2019-20 Postulants Reflect on First Months of Formation Experience

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For the past six months, 13 men have been experiencing what daily life must have been like for the early followers of St. Francis of Assisi and, before them, the Twelve who traveled with Jesus during his ministry. It has been a dynamic, fast-paced vocational journey at the halfway mark of the one-year Franciscan interprovincial postulant program – as these men, ages 22 to 45, have been immersed in mission trips, social justice initiatives, communal prayer and fraternal celebrations, and service to the poor and marginalized. Their backgrounds and cultures are as diverse as their day’s activities, ministries, and services.

The postulants celebrate the Dia de los Muertos in November with an altar and prayer service remembering the dead, a Mexican custom. (Photo courtesy of John Gutiérrez)

It has been a period for the 2019-20 postulants – five from Holy Name Province – to explore Franciscan life and their calling to a religious vocation, according to John Gutiérrez, OFM, a member of St. Barbara Province who serves as director of the interprovincial postulant program.

The group is made up of postulants from five of the six U.S. provinces participating in the Revitalization and Restructuring Process. They include Daniel Cruz, Tyler Grudi, Kevin Hamzik, James Kernan, and Chukwuma Evaristus Obadike, all of Holy Name Province; Timothy Amburgey, William Compton, Phillip McCarter, and Brian Menezes, all of St. John the Baptist Province; Juan Luis Guerrero and Joan Perez of St. Barbara Province; John Dement of Sacred Heart Province, and Daniel Samsel of Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary Province.

Retreats, Classes, and Ministry
Since beginning the formation program last August, the postulants have been attending retreats and workshops, as well as classes in faith, theology and Franciscan-based themes at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland, where they also have lived for the past six months.

Each postulant spends three days a week serving in ministries and outreach projects for the homeless, elderly, immigrants and underserved student population in the local community and at nearby St. Camillus Parish and St. Francis International School. They also participate in various initiatives with other Franciscan-based ministries, such as Franciscan Action Network and the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C.

“A large part of their daily life is fraternity – with morning and evening prayer, community Eucharist, daily Mass, devotions and adoration, faith sharing, and social time before dinner,” John said. “The men have experienced what it truly means to be Franciscan, delving into social justice issues by taking part in demonstrations for peace and pro-immigration policies,” he added, noting that there have also been lighter moments, such as trips to D.C. museums and recreation night with the friars at the adjacent St. Camillus.

Sharing Their Thoughts and Experiences
As they began the second half of the one-year program, the postulants were invited to share their thoughts and experiences on this phase of their life and what they have found most inspiring about the Franciscans.

Can you provide some insight on what the first half of the interprovincial postulant program has been like for you?

BRIAN: “Being the last postulant to join the formation program (he entered the postulancy last October, two months after the others), it took some time to adjust. I was worried about fitting in, but the other postulants and friars were very welcoming and made me feel like part of the group right from the start. We have come together as brothers, building a strong foundation that will be further strengthened as we journey forward in our formation process.”

Tyler Grudi, JuanLuis Guerro and Daniel Cruz  at a rest stop during the 2020 March for Life in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of John Gutiérrez)

CHUKWUMA: “So far, the postulancy program has been awesome. It has been all about discernment and growth – mentally, emotionally and, most importantly, spiritually. It has also been about forming good relationships with my formators, fellow postulants, and especially with the people I serve at the ministry site.”

DANIEL CRUZ: “Postulancy has been a peaceful time to reflect. Although we are active with ministries, classes and community life, it is still a slower pace than prior to joining the friars. I have more time to pray on the possibility of joining the fraternity.”

DANIEL SAMSEL: “The thing that stands out is variety. You experience different people through ministry on the streets of D.C. and Silver Spring – and especially at the multicultural St. Camillus Parish. I have become more aware of how integral human nature is to Christ’s desires and vision for the world.”

JAMES: “Experiencing this way of life firsthand has been a time of great joy. It has shown me how much joy there is in community, and in serving others with our gifts and talents. The transition was challenging, but the fraternity of the postulants and friars has helped to make this change easier.”

JOAN: “These past months have been the greatest time of my life. I have learned so much personally, and about my faith and others’. I have experienced God’s love in a different way that has been very transforming. Living in community has offered many opportunities and it has helped bring out the talents in each other.”

