with missions and retreats, at first in Indianapolis and surrounding areas, and then in other areas of the United States. He became a regular on a popular Indianapolis TV show, offering his insights on living a rich and meaningful existence. Fr. Justin also presented workshops on Silva meditation and Success: Full Relating at Alverna.
In time, these programs became Fr. Justin’s main focus and with the help of supporters, he established the Franciscan Hermitage in Indianapolis on a wooded seven-acre track along Fall Creek. He began to be invited to present at international locations and continued to give popular travel retreats. The materials from the Success: Full Living workshop were published in book form and translated into several European languages including, French, Portuguese, Polish, Hungarian, German, Russian, and Greek. From his work in Europe, Justin continued to be invited to other countries including the Balkans, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, and eventually in 1984 to Australia and in 2018 to Russia.
In 2000-2001, Fr. Justin took a second sabbatical at the Franciscan Antonianum University in Rome, Italy, where he studied Franciscan spirituality and continued to give weekend workshops throughout Europe. In Indianapolis, he continued to offer a full range of workshops and other activities at the Hermitage, adding additional topics. He also maintained a busy international travel schedule to present programs in several countries. His workshops attracted hundreds of participants and were especially popular in Australia.
In 2015, the Franciscan Hermitage celebrated its 30th Anniversary. At that time, a tally was compiled of the programs presented by Justin and the Hermitage as well as the numbers of people who were exposed to the teachings of the Franciscan Heritage. The result showed that over a 30-year period, the Franciscan Hermitage programs had touched over a million people. That number not only included the classes and lectures themselves, but many radio and TV shows (both here and abroad) that were broadcast over entire countries.
In 2021, Fr. Justin celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination with a gathering of friends for mass, music, dancing and Polish food as well as an online gathering of his international followers. He spent the last years of his ministry continuing to do monthly workshops in Indianapolis and abroad. During his final trip in 2023, he led a retreat to Assisi, Italy, the one place on earth for which he said he experienced homesickness. He died shortly after his return on October 13, 2023.
Fr. Justin’s list of accomplishments includes three full volumes (Success: Full Living, Success: Full Relating, and Success: Full Thinking), an e-book version and online course of Success: Full Living, and 22 meditation CDs and MP3s. Under his direction, the Hermitage became the site of weekly Energy Circle and monthly Silva Graduates meetings as well as other programs on spirituality, a weekly online International Energy Circle, and weekly homilies that are distributed by email, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Fr. Justin obtained degrees and certificates from Quincy College in Illinois; the Antonianum in Rome; the Institute of Psychorientology in Laredo, Texas; Case Western University; and Cleveland State University, He was awarded an honorary degree from the American National Institute for Psychical Research.
Fr. Justin emphasized valuing all people and remaining open to all ideas. He stressed placing love at the center of all activities. He advocated creation spirituality, inclusion rather than patriarchy, and the primacy of conscience in his approaches to organized religion. The impact of his powerful charisma on others has frequently been called “life changing:” stories abound of dramatic effects on health, spirituality, or life circumstances among those he touched. In his meditations, he used light as a metaphor for divine presence and taught that uniting in meditation could bring about world peace. Fr. Justin’s sense of humor, enjoyment of food and dancing and people, and his drive, speaking ability, and wisdom were extraordinary. His most frequent injunction is one that he adapted from the movie, Saved by the Light: “You are a powerful spiritual being, and Love makes the difference.”
A memorial service for Fr. Justin at Sacred Heart Church (1530 Union Street, Indianapolis) is scheduled for October 28 at 10:00am. A luncheon will be provided after the service in the Friary.
Fr. Justin donated his body to further medical education. Fr. Justin’s Funeral Mass will be announced and celebrated when his cremains are returned to the Franciscan Friars.
May his soul and the souls of all the Faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.