Franciscan Challenge Offers Opportunity to Learn About, Help Friars

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

Connecticut, Virginia, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Japan are the places experiencing the Franciscan Challenge, with results described by planners as “better than expected” and “terrific.”

The Franciscan Challenge is a new campaign created by the HNP Development Office. Both a way to seek financial assistance and a means to spend time with partners-in-ministry, the Franciscan Challenge is a series of weekend functions. David Convertino, OFM, the Province’s executive director of development, visits ministries for three days of varied activities where potential donors receive information about the Province, chat with friars, and enjoy refreshments and Franciscan fraternity.

This annual initiative replaces the two collections formerly taken up by parishes for the Province’s infirmary and the Washington Theological Union and “adds the dimension of our work with the poor,” said David.

The events have been more successful than David had hoped, “both in spirit and in the amount of funds raised,” he said.

David created the initiative as a way to help those served by the friars to better understand the “larger Franciscan family — the Province and the Order — and to help raise money for vital needs of the Province.” The challenge aims to raise funds for three needs — “for the sick, aged and retired friars, to support the education of friars for ministry and to help us in our ministries to the poor.” The challenge aspect is “asking 2,000 people in our ministerial sites to pledge a minimum gift of $500 that can be paid out over a year,” he said.

Each weekend comprises meetings with the friars and their staff, an evening wine and cheese reception for guests and friars who have served in the ministry, and preaching at all the weekend Masses. Each Mass is followed by an information-gathering at which David shows a three-minute video and answers questions about the campaign and how the funds are used.

Information and Enthusiasm
A colorful description of the Province is provided in a pamphlet titled “The Franciscan Challenge: An Annual Appeal for the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province.” The document is broken into three sections: (1) Caring for those who will care, about friars in training; (2) Caring for those who need our care, about service to the poor, and (3) Caring for those who cared, about sick and elderly friars. The pamphlet is accompanied by a card listing “Franciscan Q-and-A’s.”

“People in the places we have visited have been extremely receptive to the Franciscan Challenge and the idea of helping the friars in our funding needs,” added David, director of the HNP Development Office since 2011.

Since the launch of the series, with the first Franciscan Challenge at St. Patrick-St Anthony Parish in Hartford, Conn., last September, David has held challenges in Triangle, Va., and most recently at St. Mary’s Parish in Pompton Lakes, N.J. Next week, he will be in Tokyo, and in May he will hold a challenge in Greenville, S.C.

The gatherings have generated much enthusiasm.

“I thought it was a very valuable experience,” said Frank Sevola, OFM, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, where a challenge was held March 15 to 17.  The challenge brought to the parish friars whom the parishioners enjoyed seeing. The other great thing was that people began to get a better understanding of what Holy Name Province is all about.”

Among the friars who visited St. Mary’s for the event were Michael Carnevale, OFM, who gave a presentation, as well as Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan, OFM, shown in photo above, Richard McFeely, OFM, and CharlesMiller, OFM, who had all served the parish in the past. Also present were vocation director Brian Smail, OFM, andThomas Hartle, OFM, who lives in nearby Butler, as well as Octavio Duran, OFM, of the Development Office, who photographs the events.

“People are still talking about the event,” said Frank, “and asking how to contribute.”

“David did a terrific job of describing the Province,” said Frank. “The presentations really made the point to people of thinking about helping the Province with formation and with care of the elderly.”

The opportunity for parishioners to chat with friars they knew in the past is valuable, according to Paul Santoro, OFM, of Florida, who attended the Franciscan Challenge at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle the weekend of March 8. He said, “I was able to reconnect with several families I knew when I worked there. I think the parishioners were happy to see the friars.”

“The parishioners clearly love the friars, as evidenced simply by the smiles brought to their faces when they see the brown habit. They appear to like the fact that we, friars, love what we do and the lives we have been called to live,” said Paul. He served the parish from 1991 to 1993 as director of religious education. “Our love for our Franciscanism and simple joy attracts the people to us.”

Varied Participation
Other friars were part of the Virginia challenge. They included Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, who served as pastor of the northern Virginia parish from 1991 to 2003, as well as the current pastor, Kevin Downey, OFM, and Paul Breslin, OFM, and friars from Silver Spring, Md. — Gerald Hopeck, OFM, and George Camacho, OFM and Lawrence Ford, OFM, from New York. “I think the guests most enjoyed being in the friary in a relaxed atmosphere to share some time with each other and to enjoy some simple food and drink,” said Paul.

“The backing of the pastor, guardian, and local friar community is essential to the success of the program,” said David, adding, “and, by success, I don’t mean the amount of funding garnered, but rather the inclusion of the people in our ministry and Franciscan family.”

Paul said: “I think that these challenges will afford the people we serve with a much broader understanding of our ministries and the knowledge that they, as members of a Franciscan parish, belong to a wider community of Franciscans and ministries. They will probably come away with an appreciation and recognition of the need to reach out to help ministries that may not be as well funded as theirs is and also feel a need to assist the elderly and infirm friars of the Province.”

Next week, David will be in Tokyo at the Franciscan Chapel Center, the nearly 50-year-old parish that the Province has staffed for many years, for a challenge the weekend of April 19 to 21. From May 2 to 5, he will be at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville. “We are hoping to schedule others in June and over the rest of the year.”

Last week, the HNP Development Office mailed the pamphlet to potential donors with a letter asking for help with the Franciscan Challenge. In it, David said: “As Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province, it is a privilege to be with you in life’s joyful times, times of tragedy, death and, of course, in times of great hope. As you may realize, the Franciscan family is not just the friars but it is also you, with whom we pray and communicate and receive support.”

Donations to the Franciscan Challenge can be made through the website of the HNP Development Office,

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.