Franciscan Influences: Appreciating Hospitality, Laughter and Lessons

Robert Hazlett Features

This is the 15th in a series of essays by the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The last installment, by a member of the Province’s African Ancestry Committee, appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of HNP Today.

Below, Robert Hazlett, long-time director of a community center founded by St. Francis of Assisi Parish, describes the style and the services of Franciscan friars for which he is especially grateful. This weekend, the first of several events commemorating the 40th anniversary of the St. Francis Community Center is being held. 

At a time when there is so much focus in and on the Church regarding scandals and outrageous behavior by religious, the world often overlooks those consecrated men who go about their daily lives attempting to fulfill the promises they made to God, themselves, and to us. These men are not saints; they are humans like the rest of us, but by their modeling of faith, constancy, responsibility, and diligence, they teach, provide comfort, solace, and support, based in reality, to thousands of us throughout their lives.

My first encounter with the friars of Holy Name Province was more than 28 years ago, when I arrived on Long Beach Island in New Jersey for an interview concerning the position of director of the St. Francis Counseling Service of the St. Francis Parish Center. My wife, Bonnie, and I had recently completed a year of volunteer service with the Trinitarian Sisters in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and were looking for a place to raise our young family and commit to a community; little did we know that the interview would lead to a life-time of relationships and friendships with men, some of whom we would consider the family we made, and include them into the families into which we were born. These friars include Charles Miller, OFM, Andrew Reitz, OFM (shown in photo above), and Francis Di Spigno, OFM, among others.

Laughter was and remains one of the magnets that draws me to and keeps me involved with the men of Holy Name Province. It is a laughter that recognizes the absurdities that occur in our lives, a laughter that demands that sorrow and misfortune will not overcome us, and a laughter that speaks to the fact that we must perform our life’s work, especially when we find it difficult.

Throughout my years of working with the friars, the Franciscan value of hospitality has had a strong influence on my approach to professional and personal decisions. Hospitality, of course, starts with a concrete sense of welcoming, providing a place for others; the friars are rightly famous for this. But having witnessed those who do their work and live their promises over these many years, I have learned something else about hospitality: Hospitality also means reminding myself to welcome ideas or points of view that I may find hard to understand, to listen to and to change when I don’t want to, and to welcome and accept, hopefully with grace, the fact that decisions I make, after careful dialogue and thought, are not always popular.

Three years ago, I retired from the St. Francis Community Center after 25 years and now maintain a consulting business. Believe it or not, I am too busy. I think that I am too busy because I have continued to use the values I learned by witnessing those friars who strive on a daily basis to fulfill their promises.

I still laugh a lot, especially at myself; it makes for a relaxed business environment where lots of good things get done. When people know that I am welcoming of them and their ideas, we are able to compromise and move forward in an atmosphere of trust. Many of the friars may not want to hear this, (remember hospitality) but I think they’ve developed a great business model.

— Robert Hazlett, director of St. Francis Community Center from 1983 until 2009, received the Province’s Francis Medal in 2007. He now lives in Philadelphia, where he maintains a bi-lingual Spanish/English psychotherapy and professional training practice. He and his wife Bonnie have four grown children and one grandchild.

Editor’s note: The HNP Communications Office welcomes essays from lay men and women around the Province for publication in future issues of this newsletter.