A Glimpse into the Life of a Novice

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

WILMINGTON, Del. — The men in Holy Name Province’s novitiate program are settling back into their focused and structured lives after participating in two out-of-town trips before Christmas.

They attended the Inter-Franciscan Novitiate Program, sonsored bythe Friars of the Atonement in Graymoor, N.Y., in early November, and later that month, went on a week-long retreat at Mt. Saviour Monastery in Elmira, N.Y.  This Advent program took place Nov. 28 to Dec. 5.

Focus of Novitiate Year
The life of a novice is quite sequestered, according to Ronald Pecci, OFM, director of the HNP novitiate program.

“It is the most cloistered time of their formation,” he said. “Their focus is prayer and contemplation. It is a year meant to quiet down the men and remove distractions.”

Novitiate life provides the opportunity for a more intense prayer life, allowing one to connect with oneself on a deeper level, as well as with God, said Jeffery Jordan, OFM, Holy Name Province’s novice, who is shown at left in the photo.

“The most satisfying aspect of novitiate life for me has been the opportunity to slow down, to focus on my prayer life, to be more contemplative,” he said. “Given the introspective nature of the novitiate, I feel my relationship with God has grown stronger, more defined. As a result, it has positively influenced how I approach life situations, namely my community life and my ministry.”

Jeffery added: “One of the highlights of my experiences of novitiate so far was the Advent retreat at Mt. Saviour, a Benedictine monastery. While there, we wrote a ‘Rule of Life,’ after studying and critiquing the Rules of St. Francis. Being in such a peaceful and monastic environment allowed me to examine what I truly value within religious life, as well as the opportunity to connect with the monastic influences of the Franciscan tradition.

“I naturally fell within the monastic rhythm of the environment, and, more profoundly, experienced a deeper understanding of the Advent season as a season of hope, expectation, and joyful waiting.”

Jeffery, a native of Georgia, said he particularly enjoyed the Franciscan formation workshop at Graymoor on contemplation and conversion based on Francis and Clare.

“This experience at Graymoor provided the milieu to connect with other branches within the Franciscan family, namely several Poor Clare communities, TORs, and other Franciscan sister communities. Finally, the monthly scripture classes and weekly exegetical studies and reflections have given me the tools to appreciate more profoundly the scriptures, allowing for more profound prayerful experiences. Given that the Rule of St. Francis professes to ‘live the life of the Gospel,’ such studies have not only enriched my knowledge of the scriptures, but also strengthened my understanding of my Franciscan vocation.”

Ronald recently described a typical week for a novice. It is varied, yet not “out in the world,” he said.

The Weekly Routine
The novices begin each week contemplatively. Sunday and Monday there is no work and no use of electronics. It is a time for solitude and reflection.

Every Tuesday, the men drive north from their home at St. Paul Friary in Wilmington to Philadelphia, where they work at St. Francis Inn, the Province’s soup kitchen.

On Wednesday, the novices study scripture, using three different sources.

Once a month, James Scullion, OFM, a scripture specialist based in New Jersey, who taught at the Washington Theological Union for approximately 20 years, gives a class. On other weeks, Ron teaches about the “Rule of St. Francis” and his other writings.

On Thursday mornings, the novices share their research with each other.  The study of Franciscan themes is very important during the novitiate year, Ron said.

On Thursday afternoons, the novices write a reflection, a prayer or modern parable.

Friday morning includes a vocal music class that provides a basic orientation to music, Ron said. It is given by Sr. Regina Gormley, SSJ, of Philadelphia. Saturday is free.

The other men participating this year in HNP’s program are two friars from Christ the King Province in Canada — Joachim Ostermann, OFM, originally from Dusseldorf, Germany, and Carlos Ona, OFM, from the Philippines.

Jeffery said that although the most satisfying aspect of his novitiate year has been slowing down, ironically, the year has also been challenging.

“In our society, from an early age, we are socialized that human value comes from what we do rather than who we are. These past six months have been a process of ongoing conversion to redefine my own personal human dignity as a creation of God, a God who created and saw that it was good.”

“Likewise, by redefining my world view, it has positively influenced my perception of people, namely being less judgmental, accepting, and loving my brothers in community, as well as the poor that I serve at St. Francis Inn.”

For Lent, the novices will participate in the “hermitage experience” in Aston, Pa.

“This year has been a blessing and grace from God, and I’m quite grateful for all the support from the formators, my fellow novices, and the community at St. Paul’s,” Jeffery said.

— Jocelyn Thomas is Holy Name Province’s director of communications.