Franciscan Influences: A Sense of Coming Home

Suzanne English Features

This is the 13th in a series of essays by the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The previous installment, by a staff member of St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, appeared in the Dec. 21 issue of this newsletter.

Below, an alumna of St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, professed as a Secular Franciscan four months ago, describes her spiritual journey and how her years in formation helped her grow in faith and in maturity.

Being professed as a Secular Franciscan at Mt. Irenaeus last fall was like coming home for me — reaffirming, yes, this is where I belong, as a member of this community.

I have been becoming Franciscan for a very long time. When I was a child, our tiny church, St. John in Duke Center, Pa., was by a fluke of location, and the generosity of the friars, served by the Allegany Franciscans, although it was in another diocese and state. I remember listening to the thoughtful (and sometimes long!) homilies given by the brown-robed priests, and wondering why they didn’t dress like our pastor did.

Years later, I would choose to study at St. Bonaventure University, mostly because of its renowned journalism program. Because I was a nontraditional student, busy with work and three children — and a fourth we were blessed with between my junior and senior years — I never visited Mt. Irenaeus as a student, but I came to know several friars and sisters and  learned about being Franciscan, both intellectually and as expressed in their lives.

I spent 10 years reporting and editing at a local daily newspaper, as well as stringing for the Erie diocesan paper and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, before returning to St. Bonaventure to work in public relations. A few years later, after I was widowed, I went to the Mountain for the first time, seeking peace and quiet time with God. In the end, though, what I found was community.

Welcoming with Both Hands
I loved sharing thoughts and intentions at Mass in the chapel, enjoyed the conversation at the potluck brunches and heard about the Evenings of Re-Creation, summer evenings of prayer, thoughtful reflection and discussion on topics of faith. The first such evening I attended touched on diversity, and Tony LoGalbo, OFM, commented, “We welcome others with both hands open, one to reveal the beauty of our tradition, and the other to receive the riches they have to share with us.” I remember feeling such a sense of connection with that statement, a sense that I belonged with these people.

Eventually, I heard about the Secular Franciscan fraternity that was forming at the Mountain, began attending its meetings and went through the inquiry process. As I prepared to enter candidacy, I felt the weight of being a single mother trying to give her daughters the time they needed, working and finishing my MBA, and felt that I couldn’t give the process the time it deserved. When I told our minister, John Dutcher, he reminded me that I would always be welcome back.

I loved the opportunities that working at St. Bonaventure offered to remain connected with the Mountain community. I served five years on the Mountain Auction Committee with a talented and fun group of people, attended weekend Mass and Evenings of Re-Creation when I could, and sometimes just went hiking when I felt the need for contemplation or wanted to mull over a question.

As our daughters went off to college, I moved six hours west for an exciting new job. After settling in with my local parish in Ohio, I attended an area SFO meeting, but learned the truth of the statement that each fraternity has its own charism. The people were wonderful, but I didn’t feel the bond of connection that I did with the St. Irenaeus group.

And I knew, also, that it wasn’t just the fraternity. It was also the connection to the friar community at Mt. Irenaeus, and the place itself. I remember the late Dan Hurley, OFM, saying that coming to Mt. Irenaeus is also a coming to discover that the place where a person is can influence the way a person is, the way he or she feels and grows.

In fall 2009, I contacted Larry and Bonnie Orsini, the current formation advisers, and asked if the fraternity would consider allowing me to continue my formation. I promised to attend as many of the monthly meetings as possible, to meet with my advisers while in town and to work online with them as well. They took it to the next chapter meeting, and I cried when I got the email saying, “Your request to be re-admitted into formation was approved unanimously.”

english-rSupporting Efforts to Live the Franciscan Call
Rejoining the fraternity has meant driving 650 miles round-trip for each meeting, but I can say without hesitation that it is worth the trip. While coming home for meetings is also coming home to the place where I grew up, there is no place that I feel more at home than in the chapel or the main house at Mt. Irenaeus. The members of the fraternity discuss and support each other’s efforts to understand and live the Franciscan call, and to bring about a more just world both through formal ministries we support and through our daily lives.

I was professed on Sept. 25, 2011, surrounded by members of my fraternity, family and other friends. Our longtime spiritual adviser, Louis McCormick, OFM, offered the homily, noting that my profession was simply a continuation, a step in my journey.

I know that my years in formation have helped me to grow both in faith and maturity, affecting how I view and act in my roles as a parent, a friend, a volunteer and a leader. I have been blessed by the many connections to the Franciscans in my life, and feel honored and humbled to continue my walk with the Franciscan community at the Mountain.

— Suzanne English, SBU ’92, is director of public information at The University of Findlay, Ohio. She has four daughters and two grandchildren, one of whom, Sylvan, attended the SFO profession.

Editor’s note: The HNP Communications Office welcomes essays from lay men and women around the Province for publication in future issues of this newsletter.