Franciscan Influences: Lessons of Hope, Hospitality, Service

Patricia Curtis Features

This is the 17th in a series of essays by the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The last installment, by two parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Midtown Manhattan, appeared in the July 18 issue of HNP Today

Below, a staff member of St. Patrick-St Anthony Parish in Hartford describes the “many wonderful Franciscan lessons” she has learned through 10 years of collaboration with the friars.

In 1990, I had my first exposure to a Franciscan. Coincidentally, that is the same year that the friars began staffing St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in Hartford, the parish where I now minister as the pastoral associate.

However, at that time, I was in Rochester, N.Y., serving as a pastoral associate in a parish that was transitioning from a co-pastor model of parish leadership to a one-priest parish with two pastoral associates. We had just hired the new pastoral associate to join the team, Sr. Chris Treichel, OSF. I quickly learned that Chris was an Allegany Franciscan and that Saints Francis and Clare were close to her heart.

While sharing ministry with Chris in Rochester for nine years, I experienced my first lessons in a Franciscan way of living. Chris and the other sisters with whom she lived eagerly welcomed people into their home and, more importantly, into their lives. The sisters were approachable and made themselves available to all. It was with a Franciscan spirit by way of example in action and attitude that they “preached the Gospel at all times; when necessary, using words.” They were faith-filled women living in a way that allowed those around them to catch the spirit of Francis and Clare, and the passion of the Franciscan charism.

Franciscan Leadership
When I relocated back to Connecticut, I was fortunate to be hired as the pastoral associate for St. Patrick-Saint Anthony Church in Hartford in 2001. There, my Franciscan education continued.

From 1990 to the present, the HNP friars have provided leadership to this Hartford parish under the direction of three pastors — Jerome Massimino, OFM, the late James Hynes, OFM, and Thomas Gallagher, OFM. The hallmark Franciscan value that forms and shapes the community of SP-SA is to follow in the footprints of Jesus Christ.

Here there is —

  • hospitality to the stranger and active outreach to those on the margins, to those who feel alienated from society or from the Church.
  • opportunity to take action and to expand one’s faith through service projects and spirited prayer and formation programs.
  • food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and hope for those who are hopeless.

Under the guidance of many friars for the past 22 years, SP-SA has truly become a Franciscan instrument of peace and welcome for the greater Hartford community and beyond.

Lessons and Celebrations
I have learned many wonderful Franciscan lessons from the variety of friars with whom I have ministered over the years and the many visiting friars who have come to Hartford to lead faith formation programs, or who have come for internship assignments. Each year, the Transitus services for Francis and Clare are significant times when the friars celebrate the stories of deepest faith that underpin their vocations. And, the chance to travel to Assisi with friars has opened up new dimensions of the spirituality of Francis and Clare for me.

SP-SA has been blessed with friars who excel at hospitality. They are excellent cooks who are generous with their welcome and inclusion. They are quick to respond to needs that arise; for example, when the October 2011 snowstorm hit, the guest rooms and classrooms in the Urban Center were opened up and made available to some of our hardest-hit parishioners, and even a local group home. There is always room for one more around the friars’ table.

This year in our parish, Andrew Giardino, OFM, celebrated his 50th anniversary of ordination. The date was March 17, which fell on a weekend. And so, at each Mass, Andrew was called forth into the center of the community and, with hands extended, we all prayed a special blessing of gratitude and thanksgiving for the gift of Andrew’s priesthood. Though the applause and affirmation after the blessing were extensive, Andrew stood quietly in our midst. No words were spoken by Andrew — there was no need for words. For 50 years, by his own commitment to the Franciscan life, Andrew has lived out and “preached” the gospel message. We all have been touched deeply by his faithfulness.

The Franciscan way is relevant to today’s disciples. It is easy to understand the attraction one has to Franciscan living in a world and Church filled with distractions. Francis and Clare always kept their eyes on Jesus, and their hearts were ablaze with God’s Spirit.

Why wouldn’t one desire to follow?

— Patricia Curtis, who holds a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Boston College, is pastoral associate at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish, where she collaborates with the adult faith formation committee, Baptism preparation team, Clare Gallery Ministry, RCIA process, and the Women of Hope Ministry.