Basques in Boise, Idaho and beyond have received an early Christmas gift. Aita Antton Egiguren Iraola, a priest of the Franciscan order arrived on November 28th to begin his ministry as a Basque chaplain here in the Basque-American community. His official position in the Diocese of Boise is as Parochial Vicar at St. John’s Cathedral, where he assists at the parish. He has also been asked to provide pastoral and sacramental attention to the Basque community in the surrounding region and this will be his priority. His focus will be on liturgy, Christian formation and spirituality, and outreach (Diaconia) to all Basque Catholics, especially the elderly and their families and those in need.
Fr. Antton was born in the Basque Country on Dec. 7, 1953, in the baserri “Arretxea” in the town of Bidegoian just outside Tolosa, Gipuzkoa. In 1979 he took his final vows as a Franciscan monk, at the Franciscan Parish Church of Beasain (G), and then was ordained a priest the following year. Soon after he began many decades of missionary work that has taken him far and wide: ten years in Korea, and also 10 years in Thailand. Before coming here over the last 13 years he has been involved with teaching in Manila, Philippines, at different higher education institutions, as well as in China, while being based in Belgium in a Franciscan Friar where he taught, and where he ministered to the nearby Korean Catholic Community, as well as assisting in a nearby parish saying mass oftentimes in Dutch (one of the ten languages he speaks).
His story of coming to the United States began with his listening to a Basque radio program while driving back to the Basque Country through France for a visit. With his time in Belgium coming to an end, he had been pondering what he should do next to continue his ministry. As he drove he first came upon the Iparralde or North (French) side of the Basque Country, where he searched his radio dial for a Basque station. As it happens, there was a program on the air taking a look back at the Basque chaplains of the American West, and they were acknowledging the contributions of the Fr. Martxel Tillous, who was the former Basque chaplain from 1994 until his death in 2009 (after that the Diocese of Bayonne could no longer spare a priest to send over to help minister to the Basque –American community). While listening to the program, he had a revelation: maybe his calling was to continue the work that Fr. Tillous had been doing, and to be a chaplain to the Basque-American community.
Symbolically to continue that tradition, he wants to follow what Aita Tillous started with the personalized license plate featuring the Basque word “Pottoka” (the wild, native pony of the Pyrenees of the Basque Country). So as you are driving around in Boise and beyond, you might soon come upon this license plate, and you’ve found our new Basque Franciscan chaplain—Aita Antton!
Aita Antton is a Franciscan priest, one of the first (if not only?) Franciscan incarnated in the Diocese of Boise.
Franciscans owe their inspiration to Francesco di Bernardone, who became St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), an affluent young merchant from the Italian town of Assisi, who in 1206 renounced his wealth and social status in favor of a life dedicated to God and the least of God’s people. Soon, other men and women joined him to begin a vast movement of Gospel renewal within the medieval Church. By 1209, there were 12 brothers, and so they approached Pope Innocent III to gain approval of their way of life “according to the Holy Gospel.” The Order of Lesser Brothers (ordo fratrum minorum) — now formally known as the Order of Friars Minor — had begun. Franciscan brothers are informally called friars or capuchin (which derives from their distinctive brown habits with the hood on the back which is said to resemble the netting implement used to make coffee or capuchino).
There are two other related congregations: women comprise one which is called the Order of St. Clare, and the Third Order of St. Francis for men and women members, whether in traditional religious communities or trying to live the ideals of the movement in their daily lives outside of religious institutions. Together, these three congregations have some 30,000 members, the largest family of religious men in the Catholic Church.
Fr. Antton’s official assignment is as a Pastoral Vicar at St. John’s Cathedral in Boise, Idaho. Here he is pictured in that capacity (at right) during the recent installment of the new bishop of Boise, the Most Rev. Peter Christensen.