NEW YORK — Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, received the solemn vows of five friars on Sept. 15 at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street here.
In the majesty of the historic church, the freshness of a neighborhood with new construction, and the traditions of the Franciscans, the following friars professed their vows to live the Rule of St. Francis for the rest of their lives: Julian Jagudilla, OFM, Paul Keenan, OFM, Walter Liss, OFM, David Phan, OFM, and Christopher VonHaight, OFM.
“I know I speak for all that we are grateful that five men have the courage to join the Franciscan way of life,” the Provincial said.
In a packed church, members of the congregation craned their necks to search for friars they recognized and to photograph those they knew. Because of their connection to two of the friars making vows, many friends from Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., and Long Beach Island on the New Jersey shore, came to Manhattan for the ceremony.
Before the service, the mood among the friars resembled a reunion. They gathered in the recently-renovated St. Francis Center, formerly the friars’ recreation room, adjacent to the church, before processing together into the church
Committing to Follow St. Francis
In his homily, John said, “Today, my brothers, you are committing to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis who chose to try to be more Christ-like. This is easier to talk about than to actually live because we need to cope with our ego emissions.”
John used this car-related emission phrase, saying, “Sometimes friars like to think we are trying to be the Jaguar among the Franciscan provinces; however, sometimes when we have challenges, we are more like a Volkswagen.”
Examples of “ego emissions” behavior, according to John, include:
• Trying to be someone we are not.
• Not being satisfied with the gifts and talents we have
• Constantly seeking things, thinking that material items will make us more satisfied.
He emphasized the importance of transforming rather than conforming, saying that transformed people “focus on others, not on their egos.”
After their vows had been accepted by the Provincial Minister, he said, “If you observe them, I promise you everlasting life.” Each of the five brothers was then congratulated individually by the nearly 80 friars at the ceremony.
Assisting John with the liturgy were Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM, secretary of formation and studies, and Francis DiSpigno, OFM, director of post-novitiate formation. Christopher Coccia, OFM, served as deacon, and acolytes were Paul O’Keefe, OFM, Erick Lopez, OFM, Stephen DeWitt, OFM, and Daniel Horan, OFM. Kevin McGoff, OFM, served as cantor.
A festive reception followed the celebration of the Rite of Solemn Profession in the auditorium of the newly-opened friary/provincialate.
Background of the Five Friars
Julian Jagudilla was born in Iloilo City, Philippines, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in literature from the University of San Augustine. Prior to joining the friars, Julian worked as a pastoral associate at Transfiguration Church in the Chinatown section of New York City. During days off, he would go to Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street, which is where he met the friars and became friends with them. He is attracted to the friars because of their openness. Julian says, “A sense of responsible and creative freedom is what I sensed as a major factor in my joining this province.” As a formation student, he has ministered with the RCIA process (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) at Holy Name Parish on 96th Street in New York City, Hispanic Youth Ministry in Langley Park, Md., TASSC (Torture Abolition Survivors Support Coalition), and in Campus Ministry at Trinity University in Washington, D.C. He lives at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md.
Paul Keenan grew up in Plainview, N.Y. He graduated from Marist College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y, with a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice. Paul also graduated from both Gonzaga University with a master of science degree in human resource management and from Adelphi University with a master of social work degree. In his youth, Paul had a summer job in the Garment District of New York City, just two blocks from the friars’ St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street. He used to drop in at St. Francis Church for Mass, reflection and confession. After spending six years in active duty with the U.S. Air Force, Paul returned to New York City and often would visit St. Francis Church, where he always felt welcomed. He was first attracted to the friars for their openness. Paul is studying theology at Holy Name College. Since entering the friars’ formation program, Paul has ministered at a hospital, a nursing home, and a retirement home for priests in Washington, D.C. In addition, Paul has served with the friars at St. Francis Church on 31st Street, St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, and St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, Mass.
Walter Liss was born and raised in New Britain, Conn. He was working in Boston in the information technology field when he first met the friars at St. Anthony Shrine on Arch Street. It was there that he received spiritual direction. Walter is attracted to the friars for their sense of community and prayer life. He says he is also attracted to the wide range of ministries of the friars. Walter says, “I like the idea of having the chance to minister in different settings and with different groups of people.” Since entering the friars, Walter has ministered at St. Francis Residences in New York City, which provide a home and support services for people suffering from mental illness, and recently, he has ministered to soldiers who were severely injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. “This was by far the most difficult ministerial experience I had, but it was also one that gave me many blessings.” Walter works at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y.
David Phan was born in a small village of Ban Me Thuoc, Vietnam, and came to the United States when he was 15 years old. He first encountered the friars when he was 10 and his family sent him to live with one of the Vietnamese friars who lived in Nha Trang. He was sent by his parents to live with the friars because they wanted him to have an opportunity to go to school and avoid being drafted to serve in the military for the communist government. Years later, David was interested in joining the Franciscans of Holy Name Province after his family was settled in the United States. After an extensive search, he contacted one of the friars with whom he had associated as a teenager. After a few times communicating with him about his vocation, David was introduced to Holy Name Province. Since he entered the Franciscans, David has been involved in many ministries such as hospital chaplaincy, prison ministry, parish ministry, and serving the poor in various areas. After completing his undergraduate degree at Catholic University of America last year, David is now studying theology at the Washington Theological Union. He lives at Holy Name College.
Christopher VanHaight was born in Boston, Mass., and grew up in Stoughton, Mass. Prior to entering the friars, Christopher managed laboratories and facilities of a biotechnology company in Cambridge, Mass. Before that, he had worked in biomedical research for several years, having graduated from college with a degree in biology. He first met the friars at St. Anthony Shrine. Christopher is attracted to the commitment of Holy Name Province to communal and fraternal living, in addition to the diverse ministries of the friars. Since entering the formation program, Christopher has ministered at the St. Francis Residences in New York City, engaged in chaplaincy work at two hospitals, and has worked in the friars’ soup kitchen at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia. Some of Christopher’s summer assignments have been at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford, Conn., and at St. Francis Chapel and City Ministry Center in Providence, R.I. He lives at Holy Name College.
— Jocelyn Thomas is the Province’s director of communications.