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Franciscan Influences: Impact of a Volunteer Year

Andrew, on left, with the Catholic Partnership Schools basketball team. (Photo courtesy of Andrew)

Andrew, on right, with the Catholic Partnership Schools basketball team. (Photo courtesy of Andrew)

This reflection is part of a series by Holy Name Province’s partners-in-ministry. The previous, written by a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island, N.J., was published last month. Below, a young man who spent the past year as part of the Province’s Franciscan Volunteer Ministry describes the impressions the Franciscans made on him while he was living and working in Camden, N.J.

When I think about how living and ministering with Franciscans has had an impact on me this year, three tangible things really stand out in my mind.

First and foremost, being among Franciscans has restored my faith in my religion of birth, Catholicism. For the longest time, especially during my college years, I had all but given up on the Catholic Church. I thought its practices and beliefs were outdated, that it was hypocritical with some of its stances, and that it didn’t do enough to rectify years of pain and neglect towards certain groups of people. While I still can’t say that I fully agree with every Church teaching or practice, I am well aware that my religion — one that I am now truly happy to claim membership to — is something beautiful. I realize it involves a history of beauty and invokes a spirit of generosity, giving, and service.

Celebrating the Catholic Faith
This renewed faith in Catholicism also led me to my second tangible change from living amongst Franciscans — actually enjoying Mass. Fr. Hugh Macsherry, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden, N.J., where I was based, is a dynamic, down-to-earth pastor, and I can say with certainty that there hasn’t been a single homily of his that hasn’t been either entertaining, thought-provoking, or both.

Besides his presence — one that anyone would enjoy being around on any given Sunday — the style in which Mass is celebrated at St. Anthony’s — yes, celebrated, not simply “carried out”— has truly enriched my faith. Whether it be emphatically clapping along to different hymns with the enormous crowd at the 9:30 Sunday Spanish Mass, or joining hands with one of my neighbors as well as members of my Bible Study group during the 12:10 Sunday Mass, St. Anthony’s celebrates in such a way that has made me truly enjoy it. This enjoyment of Mass is something I simply never experienced prior to this year, and it left a mark on my parents when they came to visit as well. Both my mother and father said they had never quite felt the Spirit so alive in them than when they were at St. Anthony’s.

The third big impact that the Franciscans have had on me this year came from a Secular Franciscan, Sue Piliro, the former director of Francis House in Camden. Seeing Sue’s ministry for all it was, and being an active part of it with FVM, was one of my favorite parts of my time in Camden, and it has inspired me to seek to join the Secular Franciscans when I return home. I find the Franciscan way of life too beautiful to only experience for one year, so in going through my formation for the Third Order, I am hoping that I can keep the values, spirit and general joy of the Franciscans I have worked with alive in my own heart, even when I leave them.

andrew-franciscan-volunteer-ministry

‘The Franciscan in Me’
Besides these more readily apparent things, I know that the Franciscans with whom I have worked this year have left a very large impression on my heart and mind. I have developed a much larger amount of compassion and sympathy for my brothers and sisters all over the planet. I find myself smiling at and greeting total strangers much more often, and I feel compelled to refer to almost any man I meet or see as “brother” or “friend.” Occasionally, I will refer to women as “sister”, or I may just let a hug or a smile say more than my words can. I feel more in tune with other people, happier in general, and more eager to share the joy I feel on a daily basis with as many people as I can.

I also find myself more concerned and conscientious about the environment, including its inhabitants. One time, I walked into a kitchen of a building we had a meeting in and saw a couple of cockroaches on the floor. A woman I was with gasped and said “Kill them, squish those nasty things!” I chuckled at myself in part when I realized just how hesitant I was to kill them, or even shoo them away. In my mind, since they weren’t hurting anyone, I thought, why do anything violent to them? She was surprised when I told her this rationale, and even more when I added, “It’s just the Franciscan in me!”

Hearing myself say something like that makes me proud. I can’t begin to describe the multitude of blessings that this year with FVM has afforded me, and I owe it all to them, to God, and to the wonderful people who make St. Anthony’s the parish that it is. My views on the world, on God, and on my life have all grown so much over the course of this year. I am beyond confident that this growth is due to living and ministering in a Franciscan fashion, and I will be eternally grateful for that. As I move back home this summer to work with a Christian nonprofit organization, I will carry the peace and goodness of this place, and my experiences there, with me.

— Andrew Staiti, who graduated in 2014 from Stonehill College in Massachusetts with a bachelor’s degree in communication, is from the Boston area. In June, an essay he wrote about his FVM experience titled “In Service to Camden, a City He Loves,” was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer

Editor’s note: Information about the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry can be found on the organization’s website and Facebook page.

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