Joanne Lannan, a participant with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, recently completed her first year project with a retreat in July at the Bishop Hodges Pastoral Center in Huttonsville, W. Va. The gathering was one of four retreats held each year that focus on varying specific themes, according to FVM program director Katie Sullivan. Below, Joanne, center in photo, shares the following thoughts and reflections on her experience.
CAMDEN, N.J. — Somehow a year had already flown by. There I was at the Bishop Hodges Pastoral Center in Huttonsville, W. Va. for our closing retreat for the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM).
I was trying to make sense of the excitement of returning home to family intermingled with the unsettled emotions I had about saying goodbye to friends as well as to my ministries. I knew it would not be a particularly easy week, but I wanted it to last. I needed my accelerated year to come to a calm and peaceful end, rather than an abrupt, impetuous halt.
The week began in prayer as we reflected on St. Francis’ writing on “True and Perfect Joy.” Francis describes joy as having patience while enduring affliction. I found myself wondering if I had, in fact, grown in patience during my year of service, or if the injustices I had witnessed had caused me to become agitated and embittered.
Exploring Life’s Hard Challenges
These questions did not subside as we also revisited hardships with change, death, and the sharing of gifts. I knew I felt stronger having both moved to Camden, N.J., from Atlanta, Ga., and taken on a teaching role at my parish site. But discussing death reinforced my difficulty to let go and move on. I knew I certainly did not feel as confident as I should about sharing my gifts and talents with others. Was I ready to move on? Did the other volunteers feel this way?
Turns out, those not struggling with mixed emotions were certainly a minority on this retreat. Thankfully, Jenn Taylor, a former volunteer now working with the St. Vincent Pallotti Center, was able to join us to discuss transition, while Chris White, a 1993-1994 FVM alumnus, gave us his spin on life after volunteering.
Both speakers were able to relate their volunteer experiences to the way they currently live while reassuring us that the shift can be accomplished gracefully. I began to see that while I had experienced difficulties in ministry, community, and prayer, the most challenging aspect of the entire experience might be leaving the comfort of those who understood all that I had seen and felt over the past year.
But even with that realization, I heard Thomas Merton’s prayer playing over and over in my mind: “I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Exploring Nature by Horseback
Already into our second of five days on this incredible 2,000-acre property, I began to feel the desire to explore. What better way to do this than on horseback. Our program director had arranged for eight of us to partake in an hour-long ride along trails that would take us through dense woods and overlook lakes and ponds. I felt inherently connected to nature as the rain drizzled and settled onto the leaves and disturbed the quiet stillness of the water in the lake. This forced me to slow down and take in these final days as a volunteer as I knew it. God had once again answered my prayers.
After extensive reflection and contemplation, it was refreshing to change the pace a bit with a blues concert, part of a series presented by the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis and Elkins College. We heard some incredible performers such as Ann Rawson and Rich DelGrosso, as we danced in our seats and applauded the talent on stage. I found it easy, as I am sure many of the other musicians in our program did, to be inspired by the sights and sounds that night.
No amount of fun or prayer was going to keep the end from coming, however. I faced the last day of retreat with tears and a smile. Closing Mass brought the year full circle when we listened to the song “Voices of Challenge” and put familiar faces and names to the descriptions of the oppressed and needy.
A Great Year of Incredible Moments
Our infamous photo shoot followed. Posing and smiling seemed appropriate after a week of recalling bits and pieces of our volunteer time that had made each of our varied experiences unique. Each memory of my experience was like a picture that would be with me indefinitely. I felt better about walking away and wanting nothing to change when I realized that my joy and attachment came from these small distinct moments that changed the way I love. I had a great year; I had incredible moments.
We loaded up and pulled away from the retreat center, and just one thing was on my mind. It was not regret at not taking advantage of every moment there or was it sadness in leaving friends behind. I was overwhelmingly thankful to God for leading me to FVM, for bringing amazing people into my life, and for allowing the year to come to a hopeful, grace-filled closing.
Editor’s Note: The Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM) provides opportunities for young, lay adults to grow in faith, love and hope by working with Franciscan friars in serving the poor and marginalized and working for social justice. Site supervisors John Coughlin, at left in photo, Chris Posch, and Michael Duffy share in the daily life of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministers in Camden, Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del., respectively and accompany the FVMs on retreat.