Formation: Interprovincial Novitiate Receives Ten

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

The 2020-2021 class of novices include five men from Holy Name Province. The novices are shown here with Erick López (left) and novice director Jeff Macnab (right-rear). (Photo courtesy of the novitiate’s Facebook page)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — A group of men began the next phase in their Franciscan journey when they were received into the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate on July 15 – fittingly on the feast of St. Bonaventure, the Franciscan theologian was declared a Doctor of the Church in the year 1588 by Pope Sixtus V. Half of the 10 novices are members of Holy Name Province, and three of these are graduates of St. Bonaventure University.

The new novices are Daniel Cruz, OFM, Tyler Grudi, OFM, Kevin Hamzik, OFM, Jimmy Kernan, OFM, and Chukwuma Raphael Obadike, OFM, all of Holy Name Province; Juan Luis Guerreo, OFM, and Joan Perez Lombera, OFM, both of St. Barbara Province; Philip McCarter, OFM, and Brian Menezes, OFM, both of St. John the Baptist Province, and Daniel Samsel, OFM, of Assumption BVM Province.

The group represents the six OFM communities participating in the Revitalization and Restructuring process of the US-6 provinces.

The professed community of friars and the members of the novitiate team – including Michael Blastic, OFM, Erick Lopez, OFM, novice master Jeff Macnab, OFM, and Freddy Rodriguez, OFM – witnessed the Rite of Reception, which took place in the late afternoon at the novitiate chapel connected to the mission church at Old Mission Santa Barbara.

Freddy recited the opening prayer and gathered the friars to welcome the novices into the Order, and Jeff played the piano and led the hymns. The readings were presented by Garret Edmunds, OFM, and Larry Goselin, OFM, friars who are stationed at the mission.

Valuing Authenticity and Presence
It was a simple yet profound ceremony, according to Michael, who shared reflections at the Rite of Reception – where he noted that some of the most important words in the writings of Francis and the early brothers are the prepositions.

Michael Blastic addresses the novices and friar community. (Photo courtesy of the novitiate’s Facebook page)

“In the beginning of his Testament, Francis said, ‘The Lord led me among the lepers, and I did mercy with them’ – he says ‘among’ and ‘with,’ not ‘to’ and ‘for.’ The Franciscan life is about ‘being with’ and ‘among,’” said Michael. “These prepositions are the key to the imagination of Francis and the brothers, which led them to a new way of being Church and a new way of being human. Being ‘with and among’ has to shape our thinking, acting, prayer, service, and all our doing. This discovery for Francis was the key to capturing the realism of the Gospel.”

Michael continued, “In the Incarnation, God chose to come, with and among us in Jesus Christ. This is what the community of John is trying to express in those verses from his first letter – that we heard, we saw, we touched the Word of life. He came among us to be with us and remains with us even now. He is with us in our fellowship in our fraternity, in our life in brotherhood. But that presence is only real if and when we are authentically with and among each other. This is what our mission and ministry is about – being really present with and among others. Being present to ourselves in an honest and transparent way is the way of fraternity in the novitiate.”

His remarks concluded with these words: “Your real presence – being your authentic self and doing the personal and fraternal work it takes to be really present with and among us and others – is the Franciscan way of following Christ.”

After the novices responded to the question – “What do you ask of us?” – Erick formally accepted the men into the brotherhood, followed by the new novices signing the novitiate book of their provinces. Jeff then gave each novice a journal, a gift from the St. John the Baptist Province, in which they were asked to continue their story during the year of novitiate.

Appreciating Brotherhood
Several novices spoke about the meaning of the milestone and what they look forward to in their Franciscan formation.

Novices during their reception into the novitiate. (Photo courtesy of the novitiate’s Facebook page)

“It’s a new step in discernment,” said Daniel Cruz, OFM, a native of South Carolina who met the friars as a student at the University of Georgia in Athens. “As novices, we are formally considered part of the Order. It’s truly an honor because I have seen the work and the life that so many friars have led – and now, I get to join their ranks as we follow Christ as Lesser Brothers. I wake up each morning and thank God for the opportunity to live as a Lesser Brother in this community, in the Order, in the Church, and in the world.”

A meaningful moment for Daniel came near the conclusion of the ceremony.

“At the end of the rite, Jeff asked us to look into the eyes of each of the professed friars in attendance, and he told us that we are here for each other in this life and especially this upcoming year,” Daniel said. “I am sure the novitiate will be a fulfilling but tough year, and it is nice to know that the professed in this community will support us in many ways as we navigate the difficulties.”

Kevin, who grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, and attended both a Franciscan high school and college, emphasized the importance of fraternity and of being part of the worldwide Order of Friars Minor.

