Chapter Focuses on Realignment, ‘Being Who We Say We Are’

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

LOUDONVLLE, N.Y. — At their triennial Provincial gathering last week, the friars voted to be part of the conversations on the restructuring of the American OFM provinces. A formal vote on Thursday, June 5 made official Holy Name Province’s interest in discussing the realignment of the U.S. provinces as a way to strengthen membership, fraternity and the ability to conduct ministry. A total of 175 friars voted in favor of the proposal while four were opposed.

“Throughout the chapter, delegates discussed the desire to further integrate our lives and ministry with the friars of the other U.S. provinces,” said outgoing Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, in the most recent issue of A Place at The Table. “This, in some ways, made the actual vote anti-climactic. I was delighted with the results, as they clearly expressed the support of Holy Name Province to be part of the process. I did not get the sense that friars were afraid of moving ahead.”

Holy Name Province was one of two provinces to approve the proposal last week. Our Lady of Guadalupe Province unanimously approved the proposal at its meeting in New Mexico. This week, from June 8 to 13, two U.S. provinces are holding chapters: Assumption of our Blessed Virgin Mary, based in Wisconsin, and Sacred Heart, based in Missouri. Two other provinces had approved the proposal before HNP’s chapter — St. Barbara and St. John the Baptist.

During the Province’s gathering at Siena College, the friars discussed a variety of topics and listened to feedback from various offices and committees, many of which focused on the chapter’s theme “Being Who We Say We Are.”

Addresses by General Minister and Visitor 
The chapter opened Sunday evening with a convocation by General Visitor Fr. Melvin Jurisich, OFM. Monday, June 2 began with a talk by General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, who mentioned his long connection to Holy Name Province, having lived at both St. Camillus and St. Stephen friaries. He described current demographics as well as shifts within the Order, emphasizing the need to be open to change and to movement.

The General Minister reiterated what the U.S. provincials have said of the realignment process, stating, “The status quo is no longer an option.” The Order itself “is in movement. The question is, how are we embracing this movement?” He also described the collaboration happening among provinces around the world. His talk concluded with a list of attitudes that “will help us move forward,” including clarity of intention, and simplicity of life and message. The General Minister’s full address was distributed on paper to participating friars and through an e-bulletin to all friars.

On Monday afternoon, General Visitor Fr. Melvin Jurisich, OFM, presented his findings about the Province and its members, based on the more than 300 friar interviews he conducted over the last year. Many friars expressed gratitude for the experiences they have had as members of the Province, said Fr. Mel, whose report was broken into six parts: (1) animation of life and order, (2) evangelizing mission, (3) formation and studies, (4) justice, peace and integrity of creation, (5) finances and (6) government of the Province.

He gave his assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of Holy Name Province, concluding with a list of some of the issues he heard while interviewing friars. They include the need for greater communication within the Province, better follow-through, more personal contact by the administration on a local level and mentoring. The text of the visitor’s report was forwarded to HNP friars last week as an attachment to an HNP e-bulletin.

Also that day, chapter attendees listened to a moderated discussion by six friars, who shared their vocation stories. This “fishbowl dialogue” highlighted the reasons why the friars were attracted to religious life and to Holy Name Province. The conversation encouraged listeners to compare their current lives with their original expectations of Franciscan life and relate those thoughts to the chapter’s theme.

On Tuesday morning, John O’Connor gave a report on his nine years as leader of the Province. He described the accomplishments of his administration: (1) creating the five-year strategic plan, (2) developing a series of regional days and a leadership training program, (3) creatively promoting programs of the vocation office and welcoming large postulant classes, (4) joining the interprovincial novitiate, (5) negotiating the dissolution of the Washington Theological Union assets, (6) establishing the fundraising arm of the Province, (7) centralizing finances, (8) strengthening the Communications Office, (9) renovating several Provincial buildings, (10) consistently being accredited by Praesidium, and (11) establishing the HNP Lay Advisory Board.

John also related the challenges of being Provincial Minister. He concluded by telling friars, “Be proud of who you are as sons of St. Francis. Do not sell yourselves short.”

Office Reports and Proposal Votes
Also on Tuesday, attendees heard from representatives of the Province’s directorates and committees. Eight friars, seated as part of a panel, described what their groups — Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation; Finance; Hispanic; Sick, Aged and Retired; African Ancestry; Franciscan Life and Ministry; Formation and Studies; and Young Adult — learned since the last chapter. The session was followed by audience members giving feedback, many including comments about the type of ministry that most satisfies them. The session ended with table conversations, during which friars discussed peripheries to which the Province is called and what being a Friar Minor means.

  • After elections for provincial leaders during the middle of the week, participants devoted much of Thursday to reviewing and voting on proposals and statutes. Among topics discussed were:
    Deepening the Province’s commitment to JPIC
  • Planning interprovincial retreats and ministerial workshops for the next six years to prepare for a new experience of fraternity and ministry
  • Supporting the role of women religious in the U.S. during the Year of Consecrated and Religious Life (Oct. 2014 – Oct. 2015)

In addition, the friars voted on proposals to add or modify statutes. These themes included:    

  • Clarifying boundaries of the private areas of friaries
  • Fraternal Life in Mission Directorate being actively engaged in the process of accepting, altering or discontinuing specific ministries 
  • Initial and ongoing formation
  • Approval of expenditures by guardians

During the week, the friars participated in liturgies, prayer services, shared meals and meetings of interest groups. The Tuesday afternoon Mass was celebrated by Howard Hubbard, retired bishop of Albany and an affiliate of Holy Name Province.

Friar Reactions 
The response to this year’s chapter seemed positive, said Dan McLellan.

“Most of the feedback heard by members of the Steering Committee was quite positive,” he said.  “Friars appreciated the rhythm of the chapter and the opportunity to talk about what is at the heart of our life.

“As we began, I mentioned that, regarding outcomes, we reap what we sow,” he continued. “That most were pleased with what we got from our week together is testimony that friars were invested in the chapter’s work.”

A variety of people, in addition to members of the Chapter Planning Committee, were involved in organizing the 2014 chapter. Dan acknowledged them when the chapter closed Thursday afternoon. They included Dominic Perri, who moderated the event, Octavio Duran, OFM, photographer, Vincent Grogan, OFM, canonist, Daniel Grigassy, OFM, who coordinated prayer, Frederick Dilger, OFM, who coordinated environment, Lawrence Ford, OFM, transportation, Gregory Jakubowicz, OFM, Siena College liaison, Dennis Wilson, OFM, parliamentarian, and nine friars who served as tellers. Music was provided by Peter Chepaitis, OFM, Kevin McGoff, OFM, Richard Trezza, OFM, and Kate Burns, director of liturgical arts for Siena’s chapel.

In August, representatives of all the American OFM provinces will meet in Wisconsin to discuss the next steps required to consolidate and reinvigorate the Franciscan presence in the United States.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province. The photo above was taken by Octavio Duran, OFM. Additional images of the chapter are available on the Facebook page of St. Anthony’s Guild.