This year’s Lenten season has brought Kevin Cronin, OFM, full circle – filled with anniversaries and a return to parishes that hold special meaning for different phases of his life.
To celebrate his 30th anniversary as a member of HNP’s Ministry of the Word – one of the Province’s longest-running ministries in which friars preach parish missions, retreats, and days of recollection – Kevin scheduled special Lenten missions at three parishes with the theme, Loving God Gladly.
Before kicking off his Lenten mission schedule, Kevin said, “As we attempt to ‘love God more gladly,’ I am looking forward to sharing the Word of the Lord and the joy of the Gospel with these three communities that have been special at different times in my life.”
The theme of his missions references the words of St. Francis: “What else are the servants of God but His minstrels, whose work is to lift up peoples’ hearts to spiritual joy, that they might love God gladly.”
The first Lenten mission was held less than a week following Ash Wednesday, from Feb. 27-March 1, at St. Joseph Church in Lincoln Park, New Jersey, a parish that is celebrating its own milestone – the 100th anniversary since Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province built the Mission Church of St. Joseph when the congregation wasn’t large enough to sustain a parish.
The parish bulletin promoted the three-day mission as a great way to prepare for Lent. “If you haven’t attended a mission in a long time, or if you’ve never attended a Franciscan parish mission, you will be in for a delightful surprise! The Franciscan mission is a joyful, rejuvenating and energizing spiritual experience,” the bulletin announcement read.
The second mission was held from March 6-8 at Our Lady of the Snows Church in North Floral Park, Queens, New York, Kevin’s childhood parish and neighborhood. He would ride his bicycle to the church to attend daily Mass before the start of the school day. Ironically, Our Lady of the Snows is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year – the same year that Kevin turned 75 years old.
Kevin’s three-day mission has a different sub-theme each session – God’s Love in Jesus Brings True Joy, God’s Mercy Restores the Joy of Our Youth, and God’s Healing Brings New Hope.
His third Lenten mission is scheduled for March 20-22 at St. Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, where he served as a member of the pastoral team and which turned out to be his last assignment before he joined the Ministry of the Word in 1993. It will be his first parish mission at St. Mary’s in 30 years.
Kevin’s passion for retreat ministry began during his studies for a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at The Catholic University of America, and a master’s in theology at Washington Theological Union. He had become part of a ministry in which teams of friars would preach weekend retreats to teenage students at high schools and religious education programs in Washington, D.C., and in nearby Maryland and Northern Virginia.
“To get people to listen – especially young people – you need to have a presence. You have to keep it interesting, otherwise you will lose them,” said Kevin, who has kept a full schedule of parish Lenten missions – one of his busiest times of the year – for the past three decades. He has been grateful for the schedule getting back to normal after the pandemic shut down activity for two years.
When he joined Ministry of the Word in 1993, it was an adjustment coming from an active parish to a ministry that had a lot of down time – but he quickly adjusted to the nature of mission and retreat ministry, which are high-intensity particularly during Lent and Advent. Being a visiting missionary for 30 years – constantly being on the road, and having to be on your game for five consecutive days (three days of mission preaching, preceded by two days preaching at all weekend Masses to promote the mission) – takes its toll. But given the schedule that he’s keeping for this Lenten season, Kevin isn’t planning to make changes any time soon to the ministry life he cherishes most.