Dance Vespers for Franciscan Saints

HNP Communications Around the Province

NEW YORK — To celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Order, All Saints Church in Harlem here hosted dance vespers to commemorate Franciscan saints on Nov. 21. 

The vespers was coordinated by Neil O’Connell, OFM, Catholic chaplain to Manhattan Community College and Herbert H. Lehman College in the Bronx, and Betsy O’Neill, liaison for the Sacred Dance Guild of New York and Southwestern Connecticut and Friends, and a member of St. Stephen of Hungary Church, where she provides dance ministry. 

The idea for vespers grew out of a similar Thanksgiving event in November 2008, for the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Archdiocese of New York at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan, coordinated by Neil and Ms. O’Neill. 

“Encouraged by participants in that vespers, the guild decided to provide a dance vespers this year and the anniversary of the Order was the logical choice for the occasion,” said Neil. The traditional feast on the Franciscan liturgical calendar of all seraphic (Franciscan) saints on Nov. 29, displaced this year by the first Sunday of Advent, offered a liturgical opportunity for the vespers, he added. 

Neil O’Connell Presides
Neil presided at the vespers as 12 guild members, the dance minister of All Saints, and two dance ministers from the Catholic Campus Ministry at Marymount-Manhattan College formed the ministry of dance. Sr. Chala Marie Hill of the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary was the reflector, and Sr. Paul Teresa Hennessee of the Franciscan Society of the Atonement read. Kathleen Kibane, cantor at St. Stephen, was the cantor, and Rasaan Bourke, minister of music at Sts. John and Paul Church, Larchmont, N.Y., played keyboard.

In the opening procession, the dance ministers bore evocations of the four traditional elements of nature: a blue streamer for air, water sprinkled from a ceramic vessel for water, a red streamer for fire, and a globe for earth.

During the singing of Psalm 141, “My prayers rise like incense…,” the dancers choreographed an enhancement to the offering of incense and the incensing of the altar by Neil. Ms. O’Neill led the congregation in a choreographed sacred gesture as it sang the refrain for Psalm 24, “O God, this is the people that longs to see your face. …” As a responsory to the Gospel, they danced to Sebastian Temple’s “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.”

Saints Bonaventure, Anthony, Elizabeth and Louis
In her reflection, Sister Chala, after presenting the common ground of the Gospel in Franciscan spirituality, focused on St. Bonaventure, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and St. Louis of France as models of Franciscan spirituality. 

As a general intercession, the cantor and congregation sang a setting of a litany of Franciscan saints, during which the dance ministers placed votive candles lighted from the Easter candle on the altar in groupings of Franciscan saints. For the final blessing, the dance ministers performed an interpretation of the familiar musical setting of St. Francis’ usage of the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) by Fr. Owen Da Silva, OFM.

The New Evangelization Network, a recently-inaugurated Catholic cable network founded out of the previous Prayer Channel of the Diocese of Brooklyn, videotaped the vespers. The daily “Currents” program of the Network aired the vespers, with interviews of Neil and Ms. O’Neill, on Nov. 24 with two evening broadcasts. 

Steven Pavignano, OFM, is pastor of All Saints, and Angelus Gambatese, OFM, is pastor of St. Stephen of Hungary, where Neil was pastor from 1993 to 2002.