This essay is part of a series about aspects of the Franciscan message that partners-in-ministry appreciate. The previous was written by a graduate of The Catholic University of America. Below, a volunteer at a Franciscan parish in Florida reflects on the gifts of the friars she has met while contributing her time and talent at the same church.
Do you ever look back and have a moment of absolute clarity about your life and the path that led you there? Or marvel at the way things really do come full circle? Maybe it’s one of those “a-ha” moments that makes you smile and nod, knowing perhaps you really did have a clue about what you were doing instead of stumbling here and there until you found your way? About four or five years ago, I would say it happened to me.
I began attending Sacred Heart Church in Tampa in 2011. By that time, the friars had been there for quite a few years, but I didn’t really “get involved” right away. You see, I lived a few blocks away (so it was convenient), and I had a family history there (wasn’t that nice?). I sat contently in the pews each week, listening to the homilies, doing my duty, and getting spiritually fulfilled…sort of. I knew I needed God and church in my life on more than just a superficial level, and I knew this need had to evolve from a traditional obligation to a more meaningful belonging. I needed to make an effort and dive in. But how?
I mentioned I had family history at Sacred Heart. My grandparents were married there in 1954. My grandmother and mother attended the parish elementary school and high school, Sacred Heart Academy. I had been to many weddings there, both as a guest and as a bridesmaid. Sacred Heart is pretty much the most beautiful and historic church in Tampa. It draws people from far and wide, but knowing my own history was intertwined with that of the church made it all the more appealing and special. I mean, wouldn’t it be amazing if I sat in the same pew as my grandmother may have at the age of 10, I think so.
Dream Come True
Shortly after I began attending, George Corrigan, OFM, was appointed pastor, and I recall him talking about the need for the parish to enter the 21st century — parish emails were on the horizon as were a more robust website, and maybe a Facebook page. He put out the call to anyone who may have experience in that arena and would be interested in helping. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. This was my “in.” You see, my professional background is in the field of advertising and communications. I work at a local ad agency on a Fortune 100 client, managing large-scale campaigns promoting products, services, and the like. I had experience in all of those things, and what better way to give of myself than to volunteer and hopefully provide value in the areas I’m passionate about? Dream come true.
So, I raised my hand. I volunteered my time and talent, and I learned a lot. Luckily for me, Fr. George loves to write. And I love to read. Through his homilies, his pastor’s columns in the bulletin, and his interest in communication and the power of words, I also learned a lot about the Franciscans. Their guiding light and inspiration, St. Francis, has a lot to teach us and has inspired so many. Thinking of everything I’ve read over the years, my favorite quote from this popular saint is, “Let us begin again, brothers, for up until now, we have done little or nothing.” Fr. George always likes to follow it up with, “So let us do what is ours to do.” It just evokes that sense of purpose, of action, and of encouragement that we’re all in this together. We all have a role to play, and we all have a talent to share. We are all members of the Body of Christ, and we have to rely on one another to make the most of this life on earth. So let’s get to it!
But it wasn’t all about the word itself. I came to learn that the Franciscans are just different. They are approachable. They are genuine. And they just get it. Nowhere is that more apparent than with the friars themselves. Frank Critch, OFM, Zachary Elliott, OFM, and Daniel Kenna, OFM, along with Sean O’Brien, OFM, and Michael Reyes, OFM — all of them taught me something about giving of yourself. All of them taught me something about friendship, humility, and true partnership between the friars and lay people of the parish. And they continue to inspire confidence and trust in my ability to do what is mine to do.
Message of Peace and Service
As I became more involved, I branched out from communications work and joined Fr. Zack and the Sacred Heart RCIA program. I must say it was inspiring to serve as a sponsor for someone going through the process of coming into full communion with the Catholic Church and journeying with them through their highs and lows, their questions and concerns, and mostly their excitement for what lay ahead of them — not to mention their courage and determination. But Fr. Zack’s gift for forming incredible bonds and relationships with our Catechumens and candidates inspires me most. They just gravitate to him. He sets them at ease, he jokes with them, he becomes their friend, mentor, and confidant. They trust him, and they enjoy getting to know him as he does all of them. And it makes their journey all the better for it.
And what have I gained during my time at Sacred Heart? I’ve gained incredible experience, a true sense of purpose and place in my parish family, and a breadth of knowledge devoted to working hand in hand with the Franciscans to spread their message of prayer, peace, and service to all. This is a pretty awesome return on my investment, I’d say.
You might be wondering how this all came full circle for me? Growing up Catholic, we always went to diocesan churches. I had little to no exposure to the Franciscan friars. But as a young Confirmandi all those years ago, what Confirmation name had I chosen? St. Clare of Assisi. That in itself might not seem so extraordinary, but take into consideration my career path in advertising — how she’s the patron saint of television — and my relationship with the friars today… feels like a higher power might have been involved all along.
– Tampa native, Lynda Marsh works for 22squared Inc, an independent advertising agency located in the Southeast. As a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church, she is involved with the RCIA program and, for six years, has devoted the majority of her time to helping Sacred Heart’s communication efforts through social media, the weekly bulletin, emails, and the parish website. She served for three years as a member of the HNP Communications Advisory Committee.
Editor’s note: Laymen and women who are interested in writing an essay for this Franciscan Influences series are invited to contact Jocelyn Thomas in the HNP Communications Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.