Fr. Richard Trezza, OFM
Everyone says that location is so important for a residence, for a vacation and for business. How true! For me, that would be Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1950’s.
As we get older, we usually romanticize the past. It was, after all, when life was a bit simpler (we had little or no responsibilities when we were young), and we had the comfort of the presence of parents and large families for security. It was in that ambience — Italian Brooklyn in the ‘50’s — where the idea of a vocation to the priesthood came to me. Actually, it was in the third grade when I became an altar boy.
Franciscan sisters taught in our parish school of the Holy Family in Canarsie. I remember them being a happy group of very down-to-earth women who loved what they were doing. Before I knew it, I was on the path to becoming a Franciscan friar. In those days, all the religious orders published picture booklets filled with information on their communities. I think I collected several drawers full of them.
I joined the friars of Holy Name Province at St. Stephen’s Monastery in Croghan, N.Y., in 1966. I entered as a candidate for the brothers. The next year saw me as a novice in Lafayette, N.J., and then on to Rye Beach, N.H., for four years. Those years of initial formation took place in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Many questions were being asked about the true nature of Franciscan religious life and how it should be lived. As I look back, it was quite an exciting time as our province came to terms with a medieval St. Francis in modern- day USA.
I made solemn vows in 1971 and spent the next 13 years in two of our parishes in northern New Jersey. Parish ministry was a wonderful experience. It was there, with ministry to the very young and very old and everyone in between, where the continuing formation of this friar took place. People are so very generous in sharing themselves, their families and their homes and are appreciative of whatever the friars do for them. In reality, they give us so much more.
The idea of becoming a priest kept popping up in my mind. I remember asking our provincial at the time, Father Alban Maguire, OFM, for permission to begin studies which would lead to ordination. After being a member of the order for 17 years, I was ordained a priest on Halloween day in 1987.
Since then, I have been involved in the formation of candidates for the Order in our Province and was asked to join four other friars at a new urban ministry site in New York City. In 1990, the friars began ministry at Holy Name of Jesus Parish on Manhattan’s upper West Side. What an experience! There were 47 countries represented on the parish books. My high school Spanish definitely came in handy, and a course in Haitian Kreyol allowed me at least to be able to celebrate Mass for our Haitian parishioners from time to time.
Throughout all of this, I had been ministering to the Secular Franciscan Order (OFS) since 1968. These lay women and men follow a rule given to them by St. Francis himself, updated and then approved by Pope Paul VI in 1978.
They are full-fledged members of the Franciscan Order — Franciscans with a distinctive secular spirituality. They have added very much to the understanding of my own vocation as a friar, that I will always be grateful for their presence in my life. I am currently involved in full-time ministry to the SFO as the Spiritual Assistant for my province. I reside in East Rutherford, N.J. — not very far from the very first place where I began my ministry as a friar.
I don’t know where these 40 years have gone. I do know that they have been happy ones during which I have come to know many wonderful people and brothers with whom I have shared Franciscan life and ministry.
Much of this is made possible because of prayers from people like yourselves. It’s been a wonderful journey, and I continue to look forward to the surprises that God has in store for me.
— This essay was written in 2007 when Fr. Richard was serving as Holy Name Province’s SFO Spiritual Assistant. It later appeared in the March 2007 issue of The Anthonian magazine.