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Changes in Roles, Locations Offer Blessings and Opportunities

Over the last half-year, many friars have changed their locations – moving to new ministries, sometimes in states that are new to them. Many have changed roles. These transitions bring about an assortment of feelings. They also bring about many benefits and blessings.

Five friars recently shared their thoughts about the impact of assignment changes. Their observations range from gratitude for being able to meet many people, to acknowledge that even when returning to a previous assignment, all are different and a new start is needed.

Michael Blastic, OFM – Interprovincial Novitiate in Santa Barbara, Calif., after moving with the Interprovincial Novitiate from Burlington, Wis.
Since 2010, I have “transitioned” five times: first, from St. Bonaventure University and the Franciscan Institute – where I spent 15 years and many more summers – to Holy Name College and the Washington Theological Union, to Siena in 2012, to the novitiate in Burlington, Wis., in 2016, and then to Santa Barbara, Calif., this past August. Until 2016, my ministry had been college teaching. During my summers, I traveled and spent months with Franciscans in many different parts of the world offering workshops, seminars, and retreats. I enjoyed this itinerant dimension of Franciscan life, and each place I went was a great opportunity for experiencing different iterations of Franciscan life, prayer, and practice. The brothers were always very gracious and welcoming, going out of their way to make me feel a part of the fraternity. Each friary I visited challenged me to open my horizons to different – yet graced – experiences of our international brotherhood.

I think those summer experiences of itinerancy have helped me with the transitions here at home these past seven years. To be on the road and facing change has made our fraternal vocation to “go about the world” (ER 14) real and challenged me to not get too settled or to make any place my own, as the Rule puts it (LR 6). I would have been very happy to spend what is left of my life at SBU, yet that was not to be. But at the same time, saying yes to a new possibility (three since then) has always brought me new blessings and surprises. Had I said no, I would never have gotten to know Harry Monaco, OFM, as well as I had before he died, and would have missed the privilege and blessing of walking with him as he faced his death with so much faith and courage. I would never have learned so much about the history of HNP, especially about friars who have gone before us, if I didn’t get the opportunity to live with my elder brothers at Siena. And had I said no to ministry at the novitiate, I would never have gotten to know our living future.

The most difficult dimension of each of my transitions has been the leaving, as I’m sure it is for all of us – to leave a place where I have been enlivened and challenged and loved by the local brothers, and to find myself in a new place at a distance from familiar and established friends and colleagues is tough, and disorienting. I try to immerse myself in the life of my new brothers and ministry by being present and attentive day by day to all dimensions of fraternal living – prayer, table, and recreation – and I have always found that that was the best way to feel at home in a community. I try to be as open as I can to life as it unfolds where I am, and with whomever God gives me as a brother, doing what I am called to do. I can say that I have never been disappointed.

The recent transition to Mission Santa Barbara has been an unexpected gift. The initial move here was difficult and a lot of work, but the mission friars and staff have gone out of their way to make us feel at home and provide what we need. Being a formator in the novitiate has its challenges. For me, the biggest challenge is beginning again each year to build a fraternal life with a new group of men who are new to our life. And for me, it really means being willing to be a novice again every year. But the attention to the fundamentals of our Franciscan commitment and the daily work of being a brother, and especially the genuineness of our newest brothers and their love for our life energizes me and has challenged me to a renewed commitment to Franciscan living. It really helps that we have a great team and a welcoming and supportive community of friars here. And, being in Santa Barbara isn’t tough at all! I can imagine spending the rest of my life here, but I know that this, too, will come to an end and that I will be asked to start over again somewhere else. That is our life, and it is what I said yes to.

Daniel Grigassy, OFM – St. Bonaventure Parish, Paterson, N.J., after having been stationed at St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland for five years
Education and parochial ministry are simply two different sites for service. I have had the privilege of serving in both areas.

Returning to parish ministry at the same site after five years away has been challenging. The place has changed and I have changed. During the transition in August, my fifth-grade teacher advised me not to “pick up where I left off” but to “begin again.” It is an important distinction and was very wise advice!

