ESC Vocation Directors Work to Renew and Enliven

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

Participants in this year’s ESC vocation directors meeting. Basil Valente is second from left.

DUBLIN, Ireland — Joys and challenges, sharing and learning, praying and planning – all were part of the 2018 ESC Vocation Directors meeting held last month at the headquarters of the Province of Ireland. Twelve friars from the Order’s English-speaking Conference gathered from Nov. 5 to 9 at Adam and Eve Friary in Merchants Quay, near the River Liffey. They used their time together to share experiences and discuss best practices.

The week’s agenda best described the purpose of the ESC Vocation Directors’ gathering: “to encourage, support and enliven each other in our global vocation work and, at the same time, work to bring about renewal and fresh impetus to the witness of the Friars Minor and the world.”

The participants – representatives from Franciscan provinces in Canada, England, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta and the United States – began their week with introductions that gave context to the friars’ lives and work. They described their varied backgrounds – for example, one has engineering experience – and specific concerns.

Basil Valente, OFM, president of the ESC Vocation Directors Committee since 2016, said he was grateful to the participants for the energy they brought to the meeting.

“It was so good to be with them and to have the time to support and encourage each other’s efforts in vocation ministry,” said Basil. “As one of the participants mentioned in a very heartfelt homily, ‘It’s not our ‘doing’ but it’s the Holy Spirit at work within us and in the life of inquirers and discerners.’ We need to remind ourselves of our solidarity as vocation directors and express continued fraternal assistance for one another by our prayers, actions and support.

“Though we all have different sized provinces and communities with varied cultures, we all have the same goal – to interest men in joining the Order,” said Basil. “Since we are a brotherhood with common values reflecting the vision of our founder, gatherings like these are valuable. Strengthening our interconnectivity is important for the success – and the quality – of our vocation work.”

Friars Sebastian Sandavol, Erasmo Romero and Greg Plata enjoy a break during the recent vocation meeting in Dublin.

Ideas and Priorities
During the week, the participants compiled priorities of the ESC Vocation Directors – 10 goals that include:

  • examining the reasons for the decline in membership in the provinces and discussing vocational strategies to reverse that situation;
  • building a training program for friars to work with inquirers so the vocation director/animator is not the sole person on the journey with inquirers;
  • becoming more internationally minded as an Order;
  • continuing to ensure cooperation for promoting vocations, with attention to sharing materials that can be used by all involved, and
  • tackling difficult issues, such as secularism in the global culture and news about sexual misconduct within the Church.

Small groups were organized by Basil to facilitate productive discussion, with participants producing documents that characterized challenges and joys. The friars identified sound initiatives and were animated with ideas and questions during discussion on how to broaden the scope of these initiatives.

Some of the methods used by vocation offices around the ESC sparked interest, including the use of regional vocation directors, collaboration with friars outside of the vocation office – and sometimes outside of the province – strategic use of social media, creation of youth groups, and the implementation of organic discernment communities (small informal groups that meet on a regular basis).

Basil said participants discussed ways to train friars in vocation work. “We also talked about the collaboration being done by two provinces and the impact of the help that regional vocation directors provide,” he said.

Guest speaker Margaret Cartwright, surrounded by the ESC vocation directors after she presented her information to the group.

In the Midwest, Fr. Gregory Plata, of Assumption BVM Province, works with Fr. Thom Smith, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province.

“We have collaborated on putting out a basic information booklet and just finished a template that utilizes pictures from the provinces so it can be used by all of the vocation directors from the US-6. It explains the formation process for all inquirers,” Fr. Gregory explained. “We have also collaborated on ‘Come and See’ weekends, and are currently working on putting together a uniform packet for the admissions process that will be used by all provinces as we move towards amalgamation. Working with Thom has been great, as we are able to combine our resources, share ideas and keep in contact with the men who are in various stages of discernment.”

Two speakers at the meeting provided varied aspects that are relevant to vocation work. Margaret Cartwright, director of Vocations Ireland, spoke of the importance of talking to young people and being attentive to recognizing where discerners are coming from.

“She reminded us to not expect to see young adults in the pews, but in the pubs and other places,” said Basil, who has served as HNP vocation director since 2014.

Fr. Francis Cotter, OFM, a member of the Province of Ireland, spoke about the need for ministering to oneself and for remembering the call of God.  Fr. Richard Goodin, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province, who compiled the minutes of the meeting, noted that Francis said he “wished to give a word from the Lord of encouragement.”

Basil Valente, left, paused with some of the other vocation directors during a walk on the grounds of the Powerscourt Estate, north of Dublin.

Fraternity and Collaboration
The highlight of the week for Fr. Pat Lynch, OFM, a resident of the friary in Merchants Quay and who served as host of the meeting, was the feeling of brotherhood and collaboration.

“The fraternal gathering was primary. Our chatting together at meetings and at meals led to much joyful banter,” said Fr. Patrick, who is in his 14th years as vocations director for the Province of Ireland. “The two inputs, one by Francis Cotter, a St. Bonaventure University graduate, and one by Margaret were high points, too. I think we all really enjoyed our day out at Powerscourt Gardens and Glendalough followed by a cabaret in Johnny Fox’s pub up in the Wicklow Mountains.”

A summary of the highlights of the vocation directors meeting was compiled in a newsletter produced by Fr. Gregory, who lives in Franklin, Wis.

“As vocation directors, we are men of joy and hope, and as Franciscans, we are compelled to share that joy with others,” wrote Fr. Gregory, who leads the amalgamation of the vocation offices of the six American provinces participating in the Revitalization and Restructuring. “We are appreciative of the opportunities to come together as brothers to pray, share and support one another in this vital ministry.”

During their annual meeting, the friars of the US-6 provinces spent an afternoon discussing issues related to the unification of their offices. This involves creating a budget, a standard application packet and a uniform psychological assessment process.

“Although each man in discernment will be processed by a specific vocation director within a jurisdictional province, I see myself as animating vocations for the US-6,” said Fr. Gregory.

Before returning to their homes and offices around the world, the participants discussed future events. Next year’s gatherings will include an April 28 to May 3 meeting of the US-6 formators in Colorado and in September, two meetings – first, the ESC subcommittee on vocations and, later in the month, a Franciscan Mega-Conference for all vocation directors of men’s communities.

Last month’s ESC vocation meeting was one of many interprovincial groups that met this year. These gatherings included friars and laypeople who work in archiving, communications, healthcare, finance, justice and peace, and Hispanic ministry.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

Editor’s note: Information about HNP’s formation program can be found on and the HNP Vocation Office’s Facebook page.

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