Franciscan Influences: A Blessing of 15 Years of Lessons

Michael Templeton Features

This is the eighth in a series  of essays from the Province’s partners-in-ministry who want to share their respect for Franciscan values. The previous one, written by Megan Nerz of Raleigh, N.C., appeared in the July 27 issue of HNP Today. 

In the reflection below, Michael Templeton, a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and former cantor at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City, describes the many lessons he has learned from the Franciscans, citing examples of people and events.

“Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.” —Mary Oliver

This fall, I am celebrating my 15th year associated with the Franciscans of Holy Name Province. My affiliation with the friars has been a blessing that, even after this many years, I’m not able to fully describe. The dynamic lessons learned from the life and work of these dedicated men and their partners-in-ministry have helped form me in inexplicable ways.

The most remarkable thing about my time with the friars is that, as Mary Oliver states, I was only ever expected to be myself — to tap into my own giftedness and share that giftedness gratuitously. To me, there is no greater gift in the world than to be given permission to be truly and fully oneself.

What follows are only a few of the myriad lessons I’ve been so very fortunate to learn through word and deed over the years. They represent my “work-in-progress” journey in spirituality, theology and ministry. And they are lessons I hope to pass on through my own lived example.

Demonstrate copious generosity 
From the very first time I walked into the university chapel at St. Bonaventure University in 1996, the friars have modeled for me an amazing spirit of generosity. One friar took me under his wing almost instantly, allowing me to take leadership and exercise my talents. In another instance, several friars sponsored me to travel on an unforgettable pilgrimage to Italy. During my transition after college, a friar offered me a temporary place to stay while apartment hunting. Yet another friar provided me cab fare (and a much-needed glass of wine) after my wallet was unexpectedly stolen on the streets of New York City.

Time and again, friars have gone above and beyond for me—providing opportunities I would have otherwise not had, affirming my unique contributions and most importantly, encouraging me to ‘pay it forward’ so others might experience the generosity I have learned so well.

Be sure to balance contemplation with action
One thing I immediately noticed about the friars’ way of life was their sense of active, in-the-midst-of-real-life ministry. This was a paradigm shift for me who long ago believed that vowed religious dwelled behind cloister doors praying and doing works of charity in secret.

Franciscans tend to be where people are — living, working, shopping, eating, enjoying nature. They are well versed in wearing many hats and multitasking to meet the needs of those whom they serve. Aside from the “doing” of ministry however and not so readily seen, are their moments of silence and meditation. These are periods of quiet reflection to consider where they are and where they want to be, as both individuals and as brothers. I experienced this contemplation when invited to dinner at the friary, while attending community evening prayer at the chapel or when participating in Partners in Ministry days of recollection. Though seeming opposites, what I quickly learned was that these two elements, action and contemplation, are equally important and serve as balancing forces for the life of the friars.

Make an effort to have an attitude of gratitude
St. Francis was a paragon of appreciation. In his Praises to Be Said at All the Hours as well as the prayer that follows it, we hear (and feel) his zeal for gratitude and his passionate excitement for all that he has been given. There is a unique rhythm to the life of Franciscans, a structure and repetition that foster a sacramental worldview—a deep-seated belief that there is a natural holiness to all creation. The friars can frequently be heard expressing appreciation, particularly for those who give of their time and talent to support the work of Franciscan ministry. Possessing a sense of gratitude reminds me that there’s more than enough time, energy and resources for the work God intends for me to do. Gratefulness also tunes me in to my God-consciousness, finding joy and taking pleasure in the simple, seemingly pedestrian things of life.

Take the opportunity to meet the Christ in everyone
It still amazes me the special feeling of hospitality I experience when walking into a Franciscan parish or ministry center. The friars create opportunities to really look into people’s eyes and see them for the incredible creation they are. What sets these places of prayer and community apart is the genuine welcome of every single person that walks through the door — from the wealthy and elite to the disenfranchised and underprivileged. 

“All Are Welcome” is not merely a parish slogan or a sign above the entrance to a building; it’s a countercultural belief that we never know the ‘day or hour’ when we might see Christ in our midst again. In all their interactions, it’s not difficult to recognize that friars accept people for who they are and where they are at any given moment. For my years with the friars, I have always felt seen, heard and valued for my inherent goodness.

I would be remiss in not mentioning by name a few of the friars who have so often taught me these lessons by example. From the first encounter to the most recent, they have forever affected my spiritual development and profoundly influenced my approach to pastoral ministry — Thomas Cole, OFM, Anthony Carrozzo, OFM, Regis Duffy, OFM, Xavier Seubert, OFM, F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, Tony LoGalbo, OFM, David Convertino, OFM,Frank Sevola, OFM, Jerome Massimino, OFM, Brian Smail, OFM, and Stephen Mimnaugh, OFM. These men, along with Franciscan Sisters Margaret Carney, Mary Gurley and Kathy Dougherty, have shared their lives and demonstrated a deep passion for the ministries they do with and for God’s people. They have each changed my life for the better, in small and large ways.

I can say, beyond certainty, that my heart has truly become a Franciscan heart. To my Franciscan teachers, mentors, confidants, benefactors and advocates: I am grateful beyond words. The people and communities I have encountered throughout my Franciscan-affiliated ministries have been living models of the outrageous and unconditional love of God.

My discernment now is how best to put my Franciscan spirit toward continued service. One thing I know is where I can go and to whom I can turn for thoughtful guidance and prayers of blessing. I’m reminded of the sentiment often referred to by several dear friends, “The gift you have received, give as gift.” Such a simple thought, yet so profound. And more than that — such a very Franciscan challenge.

— Michael Templeton returned to Providence, R.I., earlier this summer after five years in New York City. He is a school administrator, an adjunct professor and a doctoral candidate at Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J. Michael said he is “excited to be back working with the friars and the community at the Church of St. Mary on Broadway” in Providence. He will be facilitating seasonal parish retreat days, leading projects with the confirmation classes and guiding a book study group. Photos of the farewell held by St. Francis of Assisi Church in June appear on the parish website. Michael is pictured above with Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan, OFM.