Participants in the October 2019 pilgrimage to Franciscan sites in Italy, in front of a church in Magliano where the group honored the first president of St. Bonaventure University, Fr. Pamfilo Pietrobattista da Magliano. The author is standing in the first row, third from right. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Franciscan Influences: Deepening Faith and Dealing with Loss

Kathy Colucci Features

This article is part of a series about aspects of the Franciscan message that laypeople find compelling. The previous essay featured two professors at Boston University who graduated from Franciscan colleges. Below, a graduate of St. Bonaventure University describes the strength and support she has received from friars with whom she has worked, prayed, and laughed.

My friends the Franciscans — followers of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi — have had a powerful impact on me for 47 years, shaping the person I have become and deepening my faith. They have been there for me in good times, and even more so in tough times. Reflecting on how the friars and their values affect me has been especially poignant during this month of remembrance.

The Foundation
From the founding days of Francis and Clare, Franciscans have worked together in community, striving to bring a sense of belonging and dignity to all people, and reflecting God’s unconditional love. This became evident to me in 1973, as a freshman at St. Bonaventure University. The brown-robed friars were a vibrant part of the Bonaventure community, as faculty, administrators, spiritual advisors, and service mission leaders.

Their Franciscan values of community, compassion, service, and human dignity quietly formed a strong foundation for this beautiful campus in the Enchanted Mountains, and the students responded. I formed my own community of friends, with strong bonds that last to this day. My husband-to-be Tom Colucci was also a student, with his own community of friends who quickly become mine. Over nearly five decades, the love, acceptance, and laughter shared with our Bonaventure friends have been– and continue to be — one of the great joys of my life.

Tom and I married in 1979, started our careers as well as a family, welcoming sons Andrew in 1985 and Joshua four years later. Life was busy and good, and we stayed close with our Bonaventure friends, reuniting for vacations, alumni events, and basketball games. As the years passed, my connection to the SBU community strengthened.

Coming Home
In 2007, I was invited to join the St. Bonaventure University National Alumni Association Board, which met quarterly on campus. It was a privilege to spend time with many wonderful Franciscans, including Dan Riley, OFM, our board chaplain and a marvelous force of nature, and Ed Coughlin, OFM, a true “brother of Francis” who taught us – using the university chapel’s stained-glass windows — about the life of our patron Saint Bonaventure. It was also a great pleasure to get to know Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, the university president and renowned Franciscan scholar, who is one of the most powerful and articulate women I have ever met.

At the alumni bard meetings, we began and ended our sessions with prayer. We focused on improving the university and its connection to alumni. We laughed, too, as we worked, and enjoyed each other’s company. Our efforts were always within the context of our Catholic faith and Franciscan tradition – of community, of individual worth, of integrity, of God’s love for all his creatures and nature, and of the importance of education. As  St. Bonaventure once said, “There is no knowledge without love.” This was incredibly powerful for me, to be part of a faith-filled community with purpose and joy in its work. My own faith was strengthened, and my interest in the Franciscan tradition grew.

Kathy and Tom Colucci in July 2018. (Photo courtesy of the author)

We visited Mt. Irenaeus, a serene and welcoming community of friars, where we helped prepare and share a lovely dinner and celebrated Mass with Dan, Joe Kotula, OFM, and others. Mt. Irenaeus is a modern-day version of Mount Subasio from St. Francis’ time. It is a place of great beauty and spiritual calm, where the Franciscans live in community, tend to the land, reach out to those in need, and welcome all to join them in celebrating the goodness of God. Again, my faith strengthened.

In 2011, I began nine years of service on the St. Bonaventure University Board of Trustees. It has been a great honor to get to know so many wonderful friars as fellow trustees and as friends. Kevin Mullen, OFM, is so valuable on our board, having served as president of Siena and now as Provincial Minister of Holy Name Province. Kevin has a huge personality and a thoughtful, highly reasoned way of approaching issues. His wisdom and sage advice were instrumental during our presidential search, when Sr. Margaret retired, and then a few years later as we transitioned board leadership. Tom Conway, OFM, another friar I respect very much, is a financial expert on the board, with the most contagious laugh I have ever heard.

It was only when I went to a fundraiser for St. Anthony Shrine in Boston and visited with the friars there, that I comprehended the enormous impact Fr. Tom has, leading the Shrine, on those who are poor or marginalized in the local community. Dan Horan, OFM, the young author and theologian with a huge following on social media, brought us his marketing savvy and intellect. I enjoyed reading several of his books on the passion of Jesus and the Franciscan heart of Thomas Merton. All of my interactions with these and other Franciscans helped me to walk more closely on the path of our Lord and of Francis and Clare.

The Storm
Everyone has tough times in their lives, and mine came three years ago. After 39 years of marriage, just as we began our well-anticipated retirement, my beloved husband Tom was diagnosed with lymphoma. Tom was always healthy and strong and vibrant, and it was inconceivable that he could not beat this disease. But it was not to be — Tom died two years ago, at the age of 64. I was devastated.

My family and Bonaventure friends surrounded me with love. I called Fr. Dan and asked him if he would officiate at Tom’s funeral Mass. He said yes, without hesitation, even though it required a nine-hour drive, and I later learned he had to rearrange several important appointments. Many Bonaventure board members came as well. It was an epic celebration of love for Tom, and Fr. Dan’s homily brought tears and a deepening of faith to all who were there, particularly to my sons and the younger generation. They saw Fr. Dan passionately explain, in the language of Francis, how we know and can celebrate that Tom is home, with the God who makes all things new. At the end of the graveside service, as we were leaving, Fr. Dan — in his brown habit — donned his worn Bonaventure cap, just like Tom always wore. It was perfect. And that kept me going.

“Our Lord Who Bears All Things” painted by Dan Riley. (Image courtesy of the author.)

Growing in Faith
Coming to terms with this change in my life has not been easy, but my faith has been a great source of hope and comfort. Just a few months after Tom died, Mount Irenaeus held its annual online auction. One item was a powerful watercolor of Jesus on the cross, surrounded by sunlight, painted by the very talented Dan Riley! The caption read, “Our Lord Who Bears All Things.” And that is exactly what I needed because it is too hard to bear Tom’s death without the Lord’s help. Fr. Dan’s painting now hangs in a place of honor in my home.

Last October, I joined a special Franciscan pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome, led by Sr. Margaret, Jean Francoise Godet-Calogeras, and Francis DiSpigno, OFM. Our group was made up of Bonaventure trustees and alumni, and also included President Dennis DePerro and his wife Sherry, who have deep Franciscan values and warmth.

Walking together in the steps of Francis and Clare, while being taught by Franciscan scholars, was a wonderful spiritual adventure. The beauty of Assisi was striking, a visual reminder of Francis’ love of all creation. I have found that being a part of nature – celebrating Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and Mother Earth – is very healing for me.

This November, I feel blessed to have had the help of so many strong Franciscans on my good journey, in light and in shadows. They have led me on a path to a deeper faith, and for that, I am profoundly grateful.

— Kathy Pekar Colucci, a 1977 graduate of St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, New York, recently completed her nine-year term as a member of the university’s board of trustees. Kathy is retired after 35 years with IBM and lives in Chatham, Massachusetts, and Tampa, Florida. Her two sons, Andrew and Joshua are, she says —  along with their wives,  Sandra and Amanda, and three grandchildren — the light of her life.

Editor’s note: Other St. Bonaventure University alumni who have contributed to this Franciscan Influences series include Suzanne English, Michael Fenn, Dan Patton, and Trevor Thompson.