NEW YORK — In the presence of more than 300 congregants including friars, family members, friends and parishioners, on a Saturday morning with hot and humid weather much like the climate of his native Haiti, Abraham Joseph, OFM, made his solemn profession to observe the Rule of St. Francis according to the Constitutions of the Order of Friars Minor during a special Mass at the historic Church of St. Francis of Assisi on 31st Street. Provincial Minster Kevin Mullen, OFM, the celebrant and homilist, received Abraham’s profession at the August 25 celebration.
The weather wasn’t the only element that made this Port-au-Prince native son feel at home. In addition to his mother and other relatives making the trek from Haiti and other parts of the world for a front-row seat to witness this milestone in Abraham’s journey as a Franciscan friar, Haitian culture abounded throughout the Mass. Rousing music, song and dance inspired spontaneous participation among congregants, as seemingly everyone in the pews rhythmically swayed in place and clapped to the modern merengue beat of the percussion that filled every corner of the cavernous church at different points of the Mass.
Dancers in traditional colorful garb made their way up the center aisle as part of a dramatic presentation of the gifts during the Offertory. Before that, Abraham presented the first Scripture reading in Kreyòl, and Adolfo Navarro, OFM, delivered the second reading in French. It was important that on this special day his Haitian roots followed Abraham, who took an active role in planning the liturgy with master of ceremonies Timothy Shreenan, OFM, as well as coordinating the musical selections – including the stirring rendition of the Caribbean “Alleluia” during the Gospel Acclamation – with Meredith Augustin, director of music ministries at St. Francis of Assisi.
Afterward, Abraham described the emotions that ran through his mind before and during the rite of his solemn profession.
“I felt a profound sense of peace. It felt right. I was happy to make the offering to God and to make the promise to Jesus Christ to follow the Gospel as well as I am able,” Abraham said. “I tried to focus and be ready to recite the prayers.”
If he was nervous, it certainly didn’t show. Perhaps it was the calming effect of his mother, with whom he stayed the night before. “I remained peaceful and calm and prepared my mind for the early morning rehearsal [before the real thing],” he said.
At the Mass, the Provincial Minister’s homily had a calming and inspiring effect on Abraham. “I was ready for what was about to take place. It was also uplifting to hear the enthusiastic applause of the entire congregation,” Abraham said.
The Provincial Minister welcomed Abraham to “on-going” formation – “it never ends!” Kevin proclaimed, drawing laughter from the congregation. “And it shouldn’t,” he added.
On a more serious note, Kevin said the journey for Abraham began long ago in Haiti and has been helped and nurtured along the way by his brother friars, family, friends and the people of God.
“Then Abraham came to this country bringing us the gifts of his life, culture, language and experiences, reminding what we were originally called to be – a people who welcome others into our midst and learn from the gift of others who come here,” Kevin said during his homily.
Born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Abraham came to the United States in 2000 and went on to complete a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Monroe College in the Bronx, N.Y. Prior to entering formation, he worked in the private sector as an accountant at the September 11th Families Association in Manhattan.
“When he came here, Abraham took advantage of a great education that led him to his first career – which then led to a great part of his story,” Kevin explained during his homily. “When he was working as an accountant, Abraham came into contact with the Franciscans in this very church. It was his [pre-formation of sorts], serving as a Eucharistic Minister, working with the RCIA program, and being part of the community of faith that worships, lives and serves here.”
Yes to God’s Initiative
Kevin continued, “Witnessing the experiences of the friars, along with God’s grace, sparked his interest in [religious] life. Abraham stands before us as a reminder of what it means to respond to God’s love. One of the great things Abraham has done each step of the way is say ‘yes’ – yes to God’s initiative in his life.”
Turning toward Abraham, Kevin said, “Your brothers and sisters welcome the call that you have received, and we will be there to support you as you go forward. Keep radiating the joy of the Gospel with your beautiful smile. [Continue] to pass along the goodness of God’s people, and build the Kingdom every day of your life.”
Abraham’s mother seemed to express a sense of relief. “She is happy and at peace,” Abraham said. “She told me, ‘Now I can go in peace,’ which was basically reciting a phrase from the Canticle of Simeon [when the infant Jesus was presented in the temple]. She also said, ‘Your brothers are amazing.’ My mother was filled with great joy.”
