Formation Update: Postulants Begin Year with an ‘Abundance of Grace’

Ronald Pecci, OFM Friar News

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From left to right: Mitchell Ortiz, Adolfo Navarro, Crawford Bennett, James Bernard, Steve Kuehn, and Nicholas Carbuto. (Photo courtesy of Ronald Pecci)

Holy Name Province’s postulants have spent the past few months living in community at Holy Name College, Silver Spring, Md., acclimating to the rhythms of religious life and learning about the Province and its friars. In this reflection, director of postulancy Ronald Pecci, OFM, shares the group’s recent activities.

SILVER SPRING, Md. — The Order’s “Plan for Formation” describes postulancy as “the stage of formation that is the preparation for the novitiate, during which the postulant confirms his determination to convert himself from secular life to the Gospel life of the Friar Minor.” The demands on the postulancy program and the postulant are as substantial and multifaceted as any other level of formation in our increasingly changing Church and world.

More than 10 years ago, Holy Name Province realized these goals were best achieved by working in collaboration with our fraternities and other religious entities’ fraternities. In a shrinking Province and with a program defined as non-academic and experiential, that means traveling from the home friary and collaborating with local and national resources that have been a great blessing to our formation program.

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Steve, Crawford and Adolfo serve at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of Ron)

Off to a Busy Start
Our postulants “land running” as their program begins. This summer, several days after arriving at Holy Name College, the postulants went to the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Aston, Pa., for a week of orientation and retreat before their Welcoming Ceremony on August 30. The next day, we traveled to Philadelphia for a week of volunteering at St. Francis Inn, experiencing the ministry and life of the friars there.

Returning to Holy Name College the next week, James Scullion, OFM, presented a workshop introducing the postulants to biblical studies and, in particular, praying the Psalms. A few days later, they met Sr. Mercedes McCann, RSM, a clinical psychologist working at St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown, Pa. Sr. Mercedes has led our monthly integration seminars on human development issues for the past five years; the first seminar was “Transitions.”

The next week, James Vacco, OFM, presented a workshop on basic Catholic beliefs, as he has done for the past five years. While our regular activities were interrupted by the papal visit to Washington, D.C., and the canonization of St. Junípero Serra, OFM, which we attended, the postulants also began their ministries. Each of our three ministry sites has two postulants working as volunteers — Jean Jugan Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor; So Others May Eat (S.O.M.E.), a Washington-based outreach to the poor and homeless; and St. Francis International School, located on St. Camillus Parish’s campus. Those early weeks more or less complete our orientation and the postulants begin their “regular” routine.

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The postulants get a lift during their visit to St. Francis Farm in New Jersey. (Photo courtesy of Christian Seno)

Road Trips to New York, New Jersey
On October 15, we had our first “road trip” as we drove up to St. Anthony Friary, Butler N.J., to enjoy the hospitality of the Butler friars. On our first full day, we traveled to New York City and the Cloisters Museum to get a firsthand look into the Middles Ages under the direction of Christian Seno, OFM, whose earlier graduate work was in art history. Later that day, a trip downtown brought us to St. Francis Residence III, where Thomas Walters, OFM, explained the inspiring history and ministry of the friars and staff at the St. Francis Residences. We returned that night to Butler for recreation and dinner with the friars.

The next morning, we again headed to New York City, this time to volunteer at All Saints Church and the parish’s food pantry with Christopher Keenan, OFM, learning about his ministry in that neighborhood. After the food pantry closed for the day, we traveled a few blocks over to the Project Create Young Adult Center where we met the staff, volunteers, residents and some “graduates” of the program for addicted young adults. We also met Benjamin Taylor, OFM, who spoke to us of his heroic work in Harlem for the past five decades. Later that afternoon, Andrew Reitz, OFM, gave us a tour and description of the many ministries at St. Francis Church. The day was a full one, so we decided to take a cruise to relax and unwind in the evening. A subway ride downtown brought us to the Staten Island Ferry, which provided a wonderful sunset and moonlit ride past the Statue of Liberty.

Up early the next morning, we drove to St. Francis Farm in Hardwick, N.J., to assist and to meet Francis Kim, OFM, and some of his volunteers. After morning Mass, breakfast and a tour and explanation of the ministry given by Francis, we were outside splitting wood and leveling the earth where a concrete pad was to be put down the next day. After lunch, we handpicked bushels of peppers and then covered them and other plants in the fields with huge tarps to protect them from the frost expected that night. The day ended with the first snowfall of the season as we drove back to Holy Name College. The creativity, resourcefulness and ability to respond to the needs of others by the friars were not lost on the postulants, who were duly inspired.

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Attendees of the Inter-Franciscan Formation Program held at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center in Garrison, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of Ron)

Meeting the Franciscan Family
Returning home to the regular routine, the postulants had their first gathering with Daniel Grigassy, OFM, who meets with them during the year to study liturgy. Our next trip was to Washington Township, Mich., where Scott Brookbank, OFM, led the annual personality profiling workshop for all of the US postulants. There we gathered with 10 other postulants, all having their first meeting with those who will be their novitiate classmates. Time was spent in prayer together, sorting out the Meyers/Briggs and Firo B instruments, and getting to know one another.

Our return home was a brief one — only three days later, we were off to the Inter-Franciscan Formation Program held twice each year at Graymoor in Garrison, N.Y. Sr. Joanne Schatzlein, OSF, was the speaker for the Capuchin, Poor Clares, OFM, and TOR men and women in formation. She led the group on a virtual pilgrimage to Greccio and La Verna and an experience of the prayer of Francis at those places.

After each of our visits and experiences, we take time to reflect on what we saw and experienced, to share with one another about where, how and when we experienced God’s presence; fortunately we have been blessed with an abundance of grace every day!

Fr. Ron, a solemnly-professed friar since 1982, is stationed at Holy Name College, Silver Spring, Md. Information about applying to Holy Name Province’s formation program can be found on the Franciscan Vocation Ministry’s website.

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