“Being accepted as a novice means that I am now a brother in the Order, which to me is a big deal. Now we are part of the Order and get to represent the Order along with our brothers from around the world. I feel that with everything going on in our world right now, the message of St. Francis is an important one: to look to those in our society that need us the most and help them, along with showing love and compassion to all,” Kevin said. “Being able to start living this message as a novice, as part of the Order, means that the way I live my life and the message that I show the world can make a difference, just as St. Francis and many others have throughout history.”

Kevin added, “Signing the book at the Rite of Reception was most meaningful. It is surreal to think of all the other friars, some of whom are saints, who have signed the book before me, and that this life that I live is important and the cause is bigger than myself.”

The fact that the reception took place on the feast of St. Bonaventure was important to Jimmy – who, like Kevin and Tyler, graduated from St. Bonaventure University in Western New York.

“Everything seemed to connect for me that day of July 15 – the great experience I had at St. Bonaventure University, the decision in my life to enter the Order,” Jimmy said. “Being a novice is an exciting experience. I am privileged and blessed to become a part of this Order and to be a part of the ongoing mission of the Franciscans in the world. In order to do that mission well, it is important to take this time of slowing down and entering into the experience of novitiate, an experience unlike any other in the world.”

For Tyler, who graduated from SBU in 2019, his acceptance into the Order hasn’t totally sunk in just yet.

The Novitiate Covenant signed by each brother in the fraternity on the feast of the Portziuncula,  Aug. 2. (Photo courtesy of the novitiate’s Facebook page)

“It feels surreal to be starting my life as a friar in the historic Mission Santa Barbara,” said Tyler, a native of Hershey, Pennsylvania. “I feel blessed to have so many brothers, old and new, to help me grow into this new role of being a friar. I am trying to make the most of the silent times for reading and prayer to be attentive to the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. The work ahead will challenge us all, but I am excited about the opportunities to grow as an individual and as a Lesser Brother.”

While at SBU, Tyler lived at the discernment residence, Serra House, which was started by Ross Chamberland, OFM, who the novice said was a significant influence in his discernment.

To Chukwuma, who comes from Nigeria, the most powerful aspect of the ceremony was when one of the professed friars called forth the new novices and asked “What do you ask of us?”

“We responded by saying, ‘we wish to share your life in the brotherhood of the Order of the Friars Minor.’ After our response, the friar said, ‘In the name of the Order, we accept you into our brotherhood. May you become one in heart and mind with all those who follow the example of St. Francis of Assisi.’ This dialogue meant a lot to me because it reminded me of the dialogue in the Rite of Baptism,” said Chukwuma, who first heard of the Franciscan friars and St. Francis of Assisi in 2015 when he watched the movie, “Padre Pio, the Miracle Man.”

“Being a novice means that I have been initiated into the charism, traditions, and mission of the Order. It means that I am to allow my mind and heart to be transformed by the power of God’s Word by dedicating myself to reading and meditating daily on the Sacred Scriptures, especially the Holy Gospels,” said Chukwuma, who researched Saints Francis and Anthony after watching the film, and then visited a Franciscan friary in Nigeria in 2016 before migrating with his family to the United States.

“It also means that, in a more special way, I am to love and care for all God’s creation – starting with the brothers that I live with because charity begins at home,” he added.

The new novices – who spent the last 10 months in Silver Spring, Maryland, completing the OFM interprovincial postulancy program – have now begun a year of study and acclimation to Franciscan life. During the next 12 months, they will take classes on liturgy, Franciscan history, and spirituality, and they will participate in various formation-building activities.

Much of their week is spent in prayer, meditation, and reading. Their days begin with morning prayer at 7:15 and includes time in the afternoon for what Tyler describes as integration (prayer, study, and journaling), exercise, and special workshops. Evening prayer is at 5 p.m., followed by dinner at 6.

The novices participate in three weekday Masses as well as Sunday Mass. They also do chores several days a week – and every evening, along with the four formators, they help clean the dining room after dinner. On Sundays, two novices cook.

“There is plenty of time for hobbies, such as gardening and working out,” said Tyler, adding, “technology use is limited to our laptops, which we use for class and personal work. We handed in our phones for the next three months as a way of leaning into the silence of novitiate.”

The usual ministries done by the novices are on hold for now due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the next few months, the novices will be receiving the Rule of St. Francis, and in October they are scheduled to receive their Franciscan habits in the traditional Rite of Investiture.

Despite travel limitations caused by the pandemic, the summer, as usual, has been a season of formation milestones. Nine men professed their first vows as Franciscans on July 2, and this month, nearly 15 are expected to join the postulancy in Silver Spring, Maryland. On Aug. 29, two HNP friars are scheduled to profess their solemn vows as Franciscans.

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

Editor’s note: Information about joining the Franciscans can be found on the Be a Franciscan website.