I left Paterson in the summer of 2012 to go to St. Mary’s Seminary in the Roland Park section of Baltimore, where I was associate professor of liturgical theology and director of liturgy. I also served as a formation director and spiritual director for diocesan seminarians. Since the summer of 2017, I have been pastor at St. Bonaventure Parish – a nearly 140-year-old community in a neighborhood with much Franciscan history.   It was here that the friars first landed from Fulda, Germany, in 1876. It was also here that the Province trained novices for many years.

Ignatius Harding, OFM – St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Triangle, Va., after having been stationed in Bolivia since 1972
So many people today feel trapped in their work or living situations that they don’t know how to cope. As a friar, the three-year and six-year changes give continual new opportunities and help one easily avoid stagnation.

A new place, a new fraternity, and a new mission are not so much daunting as challenging to the creative spirits within oneself. After having moved in August from a large downtown basilica in Bolivia – where I had lived for 45 years – to this large southern parish just outside Washington, D.C., next to the Quantico Marine Base, I would say the first highlight of the change was to be welcomed by a wonderful friar fraternity that fully shares life and ministry This makes any transition a joy. Then comes the incredible partners-in-ministry who let you know that you are welcome in their parish community and invite and appreciate your participation in the many ministries. I hope every friar in transition is able to experience these blessings in transition.

After that, the challenges of integrating into the complex mission of the parish and the pastoral team are naturally paced by the old adage “Without hurrying, but without pausing.”

Charles O’Connor, OFM – Siena College, Loudonville, N.Y., after having been stationed at Holy Cross Parish in Callicoon, N.Y., since 2012
In August, I was transferred from Holy Cross Parish, Callicoon, N.Y., to St. Francis Chapel and Siena College. One of the challenges of this change for me was joining a large friar community after over five years of living alone. Initially, the change was unsettling, but the friars’ kindness and acceptance made it a lot easier.

One of the values moving from being a pastor to an associate at St. Francis Chapel means that I now have more time to engage in other things of interest at Siena. However, I do miss the closeness that you have with your parishioners as their pastor. Involvement in their lives can run deep. Change is healthy, and this change has given me the opportunity to enjoy community life once again, to meet new people, and to engage in the ministry of reconciliation that is integral to ‘service church’ work.

Daily life at Siena affords me prayer and fraternity with my fellow friars that were absent many times in Callicoon, N.Y. When I came to Holy Cross in 2012, there were five friars in the area. When I left, I was the last friar serving there.

With any change, it’s important that you give yourself time to adjust to a new friar community and another ministry. I’ve been at Siena for four months and I’m just now beginning to feel at home.

I haven’t experienced many transfers as a friar, having previously served at 31st Street in New York City, Christ the King Seminary near Buffalo, Providence, R.I., and Callicoon. But, I can honestly say that they all have enriched and challenged me, as I sure my new ministry at St. Francis Chapel in a shopping center close to Albany, N.Y., will do as well.

Ramon Razon, OFM – St. Francis Inn, Philadelphia, Pa., after having lived in New York City before he professed his final vows in August 2017
Apart from community prayers, morning breakfast at 6:30 a.m. has always been my steady ritual in any friary where I reside. This ritual helps me feel at home in new settings and transitions.

My role is two-tiered. I work in the production of and serve meals at St. Francis Inn, the soup kitchen in the Kensington neighborhood. I engage in social justice work by building knowledge on the key issues we experience at the Inn (homelessness, mental illness, and the opioid crisis/substance abuse), and community organizing with our team and our guests, the local government and other non-profit agencies.

My Franciscan orientation helps me appreciate the numerous nuanced details of my tasks behind every meal we serve without neglecting my responsibility to the wider vision of social justice and transformation beyond the micro-work we do.

Witnessing a death (due to pneumonia) and three incidences of drug overdose among our guests on our street in my first month have been intense for me. Meanwhile, by facilitating a focused group discussion with our guests and a community leader, I saw their ability to identify resources and skills they can use to address their issues and organize steps they can take to achieve their goal. They showed me my role not as a savior but as their brother. Their empowered disposition energizes me so much.

My two-year internship in New York with former homeless residents in St. Francis Residences and Broadway Housing Communities prepared me as a community organizer and social justice advocate.

— Compiled by Jocelyn Thomas

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