JOHN: “It has been a joyful, stressful, peaceful, frustrating, hectic and happy time of organized chaos filled with doubt and certainty.”

JUAN LUIS: “It has helped me understand the Franciscan way of life and how to live in community. During these past few months, I realized that I had previously been living in the prison of indecision and unhappiness. The decision to join the postulancy program has helped me experience freedom, peace, and happiness. I will ask God to help me continue forward day-by-day in this new adventure.”

KEVIN: “This has been like a test-run of the Franciscan lifestyle – for which I am thankful. Most people don’t get to test-run their jobs or the real world, so this has been a nice opportunity to be able to feel things out before making a commitment. It has been great having so many people to talk with, and who understand what you’re going through.”

PHILLIP: “It has been somewhat challenging, but most rewarding. I finally feel like I know what the Lord wants from me. I used to spend a lot of time wondering about my purpose in life. Now, I feel like I am on the right track.”

TIMOTHY: “This has been a period of huge transition – a time of self-discovery, learning about my relationship with God and my spirituality in a way that I never thought possible. Through immersion, I have grown in many ways.”

TYLER: “Postulancy has been a tremendous opportunity for me to grow. But growth takes work. I am learning to acknowledge the help of my brother postulants and friars. I am learning what it means to let go of things that hold me back, and to trust that God will get me where I need to go.”

WILLIAM: “In a word – ‘different’ – moving out of my parents’ house, a place where I have lived all my life. But my brother postulants are a wonderful group to be around; they make your day great.”

Can you tell us about yourself and what motivated you to apply to the Franciscan early formation program?

BRIAN: “Over the past few years, I had been working in the financial sector as a compliance analyst – landing my dream job after graduating from college with a degree in criminology. However, upper management’s interest in bottom-line profit was hindering my work – and repeatedly pointing this out only made things worse for me. That’s when I started looking elsewhere – work that sought justice, truth and doing things right. Being born in the Middle East – in Kuwait – and being of Indian descent, I have been well acquainted with wars in the Arab world and on the Indian subcontinent. As Neville Chamberlain said it best: ‘In war, there are no winners, but all are losers.’ This is one of the early precursors that drew me to seek peace and good – the motto of the Order of Friars Minor.”

Tim Amburgey, JuanLuis Guerrero, Phil McCarter, Tyler Grudi and Kevin Hamzik, in front of the White House, advocate for peace and against war in Iran. (Photo courtesy of John Gutiérrez)

CHUKWUMA: “I was born in Nigeria – the fourth of seven children – and lived there until October 2017, when I came to America with my family and settled in Plainfield, New Jersey. Before becoming a postulant, I served as a Franciscan Volunteer Minister in Durham, North Carolina, living in community with other laypersons who dedicated themselves to ministry in collaboration with friars of Holy Name Province. Being an FVM not only prepared me for postulancy, it also motivated me to join the program because of the community I lived with, the ministries I served, the people I met, and the wonderful and powerful experiences that I had.”

DANIEL CRUZ: “I had a crisis of faith during my college years, which led me from my then-protestant faith tradition to the Catholic Church. I am originally from Blythewood, South Carolina, but after graduating from college I moved to Athens, Georgia. I was working as a supervisor in a retail distribution center before this. My first encounter with the friars was in Athens, where I was drawn to the Franciscan parish because of the love and sense of community. The friars were committed to social justice and the community. I had been discerning religious life without telling anyone, and then I finally reached out to the friars, asking to meet different communities. After a visit to the Franciscan parish in Greenville, South Carolina, I attended a ‘come and see’ weekend – all of which led me to realize the friars’ deep commitment to Christ and concern about the poor and marginalized. They had a great sense of humor and were so joyful. These things collectively attracted me to the Franciscans.”

DANIEL SAMSEL: “Hospice chaplaincy and the Franciscan open door – these are the images that have drawn me to this point in my life. Growing up, I always had this idealized image that a priest is supposed to be present for an individual’s last breath for one last attempt at salvation. Mission aside, someone’s last breath is a sacred moment. I have always had the desire to experience the world outside of the suburbia bubble. The leadership and tremendous heart of the pastor of my home parish has been a big influence in my vocation to a life of service and taking notice of the hurt experienced by those outside – and inside – our borders. I am motivated by the message that Christ will lighten our load throughout the journey, but that he would not have us rest until we do everything we can to bring about the Kingdom of God. What we can’t accomplish, He will.”

