A Glimpse of St. Francis Commemorations around Province

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province

Since September, ministries around Holy Name Province have been honoring the Franciscans’ patron saint. The last issue of the HNP Today newsletter featured events held before the feast day, Oct. 4. The article below provides an overview of more recent commemorations — a glimpse of the many ways that the man from Assisi has been honored.

Around Holy Name Province over the last few weeks, ministries and friars have commemorated the feast of St. Francis with a variety of events. The most widely held and seemingly most popular, as always, was the blessing of animals. Another prevalent way of commemorating was through social gatherings — festivals, picnics and the like.

Appreciating Franciscan Message
As they celebrated the life of St. Francis, they also remembered his message: Justice for the poor, respectful care for the environment, and courageous peacemaking. Many ministries shared “A Franciscan Plea for the Soul of America” — often as part of parish bulletins and some on ministry websites and Facebook pages.

“St. Francis of Assisi freely chose to live a radically simple lifestyle among and with the poor; called himself a brother to all creatures and to the earth itself; and crossed religious and cultural frontiers to dialogue with a Muslim leader in an attempt to prevent another bloody war,” the Franciscans wrote. “St. Francis rejected the societal-economic shift of his time that valued financial success over human dignity.”

“Today, these values continue to inspire and guide Franciscans. They also inspire millions of people in the U.S. and beyond — people of faith and other people of good will. They demand action in promoting a consistent ethic of life that embodies a Common Good built on the foundation of full respect for all stages and types of life, and without a false ranking of these stages of life.”

Celebrating with Community
In Hartford, Conn., St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish held events on the first weekend of October — kicking off the festivities with a blessing of the animals by pastor Thomas Gallagher, OFM, and Francis Soucy, OFM, whose photos can be found on the parish’s Facebook page.  Parishioners also closed a yearlong celebration commemorating the 60th anniversary of the union of the two parishes.

In 1958, the Archdiocese of Hartford merged the predominantly Italian St. Anthony’s Parish, with St. Patrick’s, the oldest Catholic parish in Connecticut, which was predominantly Irish.  In addition to this anniversary, the Ladies Guild celebrated 80 years of service to the parish. (Each parish had its own Ladies Guild prior to the merger.)

“Visiting friars David Convertino, OFM, and Frank Sevola, OFM, joined us for the Masses and engaged the parish in conversation about the needs of the Province through a Franciscan Challenge fundraising event,” said Thomas. “On Sunday afternoon, we opened the gardens, courtyard and the back lot for a pizza truck, face painting, cotton candy and desserts. It was a fun afternoon for all and we welcomed many visitors to the community.”

The festivities are continuing  into this weekend  when the parish’s Ladies Guild holds an anniversary lunch on Oct 21. Founded in 1938, it serves the parish through a variety of programs, projects and spiritual events.

Intercultural Activities
Just outside the nation’s capital, the vibrant, multi-cultural Parish of St. Camillus in Silver Spring, Md. — which is home to the St. Francis International School (grades K-8 and full-day preschool) — hosted a month-long series of community events that began in early October with a blessing of the animals by Javier Del Angel de los Santos, OFM, and Erick López, OFM; a family peace camp, and a live musical presentation by the school choir. After blessing dozens of domestic pets that included dogs, cats, parrots and rabbits, Javier invited parishioners to meditate on Job 12:7-10.

“To know creation and everything it contains is to enter into the mystery of God,” Javier said. “Francis of Assisi had the same insight when he called everything and everyone ‘brothers and sisters.’” Parish music director Tracy McDonnell and members of the multicultural choir enriched the ceremony with beautiful songs accompanied by guitar and African drums.

Parishioners at St. Camillus took part in “Maryland Day to Serve,” a statewide initiative of community building and making new friends through gardening, beautification and other environment driven activities. A conference titled “Igniting Intercultural Passion” is scheduled for later this month, which, among other things, will offer tools for intercultural sensitivity, reflections on what the Bible says about inclusion, and lively discussion and faith-sharing on diversity.

Earlier in the month, friars, along with members of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry and members of the interprovincial postulancy program at the adjacent Holy Name College presented a theatrical reenactment of St. Francis’ courageous encounter with the Sultan of Egypt in his plea for peace between Christians and Muslims. Following the performance, Christopher Posch, OFM, pastor, led the congregation in joyful songs, according to a post on the parish’s Facebook page.

Joe Juracek blesses animals in Butler, N.J., earlier this month.

Blessings, Festivals and Fundraising
In northern New Jersey, St. Anthony Parish in Butler offered its community members both an animal blessing and a social event. It held a parish picnic on Oct. 5, and on the weekend it blessed animals – living ones on Saturday and stuffed animals on Sunday. Photos of the events can be found on the parish’s Facebook page.

Parishioners gathered with their dogs, cats and other pets at the parish center at the Church of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in Wood-Ridge, N.J., for the annual blessing of the animals in early October. A few days prior, the parish marked Transitus, commemorating the passing of St. Francis from earthly life to eternal life. In addition, Parish Fest — with a lineup of food, hospitality, music, games, crafts, face painting, and a ministry table — will conclude the commemorations of the feast of Francis.

St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, Mass., celebrated the feast of the Franciscan founder by encouraging parishioners and visitors to join others throughout the Province in collective prayer through an online, nine-day solemn novena. The call was answered 3,400-strong by the faithful at the church on Arch Street. Friars also asked the congregation to pray “The Canticle of Creatures,” the poem of St. Francis that praises God and the whole of creation. A post on the website captured the spirituality of St. Francis, noting that he “allied himself with nature centuries before humanity understood its connection to every living thing. Eight hundred years later, we Franciscans are still inspired to walk and follow in his footsteps.”

At St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C., several events captured the essence of Francis. As at many parishes across the Province, the annual blessing of the animals was the centerpiece. “It’s always gratifying to see the number of people who bring rescue pets and a reminder once again that, as Franciscans, we hold a deep respect for all of God’s creatures,” Steven Patti, OFM, pastor, wrote in a Sunday bulletin. The parish preschool also honored their patron by having children bring stuffed animals to be blessed by Steven and James Sabak, OFM, associate pastor. The youngest children also participated in the school’s Little Francis CARES program, making dog treats and then donating them to Wake County SPCA. On Oct. 21, it will host its annual parish-wide Francis Fest, serving up a heavy dose of family, food and fun.

Principal Tricia Barber with students at St. Francis Parish’s Day in the Park on the feast of Francis (Photo courtesy of St. Francis Parish)

In northern Virginia, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle held several events his month.  Feast day festivities were kicked off by the much-anticipated annual tradition of St. Francis Day in the Park on Oct. 4, when the student population of St. Francis of Assisi School converged at Locust Shade Park for a Mass in the amphitheater con-celebrated by parish friars. The spirited Mass featured festive music by the school choir and a reenactment by sixth grade students of the story of St. Francis taming the wolf that terrorized the Umbrian city of Gubbio.

School staff member Lisa Ostendorf said the excitement didn’t end there, as the Mass was followed by the annual Walk-A-Thon, with students, parents and teachers navigating park trails for a good cause. Proceeds raised by the students benefit school programs.

On Oct. 7, parishioners packed the church for the 12:15 p.m. bilingual Mass, which kicked off another popular event – the annual Francis Fest featuring games, rides, live shows, a senior arts and crafts exhibit, and a sumptuous spread of international cuisine. On Oct. 13, the parish co-sponsored a Prince William Community Block Party at the Dar al-Noor Islamic Community Center in celebration of diversity. The event featured food, arts and crafts, games and fellowship.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communication for Holy Name Province.

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