Abraham, who speaks four languages – English, French, Haitian Creole (Kreyòl ayisyen) and Spanish – began his postulancy in Wilmington, Del. He professed his first vows in August 2014 in Burlington, Wis., where he had spent a year at the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate. Since then, he has been deeply involved in studies and ministry work.
In the past year, he served an internship at Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great Parish on West 96th Street in New York City, performing various ministerial duties including liturgy preparation, adult education, administrative tasks, and work with Franciscan justice, peace and integrity of creation.
In addition to his mother, Abraham’s step-sister, a Philadelphia resident, attended the Mass, along with a number of close friends, including one with whom he had worked at a Catholic school in Haiti who surprised him with his presence. People with whom he had been associated in ministries in Camden, N.J., Silver Spring, Md., and the Upper West Side parish also attended.
Among the participants in the liturgy were the three concelebrants – Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, and post-novitiate formation directors Joseph Rozansky, OFM, and Fr. Jerry Bleem, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province – as well as friars from provinces with whom Abraham has worked over the past few years, including John Boissy, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province, who was one of the acolytes; Maxwell Klug, OFM, who served as a Eucharistic Minister, and James Seiffert, OFM, of St. Barbara Province in Oakland, Calif. Maxwell and James were Abraham’s classmates at novitiate.
“I was very grateful that my brothers could participate in these special roles. It represented the interprovincial spirit of the friars across the country,” he said.
Immediately following the Mass, the celebration continued next door at San Damiano Hall, where family members, friends, friars and other guests attended a luncheon reception in honor of Abraham.
Special Moments Back Home
Abraham took a brief, well-deserved respite by accompanying his mother back to Haiti. While there, he experienced two special moments, returning to his hometown parish to offer a prayer of Thanksgiving and visiting Franciscan friars who live a 30-minute drive from his mother’s house.
“It was a joyful experience to be with my brothers in Haiti. The friars introduced me to their congregation. It was nice to see active vocations and the Franciscan charism flourishing,” said Abraham, who is now living at Blessed Giles Friary in Chicago, where he had moved last month after completing his solemn profession retreat.
The two-part retreat included three weeks at the interprovincial novitiate in Santa Barbara, Calif. – where Michael Blastic, OFM, one of the novitiate team leaders, provided him with a number of readings for reflection – and one week at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Over the next two years, Abraham will complete his theology degree and preparation for ordination to the priesthood. He has been granted permission from the Provincial leadership to pursue studies in social work as well.
“Through ministries that have involved the marginalized, I discovered the importance of social work. My hope for the future is to work during weekdays as a social worker and to perform ministerial services at a parish on weekends,” said Abraham, who has worked in prison ministry in Maryland, as a hospital chaplain in Indiana, and in community organizing with a youth group in New Jersey. He also worked at St. Francis Inn, the Province’s soup kitchen in Philadelphia.
Abraham reflected on what drew him to the Franciscans. “It is the way they minister to the needs of people. The friars are always sensitive about dignifying the human being. By their work, they are making the world a better place. They are continuing the work of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Upon making his solemn profession, it was clear that Abraham is one of these friars.
As Kevin concluded in his homily: “Abraham is aware of the world beyond the walls of this church. Inside there is safety, security, peace and quiet. Out there, those gifts also exist, but it’s in a noisy, challenging, pull-and-tug type of world. That’s where we are called to live as brothers of St. Francis, in the midst of the people, showing them Christian values.
“Abraham commits himself to live his Christian faith seriously. This is the conviction necessary for a follower of Jesus and Francis. Abraham has taken this personally. It’s who he is and who he wants to be.”
— Stephen Mangione is a longtime writer and public relations executive based in Westchester County, N.Y.
- “Abraham Joseph Professes Simple Vows in Wisconsin” – Aug. 5, 2014, HNP Today
- “Formation: Novices Share Experience” – April 18, 2018, HNP Today
- “Friars, Parishioners Help Restore Hope in Haiti” – Feb. 22, 2018, HNP Today
- “Are American Wiser Today than yesterday?” by Abraham Joseph” – Jan, 9, 2018, HNP Today