JAMES: “I am originally from Syracuse, New York, and before joining the friars I graduated from St. Bonaventure University with a bachelor of science degree in physics. Meeting the friars at St. Bonaventure and their invitation to spend time with them was the inspiration behind discerning Franciscan life as a vocation.”

JOAN: “I came to the United States at age 13, and for the past 20 years have lived in San Jose, California, where I attended middle and high school and two years of college. I became involved with my local parish when I was 17 years old, participating in youth activities, the choir and prayer group – and helping out wherever I was needed. The parish has a young adult group called JUFRA – or, Juventud Franciscana’ – an international organization founded by the Franciscans. It was through this group that I learned about Franciscan spirituality. I felt a calling to be with the most unfortunate in this world – and the Franciscans are always in the center of doing whatever they can to help people live humanely.”

JOHN: “I was born and raised in southeast Texas and moved to Oklahoma with my family when I was in middle school. Before joining the postulancy program, I was working as assistant superintendent for a small construction company in Tulsa, and playing music with my brother in hotels and casinos. I was motivated to pursue a vocation with the OFM out of a sense of compassion for those on the margins of society – those who most people walk right passed without a glance or second thought.”

The postulants during a visit to St. Theresa of Avila Parish for a Gospel Mass. (Photo courtesy of John Gutiérrez)

JUAN LUIS: “I had been working for a major lighting manufacturer for 14 years before joining the Franciscans. I was also involved in my home parish as a member of the Spanish choir for 15 years. Although I was happy doing all of this, I began questioning my life and the direction it was going. In 2016, while at the (archdiocese-sponsored, four-day event known as the) Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, I met the Franciscans for the first time. I came to the very powerful realization that the friars were regular ordinary men who share their talents and joy with the people. That motivated me in my decision to join the Order.”

KEVIN: “I am from Broadview Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Before postulancy, I studied visual arts at St. Bonaventure University, where I graduated in May 2019. Attending Padua Franciscan High School in Cleveland, and later St. Bonaventure, always put friars around me. I saw firsthand what their lives were like; their friendly and joyful personalities attracted me to the Franciscan life.”

PHILLIP: “Before joining the postulancy, I was working in warehouses, mostly at the main UPS hub in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was born Pentecostal, but my family and I converted to Catholicism in 1999. I started to hear God’s call around 2014, and in the summer of 2018, I finally contacted the friars.”

TIMOTHY: “For several years, I had been working in the technology department of a motion picture mastering and distribution company in Wilmington, Ohio, which is around 20 minutes from my hometown of Lynchburg, where I was raised on a dairy farm. Before the motion picture job, my first career was a lengthy one in professional-level candidate politics. Following my conversion from being a life-long Methodist, I fell in love with Catholicism. Almost immediately, I felt like I wanted to dive deeper into the faith – and after many years of searching, I stumbled upon the friars.”

TYLER: “I graduated from St. Bonaventure University last May. While there, I met some wonderful Franciscans whose example inspired me to discern a religious vocation. I lived in a discernment house for three years with other college students who were also considering religious life. Those housemates became some of my closest friends, and that little band of brothers helped me learn the value of fraternity with its many joys and struggles.” 

WILLIAM: “I was working at a supermarket for three-and-a-half years to get some job experience under my belt. But I had a calling to religious life ever since I was seven years old. I grew up in a diocesan parish that had a retired Franciscan friar – Fr. Rock Travnikar – who gave great homilies. When he passed away (three years ago), there was a letter in the parish bulletin from a friar of the Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist. He said the province would love to have someone from my parish to come and imitate Fr. Rock’s love for the faith and people. My mom said, ‘Will, that is God calling you to try this and see if it’s for you.’”

What aspects of the Franciscan message have you found most inspiring and intriguing?

BRIAN: “The message of St. Francis – ‘I have done my part. May Christ teach you to do yours’ – is sometimes taken lightly. However, I find that even in its simplicity, his message shows how deep, wide-ranging and inclusive the life of a Franciscan friar can be. One example of living a Franciscan vocation is Fr. Louis Vitale – who, through his many years of service, has sought to bring peace and fight injustice throughout the world.”

