NEW YORK — Men interested in Franciscan life are being offered a new way to learn about Holy Name Province and the Franciscan Order.
Over the past year, the Province’s vocation efforts have evolved. In addition to offering formal weekends to men to come to friaries to learn about Franciscan life and ministries, the Province now welcomes men to visit on a casual basis in what are being called “organic discernment communities.” The working title for these emerging groups was provided by Stephen Mimnaugh, OFM, a regional vocation director rooted at 31st Street. Friars at various locations have developed these groups, which have been appreciated by both the visitors and the friars, according to vocation director Basil Valente, OFM.
Men visit the friaries on an informal basis, partaking in prayer, meals and reflections. They have dinner with the friars, usually on weeknights, and they get a feel for the friars’ daily lives. “Some visitors have inquired about arriving before dinner to read and to pray in our space, which indicates a genuine interest in our way of life, as well as a level of comfort,” Basil said.
Lyzander Dilag, a visitor who attended last year’s Asian-American vocation retreat in New York City and a weekly participant in the NYC-based organic discernment community, said, “The friary reminds me that there is so much more beyond the business of living. There is, in each and every one of us, no matter how small, a call to share the faith and become beyond that which we could conceive. At the friary’s door, I leave who I think I should be and take with me that which I am.
“There is peace in being here,” he continued. “There is joy in celebrating God at evening prayer. Most of all, for me, there is gratitude for this brotherhood of faith, of love and respect for the glory and frailty of being human in the service of God.”
Locations where these organic discernment communities have emerged include St. Bonaventure University and Siena College, as well as at ministries in Philadelphia, Pompton Lakes, Maryland and in New York City.
A Valuable Experience
These discernment groups serve to deepen one’s calling to religious life while allowing the discerner to more closely understand God’s calling in his life, said Basil. The visitors who take part in the groups seem to appreciate the opportunity.
One, a NYC-based composer, producer and music curator, said: “As I have been discerning a Franciscan vocation for the past six months, out of a deeper spiritual life which I began at the beginning of last year, I find that I need to be around others who are going through similar experiences, while I let go of other aspects of my life. At this moment, I feel drawn to prayer in community, in addition to private prayer and attending Mass twice a week, and volunteer work, all the while getting to know the friars and their way of life.
“The opportunity to join the friars, along with others who are discerning or will start postulancy in the fall, for prayer and dinner is incredible and valuable,” he continued. “It really helps to put things into perspective and to realize the power and significance of this way of life. I’m extremely grateful for the friars’ generosity.”
The success of these visits reflects data presented in a recent study of vocations in the United States.
“A recent CARA report emphasizes that the nurturing of strong discernment communities is critical to someone joining religious life today,” said Basil. “The welcome that these visitors receive is a testament to the friars. The process of discovery comes through the Internet, but the process of connection comes through personal interaction and invitation.”
“What attracts people to this way of life today is the fact that friars have an authentic, honest and personal sense of outreach to so many different people in so many different ministries,” Basil said last year in an HNP Today story about the vocation staff broadening its reach.
Basil said he is pleased with the strong interest in the Franciscans that many of the vocation candidates exhibit. Inquirers have asked the vocation directors for books to strengthen their knowledge of the Franciscans and Franciscan spirituality. He has a list of close to 20 titles that have been distributed to men interested in learning about Franciscan life. Some titles have been penned by Holy Name Province’s authors.
Supporting Each Other
Joseph Cavoto, OFM, a resident of St. Francis Friary, observed that since Basil assumed his role last year as vocation director, “he has brought an infectious enthusiasm to this essential task, not only for HNP but for the Church. One of the first things he said was, ‘I want to cast a wide net and see who responds.’
“We friars have been fortunate to welcome several very fine men to our fraternity,” Joe added. “These men have come to know us as real people in our strength and in our frailties. They have met us in the confessional, at our side on the breadline and at the altar.
He continued, “This past year, we friars have been fortunate to not only cast a wide net with Basil. We have been helping him sort through the net. Frequently, the men Basil meets join us for evening prayer, preprandium and table fellowship. The inquirers come and see our brotherhood first-hand. We friars meet these men at the end of our workday. They refresh us and enrich us by their curiosity. They come to know us and we, like them, imagine growing together as brothers.”
These visits have proved valuable to both the visitors and to the friars, Basil said. “Being connected to these men in discernment is helpful to me. The guys help me renew my vocation. This helps me to be open to the spirit of God.”
Andrew Reitz, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, said, “The men in discernment who spend time with us help us to stop and look more deeply at our Franciscan life now and our hopes and dreams for the future.”
Julian Jagudilla, OFM, and Stephen, both members of the HNP regional vocation team, have been arranging discernment events and welcoming visitors to the 31st Street friary.
Stephen said, “Because each young man leads a busy life, often the visit is prayer followed by a short chat before he returns to his other commitments. It’s a privilege to witness this process unfold. It affirms my vocation and gives me great hope for our future. Sometimes I’ll see one with his eyes closed in prayer and I think, ‘Yup, I remember that feeling.’ I just want to say, ‘Relax, it will all work out.’”
As Basil said last fall, soon after beginning his position, “We are all in this Church together. As men and women of God, how do we support one another and hold each other up as children of God? That’s got to be something we focus on every day, and if we are focused on that goal, vocations to the consecrated life will happen.”
The vocation office staff has been providing resource material to HNP members that friars say makes them feel “more animated,” Basil said. This material includes documents that summarize published studies about vocation trends as well as that provide information about vocation trends in Holy Name Province.
The vocation team is planning a simple prayer gathering and pizza party this summer in New York City that will include men who are starting their postulancy year in August, as well as potential future postulants.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
Editor’s note: Information about the Province’s vocation program can be found on the Be A Franciscan website.