Formation: Novices Begin Year with Classes, First Milestones

Daniel Beckham, OFM Friar News


The Holy Name novices, from left to right: Christian Seno, Daniel Beckham, Javier Del Angel de los Santos and Abel Garcia. (Photo courtesy of Christian)

BURLINGTON, Wis. — The past four months have been a busy time of prayer, study, community building and settling-in here at the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate. Since gathering at St. Francis Friary in August, my fellow novices and I have participated in a variety of workshops, days of recollection and fraternal celebrations designed to help us discern our vocations more deeply while continuing our integration into the Franciscan family.

To better understand the unique realities and challenges of religious life, we’ve participated in several workshops covering a variety of topics. Their topics included the Myers-Briggs personality-profiling tool, presented by Br. Tim Lamb, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province; Liturgy of the Hours, by Fr. Stephen Malkiewicz, OFM, of Assumption Province; intercultural living, by Br. Moises Gutierrez, OFM, of Sacred Heart; good manners, by certified etiquette consultant Amy Motyka and Br. Scott Obrect, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province; and St. Clare of Assisi, presented by Srs. Anne Marie, Pia and Rita, OSC, of the Franciscan Monastery of St. Clare, Cincinnati.

Like all of us, Abel Garcia, OFM, has found these experiences both interesting and insightful. “I really liked the Myers-Briggs workshop because it helped me understand both myself and my brothers here at the novitiate. This makes it easier to live and interact with everyone. And of course, I loved having our Poor Clare sisters teach us about St. Clare. It reminded me how much richer the Franciscan family is when the sisters and brothers are together.”

The novices also have regular classes four days a week, taught by the members of the formation team. Class topics include music and liturgy, prayer and spirituality, Franciscan sources and history, and religious life and the vows.

In addition to these in-house sessions, we’ve taken part in several workshops hosted by the Chicago-area Intercommunity Novitiate Program, comprised of approximately 50 novices from numerous communities in the region. So far, the workshops have included “Understanding Family Systems,” presented by Sr. Bea Eichten, OSF, “Being Sexual and Celibate,” presented by Sr. Lynn Levo, CSJ, and the Enneagram personality-profiling tool.

We have found these ICN sessions particularly enjoyable because, aside from the knowledge we gain from them, the program provides a great opportunity for us to interact with other women and men who are new to religious life. And, just like the Interprovincial Novitiate itself, ICN is a dynamically intercultural program, with novices from Africa, Asia, and North and South America.

“I find the diversity present within ICN to be every bit as valuable as the content of the workshops themselves,” said Christian Seno, OFM. “The wide range of cultures, languages, backgrounds and perspectives is truly representative of our universal church, which is both enriching and inspiring.”


Abel Garcia participates in the Mass for the feast of St. Francis. (Photo courtesy of Christian Seno)

Prayer and Work
One of the hallmarks of the novitiate year is its emphasis on fostering the contemplative, or interior, life. During the week, we have common meditation before evening prayer, and Sundays are devoted entirely to personal prayer and recollection. In addition, Friday afternoons include an hour of lectio divina and faith sharing, and one Sunday each month is set aside as a community day of recollection. These days are planned by the novices and generally center on a selection of spiritual or pastoral writing. Our most recent Sunday of recollection on Nov. 30 was planned by Christian and Javier Del Angel de los Santos, OFM, and included reflections on a short video and several Franciscan documents relevant to Advent and the vow of poverty.

In a time-honored tradition, work has also been an important part of the novitiate experience. Each of us has assigned house chores, and we take turns working in pairs to prepare dinner every evening. This has actually proven to be one of the more enjoyable parts of the novitiate, particularly for Abel, Christian, Javier and me, who did not have the opportunity to cook on a regular basis during the postulancy. To date, Javier has prepared traditional Mexican mole, Abel introduced many in the house to Salvadorian pupusas, and Christian — with the help of Sr. Pia — served a delicious meal of Filipino pancit, lumpia and fried rice during the Poor Clares’ visit in November.