CHUKWUMA: “The Franciscan message of love for God, neighbor and creation has been so outstanding and inspiring to me. Franciscans carry out this message by having their eyes wide open to see those who are poor, marginalized and excluded. The Franciscan heart is sensitive – filled with love, compassion, joy, and hope. Franciscan hands are always ready to work – charity in action – and transform lives.”

DANIEL CRUZ: “I would have to say the emphasis on the Incarnation. The idea of God becoming man out of love for us is profound. It speaks to how Franciscans approach the world – getting out of our comfort zones to embrace the poor and marginalized. That’s what Christ did. He humbled himself, became man, and embraced us.

Postulant Will Compton and Rommel Perez,  a formator, paint during a service trip to Ministry of Caring in Wilmington, Del.. (Photo courtesy of John Gutiérrez)

DANIEL SAMSEL: “For me, it’s the actions of Franciscans and how they go about their mission with tolerance and joy. This is not what the Church has traditionally taught as being important for salvation, but for evangelization, tolerance and joy are paramount. I can get behind this movement.”

JAMES: “Community and the focus of God’s love through the Incarnation have been the most inspiring and thought-provoking aspects of the Franciscan tradition.”

JOAN: “The most inspiring thing for me is the life of service that friars lead and the love they have for all people. The strength that Franciscans have to serve the most unfortunate and the joy they find in this service to the poor has no price.”

JOHN: “I would have to say the idea that all of God’s creation – sentient or not – are all our brothers and sisters. I have to admit that I struggled with that at first, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.”

JUAN LUIS: “What inspires me most about the Franciscan charism is working with the poor and marginalized, especially where others don’t want to go. Franciscan spirituality has been very revealing for me – for example, the Incarnation of God, that He loves us and wants to be with us. It fits with my view of creation.”

KEVIN: “The most inspiring aspect of Franciscan life is working toward peace in a world that is filled with a lot of violence and hatred. Part of the Franciscan lifestyle is being an instrument of peace in a world that so desperately needs it. Franciscans are very caring and loving for all people and creatures.”

PHILLIP: “The Franciscan view of God’s love is what inspires me most. In our tradition, everything from the Incarnation to the Crucifixion can be understood if you look at them through the lens of love. I believe that this is the core message of Franciscan theology, and should be the core message of Christianity.”

TIMOTHY: “There are many parts of this life that I find intriguing and, equally, many aspects of spirituality and theology that I find attractive. The one area that I find most appealing is the mission of helping the most alienated and outcast members of our society, providing a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

TYLER: “St. Francis often prayed, ‘Who are you, Lord, and who am I?’ With these words, I found a friend in Francis. Restless and in love, he was a man on a journey looking for God and himself. My choice to apply to the friars did not come easily. In fact, I actively avoided sending in parts of my application. But I reached a point when I could no longer run away from that stubborn question – Who am I, and who is this God calling me? But I would also be lying if I said my questions were answered as soon as I walked through the doors of Holy Name College.”

WILLIAM: “I care about people. I always like helping people, especially when they don’t seem themselves. I also love the outdoors and caring for animals and nature. It bothers me when animals are mistreated. [These are Franciscan traits that date back to St. Francis.]

What aspects of the postulant program have you found most interesting and rewarding?

BRIAN: “To single out one aspect of formation over another is certainly not being charitable. For even in challenging times, we are made stronger by what we learn from the experience. While eating breakfast one morning, I was reminded by another postulant that being Franciscan is about being brothers first – and just like brothers, we all bring different facets of ourselves to the table. Some are talented with a good voice, others with leadership skills and even those who spend their time in prayerful meditation. Each of our talents is being utilized in various ways throughout the time spent at our individual ministries and during our formation process. Seeing all these come together is a beautiful sight indeed.

Postulants Jimmy Kernan, Will Compton, Daniel Samsel, and Tim Amburgy on retreat at the old Jesuit novitiate in Werneresville, Pennsylvania.. (Photo courtesy of John Gutiérrez)

CHUKWUMA: “I have found all aspects of postulancy both interesting and rewarding – which makes it difficult to choose one or two. I enjoy spending time in prayer and leisure with the friars and my fellow postulants. I have learned a lot about myself, others, and God and creation thanks to all of the amazing classes and workshops. I love my ministry site so much. It’s a blessing to be stationed at St. Francis International School, where I teach religion to 5th-grade students.”

