Franciscan Influences: Fresh Air of Empowerment

Patricia Kowite Features

This is the 20th in a series of essays by the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The last installment, by a high school instructor and former friar, appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of HNP Today. Below, a staff member of the Raleigh, N.C., parish describes why she appreciates the Franciscan warmth and nourishment that she has felt for more than three decades, beginning in northern New Jersey.

What was a snowman in brown robes doing in front of that little church? Were those priests building it? This was one interesting parish in which I found myself. I was a Tennessee girl who found herself in West Milford, N.J. I had only seen Franciscan friars a few times in my life and this was quite an introduction to who they were. They knew how to enjoy life.

That was Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Hewitt, N.J. That snowman melted, but the warmth and welcome I found there with the friars never disappeared. That was roughly 35 years ago. When I moved to Raleigh, N.C., in 1982, I thought I was leaving Holy Name Province behind. I didn’t know they would follow me down to a new parish that was founded a few weeks before my arrival. What began as a Jesuit parish became Franciscan with the arrival of David McBriar, OFM, as our second pastor.

I can’t say I ever saw David building a snowman, but he brought with him that welcoming spirit of the Franciscans and a whole lot more. My goodness, I was in for quite an education. My old-time, pre-Vatican II faith was shaken right out of me. In its place came a new experience of faith with outreach to the poor and marginalized, with an appreciation for lay leadership I had never known, with exciting possibilities for living my faith, and an open door to anyone who happened to find their way to The Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi.

Kernels of Faith
Let’s move forward. This new year of 2013 is quite a milestone for me. I am beginning my 25th year as an employee at St. Francis Parish. I love working here. I live my faith every day — and get a paycheck. I have served here with many Franciscans. Some have worn the same brown robes as that snowman; some have not.

Colleen McCarthy was one who did not wear a robe. She came to our parish after working many years at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia. It was Colleen who first introduced me to a simpler way of living and nudged me to take the JustFaith course newly offered at St. Francis. I knew the story of Francis of Assisi eschewing a materialistic world, but I had never understood how I could begin to apply his example in small ways to my life. Colleen planted that seed in me.

I am not alone. I am joined by fellow parishioners who breathe the fresh air of empowerment here. Many have brought a small kernel of an idea for ministry to the friars or to our lay employees. Those kernels have grown into incredible ministries serving God’s people in myriad ways. I could give you examples, but the important thing is not the ministries that are now flourishing — it is the nourishment of those kernels.

We are called to serve, to bring our faith with us when we leave the doors of our sanctuary. There is an expectation here that the laity will grab hold of the reins of our faith and take off with it. I often hear parishioners wondering which ministry they should choose, how — not if — they should serve here.

Holiness, Hope and Hospitality
The other thing I hear all the time is how welcome people feel at St. Francis of Assisi. Every friar who has served at our parish has opened the doors wide to everyone. Holiness, hope and hospitality are the cornerstones of our mission. No matter who you are or where you come from, we have a place for you. Many who never felt like they belonged in a church have found a home here. They are now parishioners actively serving others.

Just as a child is loved and nourished and gradually grows into his or her own person, so, too, are new parishioners. That open door beckons and calls them to join us. Then they breathe in the fresh air of a new life in faith. As Catholics are baptized as priests, prophets and kings, they are called and empowered to serve with our faith community.

Our friars and our lay ministers are here to welcome their partnership and their leadership. Together, we are the face of God. And occasionally we get enough snow in Raleigh to build a snowman.

— Patricia Kowite is the coordinator of finance and administration at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, where she is the longest-serving staff member.