Franciscan Leaders Encourage Collaboration

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

SAN DIEGO — Promising to embrace the same faith, creativity and spirit of adventure as their ancestors, the leaders of the seven OFM provinces in the United States last week announced their goal to restructure Franciscan life to insure the vitality of its future.

As a major part of their fall English-speaking Conference meeting held Oct 7 to 11, the provincial ministers of the US received the report of the Interprovincial Commission established after the historic December 2012 meeting of all the provincial councils of the United States. Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM,was one of the commission members who presented the 23-page report to the provincials.

The commission’s report covered the three areas of its mandate: a statement of common Franciscan values, vision, and mission in the United States; proposals of specific future collaborations among the seven provinces; and several possible models of restructuring the current U.S. provinces.

Possible New Directions
After discussions with the commission members and then among themselves, the provincial ministers distributed a letter to the friars the following week stating that “the current organizational status quo of the seven U.S. provinces is no longer sustainable.” A summary of the findings of the commission was included with the letter.

The membership statistics shared by the commission indicate the number of friars in the country will decline significantly over the next decade, indicating the need to consolidate the Order’s present administrative structures to better serve its mission. A number of other religious congregations have gone through similar steps in recent years, such as the Jesuits, who are currently in a process of consolidating their 10 U.S. provinces to four.

The letter also asked the friars of each province to read the commission’s full report and to gather in chapter by July 2014 to discuss options for the future. Five of the provinces — Assumption BVM, Holy Name, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sacred Heart, and St. John the Baptist — have a chapter already scheduled. The other two, St. Barbara and Immaculate Conception, are being asked to call a special assembly.

“We hope and pray that you will be concrete, creative, and courageous,” the provincials said. Following the chapters, leaders will gather by fall 2014 to “chart the way forward.”

Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, said he believes this is an important moment in the history of the Order. The discussion “presents us with a great opportunity to creatively move into the future in a way that can make our Franciscan presence, in both fraternity and ministry, more dynamic and effective,” he said.

Progress on Collaborative Initiatives
Also at the ESC meeting, held at the University of San Diego, the participants evaluated the progress of other initiatives. They heard status updates about: 
•   a proposed Convocation of Lay Brothers planned for August 2014
•   the new Roman Seraphic Missal Supplement produced by the American Franciscan Liturgical Commission, which reports a projected completion this fall. James Sabak, OFM, is chair of the AFLC, an organization comprised of members from the Order of Friars Minor, Capuchins, Conventuals and Third Order Regular friars.
•   the Franciscan Mission Service, with a presentation by its executive director, Kim Smolik

They also approved several communication initiatives: 
•   Creation of a national online Franciscan media strategy to strength evangelization to young adults and to assist with vocations
•   ESC Social Media Guidelines to offer ideas to both friars and their partners-in-ministry for effective usage and cautions about potential pitfalls

During their stay in California, the provincial ministers heard a presentation by Fr. Joseph Chinnici, OFM, president of the Franciscan School of Theology, and Mary Lyons, president of the University of San Diego, about the process that led to the affiliation between the two schools. They also visited Mission San Luis Rey to tour the new facilities of the FST which moved there this summer.

Information about the ESC, which is holding its spring meeting in St. Petersburg, Fla., can be found on the English-speaking Conference website and on its Facebook page.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.