Fr. Dennis Wilson, OFM
In 1982 I found that my life as an accountant and financial manager in Washington, D.C., was full but still lacking something. By chance I came into contact with a Franciscan. We talked and I found that night my heart was alive and excited again, in a way it had not been in years. As much as I had been denying it, a vocation was still alive and waiting to be born in me.
But sometimes I wonder if God can draw in a straight line. At the height of this desire and fervor to seek out the Franciscan spirit, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The energy I needed for his care and later bereaving his death took much of my energy for two years. Even through this difficult time a dream planted in me as a child was coming to birth.
With the encouragement of friends and friars, I applied in 1984 to the Franciscans. I was accepted and moved to the Bronx, N.Y. There I lived with the friars at Holy Cross parish. I taught as a part-time computer instructor and also served as a part-time hospital chaplain associate at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers.
As I look back now at the past five years, I realize that crisp, lighthearted impressions of Franciscan life are my reward for joining the Franciscan friars. During this time of my life, I have had an opportunity to tie the tender weavings of commitment in a way rarely offered in other vocations.
Ministry and fraternity continually form and impress my vocation. These two threads intersect and tease the other. Both create borders and patterns of opportunities. Both are threads in my vocation to be a Friar Minor, a lesser brother.
While living in Brookline, Mass., during the novitiate year, I had a new and strange desire to work with a group of people I had always feared, and thus avoided, the homeless. Two days a week I went with other friars and helped distribute needed clothing, ladled out lunches, listened to stories and learned about men, women and sometimes children who were guests of St. Francis House in nearby Boston.
It dawned on me that these guests were not a “group” of people. They were individuals with differing life stories and needs. In time I began to recognize and know some guests of St. Francis House by name.
I began to see that in some ways I was not different from these individuals. They taught me what it meant to depend on someone else. Through them, God began to let me know how I could depend on him. The experience at St. Francis House made me ask, “Who do I trust for my daily bread?”
Trust was a crucial issue when I came into the Franciscan friars. When I entered the Franciscans, I gave up many self-designed securities. But like a squirrel planning for a long, hard season, I hid treasures to secure me through the roughest of winters.
I have found I do not need these past treasures. My experience of fraternal life has been such that I am beginning to let go of my own designed securities because the friars in their own ways provide an atmosphere of trust, care, warmth and faith that secures me in the fraternal life.
Whether the friars gather to witness and laud an adult baptized at an Easter Vigil, or gather around the kitchen table to share stories of the day or to poke fun at the rough edges of life, I know I have found a home. And what greater treasure is there than a home where you are loved, smiles that invite, and arms that welcome?
The process of becoming a lesser brother has been slow. God, through the ministry and the fraternity, has simply said to me, “I love you. I care for you. Don’t worry about the ‘tomorrows.’ Depend on me. You are mine and I am yours.” Today I feel I am woven into a crisp, delicate pattern crafted by a lighthearted master artist.
— This essay was written in 1990 when Fr. Dennis was in simple vows and residing at St. Francis of Assisi Friary in New York City. It appeared in the August 1990 issue of The Anthonian magazine.