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Canadian Provinces Unify During Historic Chapter

The friars of the new Holy Spirit Province/Province Saint-Esprit. (Photo courtesy of the Franciscans of Canada)

ST. ALBERTA, Alberta, Canada — Evoking the roots of their Franciscan charism and their characteristic missionary zeal, the friars of this country came together on Oct. 22 to celebrate the birth of a new Canadian entity – the bilingual Holy Spirit Province/Province Saint-Esprit.

On Tuesday morning, General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, read decrees approved by the Order’s General Definitorium to suppress the provinces of Christ the King (the English-speaking community based in Western Canada) and St. Joseph (French-speaking, in Eastern Canada) Provincial Ministers Fr. Robert Mokry, OFM, and Fr. Pierre Charland, OFM, returned the seals of their respective provinces to the General Minister before he released them from their duties.

In his next decree, he approved the establishment of the new Holy Spirit Province/Province Saint-Esprit, signaling the beginning of a new chapter in Canadian Franciscan history. Fr. Pierre and Fr. Robert were appointed provincial minister and provincial vicar respectively, and Fr. Jean-Pierre Ducharme, Fr. Danielle Gurnick, OFM, OFM, Fr. Guylain Prince, OFM, and Fr. Aimé Dô Van Thông, OFM, were named to the provincial council. The new province will be headquartered at La Resurrection Friary in Montreal.

Many guests – including Canadian bishops and Franciscan provincial ministers from the United States, Franciscan sisters and Secular Franciscans – attended this historic celebration. The creation of the new province took place during a Chapter of Union held from Oct. 21 to 25 at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Alberta.

“When friars gathered around St. Francis of Assisi some 800 years ago, they were attracted by a life centered on the Gospel. They were motivated by the call to live the Gospel and to preach the kingdom without compromise,” said Fr. Pierre. “This is what we will strive to do as a new Canadian province. The choice of name – Holy Spirit Province of Canada – reflects a desire to be led by the Spirit, even on unknown paths. It takes us back to the experience of Pentecost and to the dynamism of the early Church. This is what I hope will characterize this new Canadian Franciscan province.”

General Minister Fr. Michael Perry celebrates the Eucharist with the friars during the Chapter of Union. (Photo courtesy of the Franciscans of Canada)

A History of Missionary Zeal
Holy Spirit Province comprises 87 Franciscan brothers from the ages of 32 to 97. They minister in Quebec (Montreal, Lachute, and Trois-Rivières), British Columbia (Vancouver and Victoria), and Alberta (Edmonton and Cochrane), as well as missionaries in Haiti, Madagascar, and Peru. The headquarters of the new province will be in Montreal at La Resurrection Convent.

The Franciscan presence in Canada dates from 1615. Blessed Fr. Frederic Janssoone, OFM, who founded the Commissariat of the Holy Land in 1888 in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, is credited with re-establishing the Order in Canada. St. Joseph Province was founded in 1927 and Christ the King Province was founded in 1955.

“One of the positive things about our union is that there has been, especially among the younger friars, a renewed enthusiasm,” said Fr. Robert. “There is something exciting about what can happen, something hopeful about a spiritual renewal and a revitalization of mission. Many of the same challenges will exist after our union, but although articulating and living a common vision is an ever-evolving task, I imagine that during the first three years after union, a more precise vision and mission with some restructuring will occur which hopefully will be helpful to the friars and to the Church.”

Fr. Pierre agreed that the founding of a new province provides a new beginning for the Franciscans in Canada.

“I’m most looking forward to reconnecting with the core values of our Franciscan charism,” he said. “The creation of a new province is an occasion to stop, to evaluate what we’re doing, and to ground ourselves anew in the fundamentals of our Franciscan identity.”

The new provincial administration of the province of the Holy Spirit/Saint-Esprit: Fr. Jean-Pierre Ducharme, Fr. Guylain Prince, Fr. Pierre Charland, Fr. Robert Mokry, Fr. Aimé Dô Van Thông, and Fr. Daniel Gurnick. (Photo courtesy of the Franciscans of Canada)

Advice for Others
While acknowledging that every restructuring process is different, both Fr. Bob and Fr. Pierre had advice for provinces that are going through a similar situation.

“I would stress the importance of being able to celebrate existing provinces before entering into union to form a new one,” said Fr. Pierre. “This type of process is like crossing a bridge. It’s important to know, to value and to celebrate where you come from, and to know where you are going. In forming a new Franciscan province, we are leaving something we know to move toward something new. This can generate fear, excitement, hope, and insecurity. However, what bridges the old and the new is our common Franciscan heritage and identity. It’s important to stress this and to make clear that the new province will continue to value the rich history of the provinces from which it has been formed.”

Fr. Bob emphasized the importance of keeping the friars connected throughout the process.

“One of the most helpful things for us was to have meetings of friars, to keep communication open, to address particular questions,” he said. “This brought us to focus more on our common desires and needs while striving to cope with the challenges. It also established a sort of momentum and renewed our enthusiasm. I know that our U.S. brothers are doing similar things, although their numbers and different dynamics present different challenges.”

The Revitalization and Restructuring Process in the United States has been in discussion for several years. Earlier this year, six of the seven U.S. OFM provinces voted to unify.

In an interview with St. John the Baptist Province’s communications director Toni Cashnelli, Fr. Pierre expressed his enthusiasm for the future of the Canadian province.

“The Franciscan friars of Canada have an outstanding missionary zeal and are committed to engaging dialogue with contemporary culture,” he said. “In the past, Canadian friars have also contributed generously to Franciscan studies – to the rediscovery of our rich spiritual heritage – and have been pioneers in promoting collaboration with lay Franciscan brothers and sisters. I’m sure this will continue.”

He added, “Canadian Franciscans are fraternal, communion-oriented and resourceful. I’m confident the friars of the Holy Spirit Province of Canada will continue to humbly live their lives in fraternity, and in doing so, will be leaven in the bread of Canadian society. Our fraternities will be places of peaceful dialogue, of unconditional welcoming, and of creative evangelization.”

Like Holy Name Province and the other U.S. provinces, Holy Spirit Province is a member of the OFM English-speaking Conference.

Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Toni Cashnelli, director of communications for St. John the Baptist Province in Cincinnati, Ohio, provided research for this story.

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