Commemorations of Patron Saint Feature Friar Lectures

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

Films, festivals, furry friends and friar presentations were all part of commemorations around the Province of the Oct. 4 feast of St. Francis. With varied themes and settings, the celebrations of the Franciscan patron saint attracted many people and much enthusiasm.

In many cases, observances were broadened, with some taking place during weeklong, or even longer, celebrations. Several churches had annual festivals, one parish offered concerts, and others presented movies. Most observances, however, included the Transitus of St. Francis on Oct. 3, the commemoration of the saint’s death and transition into eternal life in 1226, in addition to Masses on the feast itself.

“The Transitus has become a significant and even a necessary annual event,” said Daniel Grigassy, OFM, former pastor of St. Bonaventure Parish in Paterson, N.J., in an article published in The Beacon newspaper on Sept. 27. “To ritually revisit the story of Francis’ passing is vital. Without it, something vital is missing.”

“There is probably no saint more revered and well known in all of Christian history than St. Francis of Assisi,” saidDaniel Horan, OFM, in the lead story on Huffington Post Religion on Oct. 4. “Today, Christians, and many non-Christians alike, celebrate the life and legacy of this medieval Italian man who is known the world over for his exemplary life of holiness and model of peaceable living he leaves to us, nearly 800 years after his death.”

Lessons of Faith and History
Through writings, discussions and traditional services, friars and their community members shared the spirituality and the meaning of the season.

In New York City, historian Dominic Monti, OFM, spoke Oct. 1 about the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in his presentation, “Franciscans and Church Renewal: Then and Now.” He talked of how Franciscan men and women have taken up the call to renew the Church, describing ways that friars seek to do this, especially ministering with people rather than to them.

At Siena College, Michael Blastic, OFM, shown above, a leading scholar of Franciscan theology and spirituality, presented “Remembering Francis’ Life — the St. Francis Tableau,” using artwork by contemporary British artist Jennifer Gay Holmes that presents Francis’ life through eight interrelated scenes surrounding an image of Francis.

Both St. Bonaventure University in Western New York and St. Anthony Shrine in Boston offered lectures byKenneth Himes, OFM, professor of theology at Boston College, who later this month will deliver a keynote lecture in Raleigh, N.C. Dan Horan spoke at Hilbert College in Hamburg, N.Y., about his book Dating God. On Oct. 21, he will discuss his book at St. Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, N.J.

Several ministries showed films. Siena presented two documentaries — “Sun Come Up” with a discussion of the impact of climate change, and “Francis and Clare for Us: Siena College’s Pilgrimage to Italy,” a college-produced film that several friars said had strong impact. It was a good opportunity to learn more about the land of Francis and Clare and to see how Franciscan spirit continues to animate the college’s mission today, according to Gregory Jakubowicz, OFM, Siena’s chaplain. 

St. Francis of Assisi Parish in New York City showed the 1972 film about the life of St. Francis, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.”  In Pompton Lakes, St. Mary’s Parish showed a two-part video pilgrimage to Assisi on Oct. 9, and will again on Oct. 16, with Lawrence Anderson, OFM, facilitating.

To better familiarize people with the life and teachings of the popular saint, many ministries offered information through bulletins and social media. Images representing St. Francis were posted on the Facebook pages of friars and of Franciscan organizations, including Mt. Irenaeus, the Franciscan Mission Service, and the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry.

Most ministries offered animal blessings, a popular tradition. They began as early as the last weekend of September and extended through the first weekend of October. Parishioners and community members brought their pets for blessings. Usually held outside, this year St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Midtown Manhattan blessed the animals in the sanctuary. “We had a few, though not many, accidents on the floor,” said Andrew Reitz, OFM, pastor, with a smile.

Up the Hudson River, Kevin Mackin, OFM, the Franciscan president of the Dominican Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y., blessed creatures large and small on Sept. 30 after Mass during alumni and family weekend. Photos of the blessing of animals at Siena College appeared on Siena’s website and on the Times Union website.

Gatherings of Celebration and Fraternity 
Music and merriment were offered at many parishes. In Midtown Manhattan, the third annual “Viva Francesco” cabaret concert was presented on two evenings at St. Francis of Assisi Parish to raise money for the parish’s music ministry.

In New Jersey, nearly 20 friars gathered on Oct. 4 for “a great evening of prayer, preprandium and dinner” at St. Mary’s, said Frank Sevola, OFM, pastor. Gonzalo Torres, OFM, took photos of the festivities.

Several parishes including those in Triangle, Va., and Raleigh, N.C., both of which are named St. Francis of Assisi, held festivals. The northern Virginia community enjoyed international foods, a raffle, and a craft show at the Oct. 7 Francis Fest. Raleigh’s event, also on Oct. 7, included an outdoor Mass and a ministry fair. In Tokyo, the Franciscan Chapel Center marked the season as well as its 45th anniversary with a picnic on Sept. 30.

“Francis Fest affords us a great occasion to celebrate the feast of the patron of both the friars and the parish, Francis of Assisi, and his legacy and tradition,” said Raleigh pastor Mark Reamer, OFM. “The feast of Francis affords us the opportunity to learn more about Francis, his legacy and the Franciscan tradition. This year, we also commemorated 25 years of Franciscan presence in Raleigh.”

Words of Appreciation
Feedback about the varied commemorations around the Province was enthusiastic.

Kenneth Paulli, OFM, Siena’s chief of staff, said that the documentary and the Michael Blastic lecture were “both unbelievable. What they have done for the Siena community is wonderful. For me, they were the standouts of our season because they were educational and motivational.”

“Each day leading up to and including the feast, we had Franciscan meditations airing on the college-based radio station. Additionally, we sent out a morning, campus-wide email with quick, digestible information about the Franciscan tradition,” said Gregory, who hosted an event to explain St. Francis’s lifestyle.

“I think the college did well in not only providing opportunities to learn more about St. Francis, but to actually celebrate the Franciscan spirit,” he continued. “I love learning more about Francis, and Michael’s insights help one deepen his or her appreciation for the evangelical life of Francis.

“Personally, I always appreciate our fraternity gathering together for the Transitus and the feast day Mass for the Solemnity,” Greg added. “My vocation is always strengthened by them.”

At St. Anthony Shrine, where the community marked the feast with a Sept. 16 to Oct. 4 “Franciscan Intermezzo,” James Kelly, OFM, director, said the Transitus “was the hit of the season.”

“It was beautifully constructed by Raymond Selker, OFM, who worked with Jennifer Galea, our music director,” said James. “Auxiliary Bishop John Dooher, my second cousin, presided, and represented Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, OFM Cap. We seemed to have nearly double the number of attendees as last year.  Personally, I was helped by Ken’s presentation and moved by the Transitus. Blessing all the friars, the Franciscan nuns, Secular Franciscans, and then the worshipping community, was very moving for me. To represent Francis was both humbling and a great honor.”

In Western New York, Julianne Wallace, St. Bonaventure University’s associate director of faith formation, worship and ministry, said she also appreciated the Transitus, the first for her on the campus. The newly-formed studenty liturgy committee planned the service.

“After an amazing celebration of Transitus,” said Wallace, “one of the freshmen came up to me and exclaimed, ‘I love Francis Week.’ Seeing that transformation in just one student was a blessing for me. Helping other students understand the joy and beauty of the Franciscan life is something that we hope to continue to grow through university ministries at St. Bonaventure.” Wallace shared photos of SBU’s feast commemorations on the new St. Bonaventure University Ministries Facebook page, which includes photos of Francis Di Spigno, OFM, executive director of university ministries.

 Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.