This reflection is part of a series by the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The previous, written by a staff member of St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, was published in May. Here, a member of the Province’s parish on the New Jersey Shore describes how, over three decades, the friars have helped her in many ways –— through their intellect, their heart and their sense of humor.
When I was asked, after attending the 2015 jubilee celebration, to write this piece, I felt honored — and humbled — because I think so highly of the friars. They collectively have helped me to focus much of my energy these past 30 years. They have also given me guidance and friendship.
When I think of all my ranting against the Church’s hierarchy for so many reasons, especially the position of women, I realize I never had to deal with that discrimination from any friar. I believe it is because of the charism of Francis of Assisi based on the Good News and message of Jesus.
I’ve known many friars through specific experiences. They include the blessing of my house by Christopher Coccia, OFM, classes at Franciscan Adult School with the late Vianney Devlin, OFM, and Edward Coughlin, OFM, spiritual direction with Charley Miller, OFM, helping at Mass with Andrew Reitz, OFM, when he was pastor of St. Francis Parish on Long Beach Island, N.J., and our current pastor Jim Scullion, OFM, and many others. I give special thanks to David Convertino, OFM, for publishing my poetry on the Province’s Franciscans.org website. Among the most important to me is the friars’ coming to dinner at my house on LBI. There are many instances to remember. The friars’ gift to me has been their intellect, their heart and their sense of humor.
Support Through a Loss
On a poignant level, their influence on me in the last 10 years has been quite profound. For years, I was a senior executive at corporations such as Macy’s. I led a fairly active life — traveling the world, living in New York City and on Long Beach Island, hob knobbing with the rich and famous. Then my mother took ill and I made a decision to put my career on hold and to care for her. Hers was the single most important relationship in my life. She was my confidant and best friend. After being born in Italy, my mother came to America with her family as a small child. She was the first to graduate from high school and business school. Though she didn’t have many opportunities to fulfill her dreams, my mother supported me as a modern, professional woman. When she became ill, I decided to become her caregiver. I was fearful to give up a full-time income and put my career on hold for such a long time. However, I realized the gift of time that was given to me.
Reality then set in when my mother passed. Once again, the friars, in particular Tom Conway, OFM, Joe Rozansky, OFM, and John Ullrich, OFM, were there to stand with me in her last days, the funeral and the months afterward. It’s always a double whammy when one is the principal caregiver. By the time I recovered, the recession of 2008 loomed and I found that there just were no jobs. This time of waiting and patience became a new gift.
Appreciation for Charism and Friendship
While I didn’t see it at the time, I realize that my capacity for love was greater than my fear. I learned this from Franciscan charism through the friars. My prayer life changed. I am a published poet. My writing changed. Everything was in flux. Because of spiritual direction and participating in many beautiful liturgies, I focused on Jesus himself. In a dream, I heard him say, “Look at me; not around me or above me. Look at me.” Focused prayer got me through some pretty dark days. I don’t feel uncomfortable sharing this intimate part of myself with the world. I feel confident in my faith.
Then everything changed again. Four years ago, I received a call from my first boss at Macy’s about a position with a non-profit organization called Dignity U Wear, which procures new clothing and ships from a warehouse in Florida to agency partners in 45 states. The founder, Henri Landwirth, is a philanthropist, a Holocaust survivor and a veteran of the Korean War. His organization was looking for someone with a corporate and a non-profit background in New York City. They needed someone who had contacts in the retail and manufacturing world. I took the job and, after a year, they moved the executive director’s position to New York City.
This is hardly the end of the story. These years have been startling as they relate to my own conversion. While I am using my corporate background to run the business, I use my spiritual life to remain in a place of empathy for the poor and destitute. I learned this from the friars. On a bad day, when I receive a thank you note from a woman telling us how we helped her and her family, I laugh at myself for being cranky. I learned this from the friars. When I think of sitting in Henri Landwirth’s chair, I pray to God for strength, courage, wisdom, and love for the poor. Even though Henri is Jewish, he has the Franciscan heart.
The friars are not perfect, but they are humans with hope. They don’t boast of their intellect and degrees, but their professionalism is evident by the way they run the Order. They don’t wear their work with the poor on their sleeves. They don’t need to because their hearts are filled with joy. They are my dear friends.
— Barbara Truncellito, executive director of Dignity U Wear, is a published poet, having written four collections of poetry under her own Fragile Twilight Press and having been published by the Cole Foundation for the Arts in an anthology, The Baker’s Dozen Vol. III. She is a lector and Eucharistic minister at St Francis Parish, Long Beach Island, N.J., and lives in Manhattan and on Long Beach Island.