In addition to our regularly scheduled chores, special projects often arise that give us opportunities to employ unique or particular skills. Christian is currently putting his formal art training to use as he works with our brother from the Province of Ireland to restore the mosaic of an outdoor Station of the Cross here on the property. And Javier, the community’s lead musician, maintains a full schedule practicing, transposing, teaching and performing our liturgical music.


The novice community, gathered for a meal. (Photo courtesy of Christian Seno)

Celebrations and Fraternity
Of course, the novitiate isn’t all work and study. We’ve also been learning how important leisure time and community celebrations are to building and nurturing Franciscan fraternity.

“Franciscans are joyful because they strive to live according to the Gospel,” says Javier. “It’s been a wonderful experience sharing a common life with the friars and other novices so far — and it’s been a particular blessing welcoming our guests. The joy of the Gospel is definitely present here.”

We’ve had the pleasure of welcoming plenty of guests so far, including several friars from Holy Name Province. The first were Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, and Erick Lopez, OFM, who were here as part of a gathering of the national Franciscan “Juntos Como Hermanos” Hispanic-ministry program in October. They were soon followed by John O’Connor, OFM, who stopped by to have coffee with us on his way home from a meeting in the area, and Ron Pecci, OFM, who joined us for several days in early November as a member of the Interprovincial Novitiate Assessment Team.

“Visits by members of the different provinces are always welcomed and encouraged,” said formation team member and guardian Scott Brookbank, OFM. “Having friars visit means a lot to the novices and helps to reinforce their sense of connection to their home provinces.”

Birthdays and solemnities, including each novice and formator’s patron feast day, are celebrated, along with national holidays of each novice’s home country. Major celebrations so far have included El Salvador Independence Day, the Transitus and feast of St. Francis, Halloween, and Canadian and American Thanksgiving days.

For both the Transitus and Halloween, we had the pleasure of visiting the retired friars of Assumption Province who live at Queen of Peace Friary, located on another part of the property. On Halloween, we displayed our carved pumpkins at Queen of Peace and the friars voted for their top-three choices. The event was full of good humor, and all of us enjoyed a festive preprandium and lunch. In November, we also had the honor of being invited to Assumption Province’s curia in nearby Franklin, where we joined several friars for vespers and a delicious home-cooked Italian meal featuring Wisconsin frozen custard for dessert.

Most recently, we celebrated Thanksgiving, our most festive community event yet. The day began as usual with lauds and Mass, followed by a full schedule of activities, including a football game, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and a hot chocolate break in the afternoon. Of course, the highlight of the day was the abundant meal prepared by our brothers from Immaculate Conception Province, featuring all the traditional fare. In addition, Christian spent hours helping to beautifully decorate the refectory, and I assisted in preparing desserts.


Scott Brookbank, on left, and Javier Del Angel de los Santos during the rite of divestiture. (Photo courtesy of Christian Seno)

Formation Milestones
The novitiate program is structured as a “progressive” year, with various milestones designed ultimately to culminate in the first profession of vows. Our initial milestone was the rite of reception on Aug. 15, followed by the rite of divestiture one month later. During the ceremony, which took place during solemn Sunday vespers, each of us divested ourselves of items representing a distracting or otherwise non-constructive attachment to the world or our former lives, such as credit cards, cash, phones and other symbols of status and materialism.

Our third milestone occurred during solemn vespers on Sunday, Oct. 14, when we each received a copy of the Holy Rule and general constitutions of the Order. During the ceremony, each of us was encouraged to study the Rule carefully, and to consider how we are using the time in the novitiate to conform our words and actions to the spirit it embodies. Our fourth milestone occurs Sunday, Dec. 14, when we are to receive the Franciscan habit.

Although the past four months have been a time of significant transition – complete with the usual stresses that always accompany the beginnings of new life chapters – they have been a period of many joys and blessings, as well. As we journey further along with one another here at the novitiate this year, I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to endow my brothers and me with the grace to persevere in discerning the path God has laid out for each one of us.

Br. Daniel, a native of Florida, is a novice at the Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington, Wis.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series about Franciscan formation. The previous installment, about the Province’s postulants, was posted on Oct. 20.