Celebrating the Legacy of St. Francis

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province

Peace, humility, and simplicity — those are some of responses given to Mt. Irenaeus when it asked on its Facebook page: “What does St. Francis mean to you?”

The Franciscan Mountain Retreat in Western New York posed the question on Oct. 3, the anniversary of the death of Francis. The topic generated more than 60 “likes” — a sign in these digital times of a popular subject.

“St Francis to me means peace and humility,” said one Mt. Irenaeus Facebook follower. “If you know his life story, he is a true example of a Christ follower. And of course, he loves animals.”

Throughout the past weeks, festivities around the Province have captured the meaning of and the enthusiasm for the saint through a variety of programs and services. Many ministries began their commemorations well before the Oct. 4 feast day and some concluded them several days after, extending the recognition of the Franciscans’ patron saint to more than a week.

Celebrating Franciscan Tradition
As many ministry leaders did, George Corrigan, OFM, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla., invited community members to share the blessing, memories and traditions of being Franciscan.

“In a way, the feast of St. Francis is our fraternal time of thanksgiving to recognize and be grateful for this way of life,” said George in the parish’s e-newsletter that announced an array of events. “And so each October, the feast of St. Francis becomes a time when we remember the saint, his life and death, and mark the celebration with our own family traditions.”

Among its many activities, Sacred Heart Parish included in its celebration schedule a dedication of the one-year-old San Damiano Center and the opening of its Sacred Heart Museum.

Many ministries celebrated the Transitus — commemorating the passing of the saint — and offered a blessing of the animals. Photos of Francis Week events can be found on the Facebook pages of many ministries, including St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Long Beach Island, N.J., and St. Anthony Shrine, Boston.

Daniel Grigassy, OFM, described details about the Transitus in an article in Weekly ReCap, the newsletter of the Capuchin province of St. Joseph.

To ritually revisit the story of Francis’s passing is vital; without it, something significant is missing,” wrote Daniel, who is director of liturgy at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Md. “It specified the living memory of Francis; it intensifies our commitment to follow Christ in the way of the poor man of Assisi.”

At St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville, S.C., more than 300 people dressed in “fancy clothes and set places at tables to welcome and feed one another, as they celebrated the feast with a semi-formal dinner and dance,” according to pastor Patrick Tuttle, OFM. On Oct. 6, three festive Masses were celebrated, and the weekend concluded with a parish picnic attended by more than 850 people, including the homeless and school community.

During each Mass, children were given a gift that included a card from the friars in the Upstate region of South Carolina, a St. Francis of Assisi prayer card, a rope-type necklace with a medallion of St. Francis, and a bookmark.Jack McDowell, OFM, created the gifts in the name of all the friars in Upstate South Carolina. All of the events held at St. Anthony of Padua Parish were free to attend due to the model of stewardship that St. Anthony’s practices, according to Patrick.

Honoring Patron Saint
Several parishes held outdoor social events as a way to both commemorate the season and also to bring together their communities. The Province’s Raleigh, N.C., and Triangle, Va., parishes — both named St. Francis of Assisi — held annual festivals the weekend of Oct. 5.

In New York City, St. Stephen of Hungary Parish on Manhattan’s Upper East Side held a parish party on its patio. In Midtown Manhattan, St. Francis of Assisi Parish hosted several well-attended events, including a lecture by Fr. James Martin, SJ, the Jesuit priest known for his evangelization through America magazine. His Sept. 30 talk was delivered to a packed San Damiano Hall on West 31st Street.

The festive feast day Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Parish on West 31st Street was standing room only. The 6 p.m. celebration featured butterfly and dove kites that swooped and fluttered over parishioners during the procession. A stirring homily given by General Visitor Fr. Melvin Jurisich, OFM, was received with applause from those who had gathered. The Mass was celebrated by pastor Andrew Reitz, OFM, assisted by Christopher Coccia, OFM, andTimothy Shreenan, OFM. Many area friars attended, as well as several Dominican friars who were invited and welcomed by the Franciscan community as part of an annual tradition. Video of the procession — featuring the kites, friars, and the parish’s choir — appear on the parish’s Facebook page, Church of St. Francis of Assisi.

“For me, the Mass was a tribute to the life and works of St. Francis, as well as a celebration of Franciscan life and ministry today,” said Carolyn Croke, a Provincial Office staff member.

Schools Recognize Francis
Students of all ages celebrated the season. In Western New York, the friar communities at St. Bonaventure University and Mt. Irenaeus participated in the Oct. 3 Transitus service.

Ross Chamberland, OFM, preached a riveting message to the community,” said Basil Valente, OFM, who participated in the dramatic reenactment of the Transitus performed by members of the university community, along with Ross, David Haack, OFM, Jeffery Jordan, OFM, and Fr. David Flood, OFM, of St. Joseph Province in Montreal, Canada. Julianne Wallace, campus minister, served as music director for the Transitus.

“This performance narration, reflecting the stories of Francis’s life as told by some of Francis’s early companions and friends, involved nearly 25 members of the university community,” said Basil, director of the school’s integrated marketing communications program. “Through word, music and dance, the Transitus service captured the essence of St. Francis of Assisi and the way he lit the world on fire with the love of God. In the process, Francis left a legacy that captured the imagination of both believers and non-believers throughout the ages.

“This group not only included students, professors, Franciscans and administrators, but the service brought together musicians, athletes, dancers, set designers, singers, narrators, writers, choreographers, technical directors, actors, lighting technicians, builders, painters, Franciscan men and women, and recording artists,” Basil continued. “To the cast, it was much more than a performance narration about the life of St. Francis. It remained a prayer and an invitation to embrace, more closely, the needs of our brothers and sisters.”

In Western New York, St. Bonaventure University concluded its celebration of Francis with a campus service day on Oct. 5. “Francis went about his hometown, helping those in need and those often overlooked by others,” said Sr. Suzanne Kush, CSSF, director of SBU’s Franciscan Center for Social Concern. “This is an opportunity for the students to give back to the community of which they are a part.”

In Wisconsin, the novices at the Order’s English-speaking Conference Interprovincial Novitiate commemorated with a Transitus. Photos were posted on the Facebook page of the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate.

On the East Coast, the student friars at Holy Name College in Silver Spring commemorated the feast by attending the annual Transitus celebration organized by the Washington area Franciscans and this year held at St. Camillus Church. Student friar John Aherne, OFM, helped plan the event which attracted 400 people, according to Ronald Pecci, OFM, the Province’s postulant director. The participants included representatives of the Capuchins, Conventuals, Third Order men and Secular Franciscans.

Children commemorated with services, pet blessings and educational activities. In Maryland, students of St. Francis International School in Silver Spring were given a week’s worth of activities inspired by the legacy of St. Francis for whom their school was named in 2010. The school leaders emphasized several themes of the ministry of St. Francis of Assisi, including “finding God in the natural world and building communities of people united in a mission of making a difference in our world,” according to a news release.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communication for Holy Name Province.