This essay is part of a series in which laypeople describe the impact the friars have had on them. The most recent reflection, published in the April 16 issue of HNP Today, was written by a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, N.C.
Growing up, I had a very definitive sense of Church. I attended what’s now a basilica and it’s an absolutely gorgeous place to worship. The tall ceilings. The paintings. The marble. The stained glass. All of it flecked with gold candles, gold tabernacles and gold vestments.
This was Church to me through the first 18 years of my life.
As I left that church to go to college at St. Bonaventure University, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect for my faith life. I felt I had a strong faith as professed in the walls of that grand church and amid the parish community.
But I found a different community at St. Bonaventure University, Mt. Irenaeus and many places in between tinged with the brown of a Franciscan robe.
Memories of Fellowship
While I still deeply appreciate the church where I lived for the first half of my life, the Franciscans have guided my faith journey for the last 18 years.
Dan. Bob. Basil. Tom. Allen. Gervase. Kevin. Joe. Lou. Matt. Ron. Dave. Richard. John. Joel.
These names and so many more have positively influenced me in many ways that I never expected.
First, Church! While Mass is beautiful in a large building like what I experienced growing up, worshiping together is equally as beautiful sitting in a simple circle inside a small chapel or outside. God’s basilica of natural beauty has often surrounded my Mass-going experiences with Franciscans in this half of my life.
While at St. Bonaventure, I had the good fortune of encountering many friars. Some taught me in the classroom. Others lent an ear when I most needed it. Still more invited me to the friary for dinners that to this day remain wonderful memories of fellowship. And I had a few opportunities to travel with friars to Assisi, Washington and New York City, all with a great sense of zeal for life like St. Francis.
I remember graduating from St. Bonaventure wondering how my faith life would take root outside of the Southern Tier of New York.
Since there is truth to the thought of going back to what you know, I started attending the cathedral in Washington. I guess deep down, part of me could not let go of the ornate building for Church!
However, when I attended Mass, the sense of being close to God always led back to my days at St. Bonaventure and Mt. Irenaeus. I would constantly reflect on those experiences: Chats with Dan Riley, OFM. Notes with Bob Stewart, OFM. Laughs with Basil Valente, OFM, and Tom Cole, OFM. The warmth of Dan Hurley, OFM. The grace of Mathias Doyle, OFM. The patience of Lou McCormick, OFM. The enthusiasm of Joe Kotula, OFM.
These and so many other experiences with wonderful Franciscans would bubble up as I attempted to pray in that cathedral, grounding me deeply and shaping me into more of who I wanted to be in life — someone who tries to walk this earth with a sense of compassion, gentleness and then mindfulness of the earth itself. Do I fail? Often, but with the openness toward seeing new light every day, of hearing a new song every morning, of sharing a laugh at lunch and of reflecting deeply at dinner. I can say with certainty that the Franciscan influence on my life has helped me hear the peace, walk the path and share my faith in ways unimaginable growing up in that giant church I first attended.
Common Thread of Peace and Joy
In recent years, I have stayed connected with the Franciscan way of life mostly through Mt. Irenaeus. As chair of its communications committee and member of the Board of Trustees, I have tried to live out part of my faith life 339 miles away from West Clarksville, N.Y.
Just in the last few months I’ve spent time with more Franciscans I had not met previously such as John Coughlin, OFM, Ron Pecci, OFM, Tom Conway, OFM, and Michael Duffy, OFM. Even in these short encounters, this common thread of peace, joy and gentleness has been exuded and exalted by all, consistent with meeting Franciscans for the first time as a freshman at St. Bonaventure.
Church was defined for me in specific ways growing up and that was great, but my faith life clearly evolved to a deeper sense of myself.
I would not be who I am without the Franciscan spirit encoded in my DNA, and I am forever blessed. Now as a parent with my wonderful wife, Elizabeth, we are attempting to raise young children in our shared faith. We’re admittedly struggling at times, but we’re both infused with a sense of love I know we learned from our experiences at St. Bonaventure and Mt. Irenaeus.
And so far, in our children’s very short lives, one of their favorite Church experiences has not been inside a grand cathedral where they were both baptized, but rather in a simple school cafeteria celebrating Mass. It didn’t hurt that donuts were present, but my hope now is to show our children the spectrum of “Church” — from beautiful basilicas to simple chapels, all inscribed with the spirit of Francis and Clare.
— Greg Licamele, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., is a 1999 St. Bonaventure University graduate who resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, Elizabeth, and two daughters. He serves on the Mt. Irenaeus Board of Trustees and leads the Mountain’s Communications Committee. For more than nine years, Licamele has served as a senior public information officer for Fairfax County, Virginia.