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Franciscan Influences: The Friars of St. Paul’s

encuentro-2009-ana-with-friars

Ana Schmitt with Christopher VanHaight, Juan Turcos, Lawrence Hayes, Christopher Posch, Thomas Conway and William McIntyre at Holy Name Province’s 2009  Encuentro Franciscano.

This reflection is part of a series by Holy Name Province’s partners-in-ministry. The previous, written by a staff member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C., was published in September. Below, a member of St. Paul Parish in Wilmington, Del., describes how her life “changed from a Sunday Catholic to a daily server of the Lord.”

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” — St. Francis

It is difficult to think of my life without the friars! Tempo fugit: and somehow it is now 21 years that various friars have not only influenced my life but in a real way have been part of my extended family. Time flies for HNP Franciscans, too. This year marks 25 years, a quarter of a century, that the friars have served St Paul’s and Wilmington!

My husband, son, and I moved to Wilmington from Puerto Rico in June 1994, and I joined the ranks of the “Boricuas Ausentes” — perhaps the best way to translate this is the Puerto Rican Diaspora. It was very difficult for me in the beginning, but my husband found a Catholic church, St. Paul’s, where the Franciscan friars focused on the Spanish community, and I found a special spiritual home.

Participation and Challenges
The friars first invited me into the renewal movements at the parish: Cursillo, the Charismatic Renewal, the Legion of Mary, and the movement of John XXIII. Soon I began teaching at the parish school as well. Two young friars (then!), Lawrence Hayes, OFM, and Bill McIntyre, OFM, not only exercised a wonderful influence on our family, but also challenged us to live the Christian vocation. Christopher Posch, OFM, also joined the team, and suddenly my son, husband, sisters, nieces and nephews all found St. Paul’s as a key element in their lives. Soon this meant parish council, the finance committee, and work with Holy Name Province.

As the years slipped by, Fr. Larry and Fr. Bill continued their journeys, leaving the parish, and Todd Carpenter, OFM, became our pastor, originally with Michael Tyson, OFM, now with Paul Breslin, OFM. We also were blessed to have the novitiate program here and continue to see young Franciscans discerning their vocations.

All of these Franciscans have a common value — they not only live the Gospel values, they make them real in my life and the life of my family. These followers of St. Francis provided and continue to provide unconditional support for my family and me, in times of sickness, death, loss, or other crisis. In short, they lived the Gospel with their lives. They live lives of service, and this service continues to change the lives of all of us at St. Paul.

One of the special ways the friars influenced our lives was in the Gospel witness they provided by their care for the poor and oppressed. St. Paul is located in a, well, “challenging” neighborhood. The friars built and grew various traditions, like the living Stations of the Cross, ministries to the immigrants, care for the homeless, and work to stop violence, that again clearly taught my family Franciscan values. Their love of the Hispanic community is especially noteworthy. Not only did they work hard to speak Spanish (some better than others!), they worked harder to understand a complex and diverse Hispanic community in Wilmington. Whether Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican, Salvadorian, Guatemalan, “Nico,” or “Tico” — the friars were there to serve the community.

Service and Support
As time went on, the friars also asked us to serve with them. Of course, as they are Franciscans, there are lots of ministries that need help. These include Ministry of the Word, Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, and visiting the sick. With their guidance and discernment, my service began to focus in a couple of areas: visiting and ministering to the elderly and working with the renewal movements, especially Cursillo. With the Franciscan influence, my life has changed from a Sunday Catholic to a daily server to the Lord.

But there was more to come. Since a young girl, I have always loved poetry and enjoyed writing poems. The Franciscans were a major force in convincing me to publish those poems, and they continued to support me as an author of religious poems in Spanish.

There is so much needed to be done today: continued work with the renewal movements, care of the elderly, encouraging young Hispanic, especially women, to write and publish and develop their gifts, and work with the HNP do the necessary, the possible, the impossible!

Ana Schmitt, a native of Puerto Rico, lives in Wilmington with her husband Peter.  They have a son who lives in New York City.  In addition to the many roles she has served at St. Paul Parish,  Ana taught math for more than 13 years at St. Paul School, which closed in 2011, and she served as a member of the HNP Hispanic Ministry Committee, and was a lay director of the Cursillo Movement of the Diocese of Wilmington.

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