Franciscan Influences: Seeing Common Ground in Varied Faiths

Paul Cronin Features

This is the fourth in a series of essays from the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The last appeared in the Jan. 26 issue of HNP Today. 

In this reflection, Paul Cronin, who has worked at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center near Greensboro, N.C., for more than four years, describes his role as well as the benefits and lessons of his involvement with the Franciscans. He appreciates the beauty of nature, the sanctity of silence and discovering the common ground in varied faith traditions.

In March of 2006, I was on the team of a men’s Cursillo weekend being held at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, N.C., and met Louis Canino, OFM, the director of the center. During the weekend, I went to reconciliation with Louie and spent well over an hour talking with him. Now, this is not a reflection of my sinfulness, although that could be argued. It was rather the beginning of a strong friendship. Over the next nine months, I began volunteering at the center as the overnight host for retreatants whenever Louie was out of town and, in December of 2006, I joined the staff as development and marketing coordinator.

Appreciating Simplicity and Service
Apart from the well-known prayer of St. Francis, I knew very little about this famous saint or the various Franciscan orders. Over the last four years, I not only have come to appreciate the spirituality of St. Francis, but also have tried to put into practice much of what he taught in his brief life. His love of nature and of all living things has given me a deeper appreciation and desire for living a simpler life, one dedicated to serving others with a humble spirit.

When I began my work at St. Francis Springs, I envisioned that I would be spending my time seeking out and securing new sources of funding and revenue to reduce our 2 million dollar mortgage. After all, that was my primary job description. I quickly learned that my job description also included every aspect of running and maintaining a 25,000 sq ft. facility with 18 guest rooms from helping out in the kitchen to cleaning rooms, scrubbing bathrooms, and making beds.

We have tradition at the center; when we are changing the rooms between guests, we say a prayer for the individual(s) who just stayed in the room and a prayer for the next guest who will be using the room. We are incredibly blessed with approximately 140 volunteers who assist us with all the aspects of operating the center and they share in this prayerful ministry with their time and talents.

My career path has included everything from marketing and sales, to information technology management, small business owner, and music and entertainment director for the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla. Little did I know that I would draw on all these past skills that had prepared me for this new role. One of the constant themes in my career was that I loved working with and helping people. I finally had found my home and my life’s work at St. Francis Springs.

Connecting With God
One of Louie’s goals for the prayer center was to create an ecumenical environment for all to experience the beauty of nature and the sanctity of silence. Over the past four years, I have had the privilege to meet and get to know so many people from many different faith traditions who all come to the center with one common need — to reconnect with their God.

Although I’m not a cook, often I am needed to prepare a meal for either one or two private retreatants or maybe a small group of guests. It is in the sharing of a meal with our guests that I have come to appreciate and respect the diversity of those who spend time in the sacred space of St. Francis Springs Prayer Center. I have often laughed and cried with many of these individuals as we have shared our life’s journey and have discovered the common ground in our different faith traditions.

I recently told our other staff members that one day we would look back on these times we worked together and realize that they were some of the best times of our lives. That day is here; every day I go to work and I feel blessed to be a part of this wonderful Franciscan ministry.

— Paul Cronin lives in Winston-Salem, N.C., with his wife, Karen. They have two daughters and a grandson. The photo above appeared in the December 2007 issue of The Anthonian, which featured St. Francis Springs Prayer Center as its cover story.

Editor’s note: The HNP Communications Office invites lay people interested in sharing their respect for Franciscan values to submit a reflection to Jocelyn Thomas. Those interested in submitting an essay for publication in this series are asked to contact the HNP Communications Office by phone at 646-473-0265 ext. 321 or e-mail.