Fr. Thomas Gallagher, OFM

Fr. Thomas Gallagher, OFMWhen I was asked to write about my journey with the friars, I was not really sure what I would say. I entered the initial formation program, affiliation, in January 1976; I made my first profession of vows in June of 1978 and was ordained for ministry in May 1982. My first assignment from 1981 to 1985 was at our retreat house in Rye Beach, NH I left the retreat ministry to return to my hometown and the place where I first met the friars, Little Falls, N.J., in 1985. I was only going there for one year; I left in 1999—it was quite a year!

There are stories that are a part of all these experiences. My life in the last 24 years has been shaped and reshaped by my experiences as a member of Holy Name Province.

Perhaps this story from the Mirror of Perfection, a collection of stories about St. Francis, will better enable me to share my journey with you.

“The Most Blessed Father [Francis] having in some degree transformed the friars into saints by the ardor of his love and the fervent zeal for their perfection which fired him, often pondered on the virtues that ought to adorn a good Friar Minor should imitate the lives and possess the merits of these holy Friars, the perfect faith and love of poverty of Brother Bernard, the simplicity and purity of Brother Leo…the courtesy of Brother Angelo…the gracious look and natural good sense of Brother Masseo…the mind upraised to God, possessed in its highest perfection by Brother Giles, the virtuous and constant prayer of Brother Rufino…the patience of Brother Juniper, the charity of Brother Roger…the caution of Brother Lucidus (Mirror of Perfection, 85).”

For me, this story illustrates how I have discovered what it is to be a friar through the goodness of the men with whom I have lived and journeyed.

This discovery began in my first experience of living with the friars in Bronx, N.Y., in 1976. Wonderfully gifted and generous men invited me into the way of life that is Holy Name Province. I was also privileged to share in the ministry of Holy Cross Parish, teaching fourth and fifth grade in the school.

My experience of novitiate in Brookline, Mass., was also a time of witnessing the generosity of friars who were committed to forming us to live the Gospel. This was a time of great challenge to deepen my own relationship with God and choose this way of life. When I left the novitiate, I had the wonderful opportunity to study theology at the Washington Theological Union.

These three years of study so soon after the energy and enthusiasm of the Second Vatican Council provided the insight into the scripture and theological grounding that would enable me to begin to minister as a friar of the province. The gifted friar teachers modeled dimensions of the ideal friar that St. Francis contemplated.

Completing studies meant beginning to integrate studies with ministry, not only for myself but also for those with whom I lived and worked. My years at Rye Beach, NH were the best preparation for future ministry that I could have possibly received. I lived with an incredibly talented and creative friar community, was engaged in a challenging ministry, and had the opportunity to deepen my understanding of the scriptures through regular preaching and retreat ministry. Once again the friar community — the fraternity — together formed that image of the ideal friar of St. Francis’ imagination.

My next move was back to the hometown parish I left in 1976, Our Lady of the Holy Angels, Little Falls, N.J. As an associate pastor, I was immersed in a ministry with skilled, gracious, talented friars. In 1989, I assumed a new responsibility as pastor of the parish. A change happened here. As the ministry engaged me, I discovered that Francis’ model, while a wonderful description of the life of the Friars Minor, must now include those who are partners with the friars in ministry. In the parish, I realized that ministry develops the fraternity in ways that can never happen without the experience of working together with people who are not friars, but who are nonetheless committed disciples who desire to live the common baptismal call to ministry. What was wonderful for me was the choice that people made for ministry with the friars and within the Franciscan charism. I was changed by my experience of the parish, and realized that together with the friars, hundreds of people created a vibrant community of faith that nurtured the fraternity as well as the parish community.

I began a new ministry in June 1999. I now serve as the director of novices for the Province. I find in the community of professed friars and friar novices the image of the “Good Friar Minor” of whom St. Francis spoke. My journey with the Franciscans of Holy Name Province continues to be one of wonderful grace and the constant discovery of God’s presence in the lives of the friars and the many people who share our life and ministry.

—This essay was written in 2000 when Fr. Tom was serving as Director of Novices for Holy Name Province. It later appeared in the March 2000 issue of The Anthonian magazine.