Franciscan Influences: Simplicity, Peace and Joy

Kevin McLaughlin Features

This reflection is part of a series by the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The previous, written by Jolleen Wagner, a Siena college graduate, appeared in the Sept. 8 issue of HNP Today. Here, a staff member of a Buffalo, N.Y., high school founded by the Franciscans describes the impact the friars have had on “his head and heart.”

I recently gathered with roughly 40 of my classmates from Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School in Buffalo, N.Y., to commemorate and celebrate our 35th anniversary of graduation. As one would expect, amidst a lot of food and drink there was much reminiscing about classmates, teams and teachers — most notably, friars who taught us back then. The common thread among all the stories was that we experienced something very special that has endured for more than 35 years.

On my drive home, I reflected on my experience and memories of Timon and how that has colored my life (brown) during the past 35 years, especially in my current role as chief operating officer of the school. The experience of being part of the Timon Community in the late 1970s has profoundly influenced my life by the presence of the brothers and priests of Holy Name Province and manifested itself in subtle nuances over the past three and a half decades.

Part of Family
I arrived at Bishop Timon High School in September 1975. I must confess that I was terrified. I grew up in West Seneca, a neighboring suburb of South Buffalo, where Timon is located. I may as well have been an international student in those days. In a school of nearly 900 boys predominately from the nine local South Buffalo parishes, I was definitely in the minority. Yet, that feeling of isolation did not last more than a few days. I immediately felt part of the family, largely due to the atmosphere and tone established by the friars.

My recollection is that these men enjoyed being with one another in community and that spilled over into our lives by making all of us feel part of that brotherhood. That sense of joy and fraternity showed itself in communal liturgies in the gym/auditorium, in the classroom through enthusiastic teachers, and, in general, by the way the friars interacted with each other and with all of us.

From an early age, I felt the call to the priesthood and took on a more serious discernment throughout high school. I was primarily interested in serving the Diocese of Buffalo and so did not really say much about this discernment to any of the friars at Timon. Looking back, I think part of this secrecy was twofold: being somewhat timid, I did not want to travel all over the place within the Province, which fueled a fear that the friar with whom I shared my interest in ministry would send me straight to the Provincial Vocation Director. Of course, that suspicion was confirmed once I told the late Jude Murphy, OFM, in my senior year that I was planning to study for the priesthood. He promptly tried to talk me out of studying for the diocese and into becoming a Franciscan. Years later, as I finished my formation at Christ the King Seminary, I had a similar conversation with another friar who asked why I never became a Franciscan.

Be that as it may, my training for the ordained life began after graduation from Timon and took me to Wadhams Hall College-Seminary in Ogdensburg, N.Y., for my undergraduate studies. But all hope was not lost! I was reintroduced to the friars of Holy Name Province four years later when I entered theological studies and formation at Christ the King Seminary.

Realizing Wisdom of Gospel Values
Again, I was among men who enjoyed being with one another in community: Daniel Grigassy, OFM, Kevin Mackin, OFM, Daniel McLellan, OFM, Kevin Mullen, OFM, Gabriel Scarfia, OFM, Xavier Seubert, OFM, and Ronald Stark, OFM, to name but a few who had a profound impact on my head and heart. This time, living on campus with the friars, made that sense of community that much stronger. It was through the Franciscan community at Christ the King that I was most profoundly influenced by the unique charism.

Following ordination to the priesthood in 1988, I was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Parish — seeing any Franciscan pattern yet? — in Tonawanda, N.Y. At the time, I simply thought it was symbolic to be at a parish that was named after my favorite saint. The longer I ministered within the parish and the community it served, I was reminded of the neighborhood where Timon is located — blue-collar working families. After serving at St. Francis, the bishop asked me to assume a new ministry within the Hispanic community in the southern part of the Diocese of Buffalo.

Ministering within the Latino community, I found myself dwelling among women and men who were very poor and dependent upon others for basic needs. Like the friars I encountered at Timon and Christ the King Seminary, I was blessed to experience a spirit of joy and hospitality (so much so that I gained 10 pounds in the first month I was living there) among people who I thought would be weighed down by their challenges. I realized the wisdom of the Gospel values of simplicity, peace and joy.

God’s Sense of Humor
At that moment in my life, it seemed God was challenging me to live like the people I encountered; in simplicity, peace and joy. I became increasingly aware that God seemed to be leading my life’s path in another direction, toward marriage and family. After a long period of discernment and prayer, I made the very difficult decision to request a leave of absence to further discern how God desired to use my life. I eventually married and began a family.

I love to tell people that God has a wicked sense of humor — that despite the fact that I left clerical ministry, every place of employment over the past 20 years has been a ministry of the Church: most notably within the Catholic Health System in Buffalo and now back at Timon.

Timon today is as Timon was when it was established in 1946 — home to students who may not be able to afford the premier private boys schools. More than that, Timon has always been a welcoming presence and home to boys who were or felt they were on the margins; I being one. Though I never really felt like I was one of the “cool kids” at Timon, I never felt isolated. There was a tangible spirit of love, joy and hospitality that made me feel I was welcome and belonged.

Timon, like countless other private schools that were once teeming with religious brothers, sisters and priests, is challenged to carry on the Franciscan charism that has been the cornerstone of the Timon community for 60-plus years. As part of the administrative team at Timon, I want to believe that spirit of welcome and hospitality, of joy and community, still exists. We strive to be faithful to the legacy the friars have given us. We strive to be home to those who feel marginalized, those who may not thrive in large private schools or public school districts, or those who may not have the financial resources to attend other private schools.

I am profoundly grateful for the influence the Franciscan friars have had in my life. Like the friars I have been blessed to know, I strive to live and love simply with peace and joy, in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi.

— Kevin McLaughlin is chief operating officer of Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School.