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Formation: Student Friars Reflect on Summer Assignments

Friars at their varied summer settings:  top, (l to r): Javier Del Angel De Los Santos, Abel Garcia, and in bottom row: Aaron Richardson, and Jay Woods. (Photo courtesy of the student friars)

Over the past two months, several of the Province’s student friars had the opportunity to experience a broader sense of Franciscan life and to grow deeper in their relationship with God. While the academic year places a heavy focus on intellectual formation, these seasonal assignments tend to focus more on pastoral care and real-life experience. With joy and enthusiasm, four student friars — three based at parishes and one at an urban ministry to the poor — shared their impressions about what they learned this summer.

For the summer, Javier Del Angel De Los Santos, OFM, was stationed at St. Francis Parish in Triangle, Va., Abel Garcia, OFM, was assigned to St. Peter Claver Parish in Macon, Ga., Aaron Richardson, OFM, was at Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla., and Jay Woods, OFM, at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia.

The student friars reflected on their roles and their daily routines, as well as on the activities that made an impact on them.

What was your assignment this summer?

Javier: “I was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, Va. I started my summer assignment on June 10 and finished it on Aug. 15. The friars gave me the opportunity to develop programs that I considered would contribute to the well-being of a multicultural community. I led a Bible study series called “Jesus and the Gospels,” both in English and Spanish. The series attempted to increase the biblical literacy of our parishioners. These sessions gave an overview on each of the four canonical gospels to understand the particular image of Jesus these portray as well as their origins, composition and historical background. I also taught a Spanish and a Latin culture class. The main goal of this initiative was to help the English- and Spanish-speaking parishioners be able to communicate and come together as a community.”

Javier and the Bible study group at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. (Photo courtesy of Javier)

Abel: “My summer assignment — which started in May and ends this month — was at St. Peter Claver Parish in Macon, Ga. My main assignments have been centered on Daybreak, a day shelter for the poor and homeless run by DePaul Ministries. I volunteered two days a week, helping the staff by serving breakfast and helping coordinate showers for the guests. Every Wednesday, I helped lead a Bible study with the Latin community and on Sundays, I offered reflections on the Word during the Mass.”

Aaron: “From June 10 to Aug. 12, my summer assignment was at Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa. Once a week, I preached at a daily Mass and also served as a Eucharistic minister at a local hospital. On the weekends I volunteered with Hands of Hope, a ministry that prepares and serves hot meals to the poor and homeless. I also put together a summer series called “Word Made Flesh: the Incarnational Spirituality of Francis and Clare.” This was my first time doing a study of this scale and it was a great learning experience. The series was well received and I could tell that people really appreciated it.”

Jay: “I was a member of the team at St Francis Inn in Philadelphia from June 16 to Aug. 11, assisting in the day-in and day-out activities of feeding close to 400 guests a day. Some of my duties included food preparation, meal coordinating, serving, table cleaning, sweeping and mopping.”

What were the highlights of your summer? What activities or people have made the strongest impact on you?

Javier: “Some of the highlights of this summer have been seeing the profound desire this community has for learning, understanding and living the word of God. I am always attentive to answer their questions and I really try to be a companion in their learning process. I’ve been teaching Scripture for several years now but I’ve realized that teaching in a parish is quite different from doing so in an academic setting. One has to be available to accompany people in their learning process, which is a transformative enterprise. I’ve also spent a lot of time getting to know the families in this parish. I’ve had the opportunity to hear remarkable stories of courage and devotion to God in the midst of difficulties like racism, discrimination, sexism, bigotry, and exclusion. I have a great respect for them. Living and working with John Alderson, OFM, Henry Fulmer, OFM, and John O’Connor, OFM, has been another highlight. We gathered every day to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, have prepandium — a Franciscan expression equivalent to happy hour and catching up — and dinner. There is wisdom in prepandium when it is lived with spontaneity and open spirit. It is a good time to share experiences and talk about the most diverse topics in the Province, the Church, and the country.”

Abel: “Working at Daybreak twice a week allowed me to grow as a person and as a Franciscan. It helped me see all my brothers and sisters with love, kindness, and respect. Seeing their faces and the gratitude they expressed for even the smallest action or word has helped me understand compassion. While serving, cleaning tables and arranging showers, I’ve also realized that God is present, especially in the minor experiences of our lives.”

Abel working at Daybreak resource center for the homeless in Macon. (Photo courtesy of Abel)

Aaron: “This summer, I had the opportunity to join a group of young people from Sacred Heart Parish on a weeklong service camp called ‘The Good Samaritan Project’ where more than 300 teens and adult volunteers from throughout the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla., serve at two assisted-living facilities by painting and doing yard work. While it was an exhaustive week, seeing everyone come together as a community and experiencing the spiritual lives of many of the participants blossomed made it all worthwhile.”

Jay: “A highlight for me was getting to know the guests and neighbors of St. Francis Inn. It was a privilege to learn their personal and intimate stories. I am humbled by their courage and fortitude. Before I left, a few of our male guests asked me to begin a men’s spirituality group. Most of our guests grew up in a society that did not encourage the sharing of feelings, faith, and emotions. Despite this cultural stigma, our guests understand the great value of such sharing and our first four gatherings were incredibly cathartic. It will certainly continue after I am gone and I look forward to hearing how it will grow and nourish the brothers at the Inn.”

Where will you be stationed this fall?

Javier: “After my summer assignment, I will go back to living in the interprovincial post-novitiate friary in Chicago. I will be working toward my master’s in theology with a concentration in sacred scripture.”

Abel: “I will begin my bachelor’s degree in religious studies in August at St. Xavier University in Chicago and continue living at St. Joseph Friary.”

Aaron: “In the fall, I am returning to Chicago to continue theological studies at Catholic Theological Union.”

Aaron, in red shirt, prepares sandwiches with fellow volunteers of Hands of Hope ministry. (Photo courtesy of Aaron)

Jay: “I will also be returning to Chicago to begin my second year of theology at CTU.”

On Aug. 26, the friars will gather in New York City to witness and celebrate the solemn profession of Casey Cole, OFM, and Ramoncito Razon, OFM.

Information about the Province’s formation program can be found on the Be A Franciscan website.

— Johann Cuervo is the communications assistant for Holy Name Province.

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