This reflection is part of a series by the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The previous, by a longtime team member of the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen in Philadelphia, was published in December. Here, a staff member of St. Bonaventure University in Western New York describes how the people she met through her educational and work experience have led her to recognize her Franciscan identity and to become inspired to “seek true joy and steadfast justice.”
Growing up, understanding the Franciscan spirit was very far from my heart, even though I was raised in a Catholic home, attended Catholic school and was employed at a Catholic parish as my first job. Throughout my childhood, I never felt satisfied with my faith. I never understood who God was or why being Catholic was so important to my identity. The only thing I knew was that being Catholic was integral to who I was.
My faith journey took an amazing turn when in I enrolled in studies at the Washington Theological Union. There, I was first introduced to religious life. I had never been exposed to the religious charisms of the Paulists, the Oblates, or the Redemptorists, and I found it enlivening to hear about the different vocation stories from these religious. However, it was through conversation with my Franciscan friends at Holy Name College that I began to discover my own Franciscan identity. For so long, the question of “why I was who I was” had no answer. After meeting the Franciscans, a light came on in my head, and I began to recognize my own spirit in the Franciscan way.
Feeling Inspiration and Accepting Joy
This initial revelation began a slow, steady awakening of the Franciscan heart within me. Fr. Dan Horan, OFM, who is now one of my truest friends, first introduced me to the way and life of St. Francis. It was Dan who showed me Francis was not just “the birdbath saint,” but a saint who inspires all of us to seek true joy and steadfast justice. Another good friend, Fr. Frank Critch, OFM, taught me about Franciscan joy and hospitality merely through his gracious smile, thick Canadian accent and amazing culinary skills. These two friars were pivotal people in my realization of my Franciscan heart because they were truly living out their own vocation. They provided me with such a wonderful example of how to be “me” in a world where so many people are trying to be someone else. It was through their example, that I had the courage to continue on a journey of discovering more about this Franciscan Identity.
In addition, I found myself inspired by many of the early Franciscan stories, especially “True and Perfect Joy” and “Admonition 27.” I loved that in “True and Perfect Joy,” Francis taught us that despite our situation, there is always great joy. Through the “Admontion 27,” I found a way to live that helped attain the joy that Francis encouraged his brothers to live out.
This initial introduction into the Franciscan life led me to join the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry in Wilmington, Del. Guided by Fr. Chris Posch, OFM, and the other Wilmington Franciscans, I had the honor of serving some wonderful people for a year. Whether I was praying in community, sitting bedside with an HIV patient, or listening to Fr. Chris howl at the moon, I began to see the joy I had learned about through Francis’s writings. There was indeed joy offered to me in every moment and for the first time in my life, I was accepting that joy.
When my time in Wilmington was over, my heart was Bonaventure bound and, after some time, I started in 2012 as a campus minister at the university. Working at this university has been a culmination of my Franciscan faith journey. For so long, I wandered around jobs and cities, wondering about who I was and what I would do with my life. Now, I can confidently say that somehow, this small Catholic Franciscan university and this small beautiful town of Olean are more my home than anywhere else that I have existed up until now. This place is truly who I am, and I am my best self when I am in this place.
Being the Justice and the Service to Others
Just this May, I said goodbye to my first class of freshmen that I have watched grow into the Franciscan spirit over four years. Through my interactions with these and all my students, I try to teach them what Dan, Frank and Chris have taught me: to be an example of the Franciscan tradition. That is, to be the joy, to be the justice, and to be the service to all those around us. This Franciscan spirit may be difficult to see sometimes because of failed tests, break-ups, or just bad days, but there is joy in living the Franciscan life. Each day, I, along with the rest of the university ministries team, work with students to help them see how the Franciscan spirit can help them discover who they are in God. When they leave St. Bonaventure, these students go out into the world and embody the Franciscan spirit so that others may, in turn, be so inspired.
Looking back to the beginning of my faith journey, I feel so far away from that Catholic girl who had no idea why she was Catholic. I am so thankful to be able to go to work every day at a Franciscan university that I love and do a job that is less a job, and more of a calling. I am also deeply aware that this little life I have carved out for myself in Olean would not be possible without the friars of Holy Name Province. There are so many friars around the Province who help me become not only a better Franciscan, but also a better person for the world around us. I will continue to journey this life of faith, and will surely be introduced to the Franciscan life in many new ways while clinging onto the joy that God offers to us each and every day.
— Julianne Wallace, a native of Alabama, is associate director of faith formation, worship and ministry at St. Bonaventure University. She received her master’s degree in theological studies from the Washington Theological Union and in June is beginning studies for a doctor of ministry through the Virginia Theological Seminary.