DANIEL CRUZ: “Getting to know the friars. There is a saying that no two friars are alike – and I have found that to be very true. Friars are different in their ministerial and personal interests, but our Franciscan values unite us. The friars have helped me to see that the Franciscan life is no cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all. They hold to the Franciscan values, but they are free to be themselves.”

DANIEL SAMSEL: “For me, it’s the ministry opportunity. I volunteer at a service facility that hosts a food kitchen, clothing drive, health screenings, social services and other creative programs that provide hope and acceptance to the financially distressed and homeless. One of the most rewarding moments is when people greet me on the streets and know me by name. It reminds me of when St. John Vianney was saved from being thrown into a river by a riotous group because the marginalized recognized him. I don’t know the businessman that crosses the street heading to lunch, but I know people who sleep on the concrete at night.”

JAMES: “Community life has been greatly rewarding, not only in our smaller community at Holy Name College, but also in the larger parish community at St. Camillus and the larger friar community that we get to meet along this journey. I have been able to meet so many amazing people and make great connections with them.”

JOAN: “What I have found most rewarding is my ministry work because I am able to talk about God to young people of faith. Sharing time with them – and learning from them – has been a wonderful experience. Another aspect is being able to share time with friars in different communities. Listening to their stories and hearing about their life as friars has helped me to fully embrace the Franciscan family and Franciscan ministries, and has also helped me greatly during my discernment time.”

JOHN: “I absolutely love the time that I spend in ministry. I am blessed to get to know people who come from all walks of life, and to be able to help them recover a sense of normalcy that most have lost along their life’s journey.”

JUAN LUIS: “I never imagined how much my life would change when I joined the Order. One of these life-changing experiences and something that I have enjoyed is my ministry at Langley Park (a community served by the Silver Spring parish of St. Camillus), where I teach English as a second language to the large Latino immigrant population. Meeting people from different countries is helping me understand the diversity and unique needs of the community. I may be the teacher, but it’s me who is learning a lot from them and helping me to grow in my journey with the Franciscans.”

KEVIN: “Ministry work and spending time with friars have been the most rewarding aspects of postulancy. When you spend time with friars, you get a true sense of what it’s like to be part of the Franciscan family. They offer great wisdom, insight, and stories to help you through things. In ministry, I have met a lot of great people who have the same Franciscan vision as I do – and knowing that there are laypeople who share that vision is important to me.”

Postulants Brian Menezes and Joan “JP” Perez with Chris Posch (right), pastor of St. Camillus Parish, relax in the rec room of Holy Name College. (Photo courtesy of John Gutiérrez)

PHILLIP: “The most rewarding part of postulancy has been community life. I lost my brother when I was 15, and ever since, I longed to have a brother. Now I have more brothers than I can count and it amazes me. I never thought I would be able to feel a brother’s love again, but now I get to experience it every day.”

TIMOTHY: “There are many highlights of the postulancy year, but I think the area that stands out for me is cultural diversity. My hometown is very mono-cultural. Therefore, to experience and learn about cultures, other than the one I came from, has been profoundly eye-opening and rewarding for me.”

TYLER: “During one of our community masses, a friar encouraged us to give postulancy all that we have. ‘Really dive in,’ he said. Those words have helped me. Postulants are in an odd middle ground, and some days it’s hard to see the end goal. But when those days come, it will be a treasure to spend them with such amazing friars who walk with us on the journey. Their company and prayers help me remember that God is calling me to newer and greater things. These friars help me pick up the journey again every day, ‘for up until now, I have done little or nothing.’”

WILLIAM: “I have found the variety of classes interesting because we are learning good communication skills for community life. I find it interesting to listen to my brothers – whether postulants or solemnly professed – hearing their stories about where they came from and how they discerned to the Franciscans. It was a special time when I got to witness two brothers making their solemn profession in New York.”

Information about the Province’s formation program can be found on the Be A Franciscan website. An article about the men who joined the interprovincial postulancy program in August 2019 was published last year in HNP Today.

Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Toda. Jocelyn Thomas provided research for this article.