How does the message of a man who lived in the 13th century interest people of the 21st century? The feast of St. Francis – and all he represents – is being commemorated this week by Catholics throughout the world. Around Holy Name Province, ministries arranged events to bring the teachings of the man from Assisi to their partners-in-ministry.
In Raleigh, N.C., on a sunny Saturday, St. Francis of Assisi Parish held a Franciscan Spirit and Life Conference, an event that offered a keynote presentation and 24 breakout sessions under the theme “Dare to Be Franciscan.” It drew more than 200 people for the full day of formation, that concluded with Mass.
Beginning with prayer and keynote speaker Daniel Horan, OFM, an assistant professor of systematic theology and spirituality at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, the day was filled with discussions and reflections.
“At the beginning of his talk, Dan spoke about how, for many of us, when we think about St. Francis of Assisi, we think about the birdbath in the backyard,” said Steven Patti, OFM, pastor. “There’s nothing wrong with that, Dan said, but if that is our primary image, are we somehow domesticating St. Francis, making him a charming figure who lives in our backyard and welcomes the pigeons and sparrows, but nothing more than that?”
“The St. Francis of Assisi pastoral staff planned the multi-faceted day to come together as a community in fellowship and in formation of living out our baptismal call in light of our Franciscan identity,” said staff member Tricia Henry. “At this gathering, participants embraced the theme while learning, praying and growing in faith together.”
“Throughout the day, we had different talks that responded to Dan’s question, and that addressed Franciscan themes,” said Steve, who said he is grateful to all who helped plan the conference. “We learned that Francis speaks of moving out into the world in relationship with people who may be different from us, speaks of seeking peace and reconciliation in a divided world, speaks of care and respect for all of God’s creation, speaks of deep attention to the gospel, and of humble prayer before God.”
The Sept. 29 conference was open to the community. The event offered sessions about topics ranging from Practical Liturgy to Faith and Politics to Navigating Social Media with your Kids. Details about the event, with descriptions of the breakouts, were posted on the parish website. Photos appear on the StFrancisRaleigh Facebook page.
Among the presenters at Saturday’s conference was Christopher VanHaight, OFM, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in nearby Durham, who said, “The Franciscan Spirit and Life Conference was a great opportunity for people to understand more fully the Franciscan charism. I was grateful to be asked to give a presentation on Franciscan Symbology.
“My talk focused on some of the most common Franciscan images and symbols, such as the Tau, the habit, and the San Damiano cross, and how they reflect both St. Francis’s spirituality, devotion, and service and ours as well as modern-day Franciscans,” he said. “I concluded with the symbol of Francis embracing the leper and how as Franciscans in the world today embracing the least among us is still the most important Franciscan symbol.”
Workshop leaders also included staff members as well as friars Hugh Macsherry, OFM, from Immaculate Conception Parish, and Stephen Kluge, OFM, James Sabak, OFM, and Steve Patti of the Raleigh parish.
“Because of the great attendance — which was remarkable on a day with such beautiful weather — and the glowing feedback about the conference, we are planning to hold a similar event in the future,” said Henry.
Focusing on Young Adults
In New Jersey, St. Mary’s Parish in Pompton Lakes, N.J., offered an event on Monday evening at which two 20-somethings shared their thoughts about Franciscan values. The program, titled “Blessed: A Conversation with Two Millennials on Franciscan Values, Young Adults and the Modern Church,” featured Provincial staff members Maria Hayes and Benjamin Simpson. They spoke about their own faith journeys that led them through disillusionment with, and being hurt by, the Church to the unexpected discovery of a “home” for themselves in the life-giving Catholic parish community at St. Francis Church on 31st Street in New York City.
“They spoke most eloquently about the hunger of millennials for honest, authentic and transparent community where faith and life can be shared with joy,” said Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, who is stationed at St. Mary’s. “And they explained how the openness, joy, non-judgmentalness and welcoming accompaniment of the friars have given them a new sense of what the Catholic Church truly is and can be.”
“Maria and Ben very clearly ‘clicked’ with members of a new parish young adult ministry group who attended their talk,” he added. “Very helpful suggestions and experiences were shared. Maria and Ben left their contact information and the two Young Adult groups at 31st Street and St. Mary’s will no doubt be in communication in the days ahead.
“In a very powerful moment, Ben and Maria specifically addressed the eighth-grade CCD class, whose members where there, reminding them how powerful words can be — to hurt others or to build them up. They asked the youth to always let their words be the living and loving presence of Christ. ‘You may be the only Gospel that others may ever hear,’ added Ben. After their talk, many of the adults at the event make it a point to personally thank Ben and Maria for their personal testimonies that were inspirational and hope-generating.”
In Western New York, St. Bonaventure University offered a program led by Joseph Rozansky, OFM, who spoke on the Franciscan approach to solidarity during a late-afternoon program on Oct. 1, in the University Chapel. In addition to giving the Fr. Jerome Kelly Lecture, Joe had lunch on Friday with students who engage in ministry and other volunteer services such as the Warming House, Bona Buddies and Silver Wolves. Joe, who spoke with the students about their experience of solidarity in their work and ministry, is the Province’s director of post-novitiate formation, chair of the Franciscans International board of directors, and former director of the Order’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.
Celebrating with Academic and Social Events
In New York City, St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street offered a lecture on Oct. 2 titled “Culture Meets Catholicism: A Franciscan Perspective.” It was presented by Francis Greene, a professor at St Francis College, Brooklyn. The presentation explored notable examples of the intersection of culture and Catholicism for the early Christian era onward and how this conversation is particularly Franciscan in outlook and practice.
On Wednesday afternoon, Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, is taking part in a conversation at St. Francis College in Brooklyn about peace in the Franciscan tradition with college president Miguel Martinez-Saenz.
At other locations, ministries are offering cultural and social events. Commemorations of the patron saint continue past the feast day, drawing together communities as they appreciate and learn about Francis’s message of peace and acceptance
St. Francis of Assisi Parish School in Triangle, Va., is holding a walkathon on Oct. 4 to benefit its programs. On Oct. 6, the parish is showing the film “St. Francis of Assisi: The Reformer” which will be followed on Sunday with Francis fest, an annual community event on the parish grounds that offers games, varied foods and basket drawings.
The University of Georgia Catholic Center held a Francis Dinner on Sept. 28 — a gathering that included live music and a silent auction.
In Hartford, St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish is commemorating the feast on the first weekend of October with a variety of activities – an animal blessing, a blessing of stuffed animals, and a prayer service remembering Matthew Shepard, a gay teenager beaten to death in Wyoming 20 years ago, as well as a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the union of St. Patrick and St. Anthony parishes.
In addition to kicking off the month with the first Franciscan Spirit and Life conference, the Raleigh parish is continuing to Dare to Be Franciscan with its traditional events of Transitus, Feast Day staff potluck on Oct. 4, blessing of the animals on Oct. 7 and its annual FrancisFest family celebration for Oct. 21.
-Jocelyn Thomas is director of communication for Holy Name Province.
- “Justice and Peace Retreat Focuses on Hope and on Value of Francis in Trying Times” – Aug. 8, 2018, HNP Today
- “Ministries Ready to Celebrate Order’s Patron Saint” – Sept. 27, 2017, HNP Today
- “Francis Feast Attracts Viewers Across the United States” – Oct. 5, 2016, HNP Today
- “Joe Rozansky Speaks about Climate Change, Poverty in St. Anthony Messenger” – Aug. 29, 2012, HNP Today