Franciscan Mission Service Celebrates 25 Years of Lay Ministry

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

Friars at the Franciscan Mission Service event

From left to right: John O’Connor, Larry Dunham of the Franciscan monastery in Washington, Kevin Mullen, John Ullrich, Michael Harlan and Michael Della Penna, director of Valley of the Angels school in Guatemala. (Photo courtesy of the Franciscan Mission Service)

WASHINGTON — Friars and supporters of a well-respected organization that began as an unstructured operation struggling to find participants gathered earlier this month to commemorate the history and impact of the Franciscan Mission Service. The FMS marked 25 years of lay mission at its World Care Benefit and Celebration on May 1 at St. Francis Hall on the grounds of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land.

Close to 200 people who support the FMS — past missioners, friends, family members and others — joined in recognizing the work of the organization, as well as in honoring several people who exemplify its goals.

Former Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, a member of the FMS Board of Directors, was given the 10th Anselm Moons OFM Award. Recent college graduate Emma Laut was given the inaugural San Damiano Servant Leadership Award.

A keynote address was presented by Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, SDB, of Honduras, one of Pope Francis’s chief consultants. He has served as president of Caritas International since 2007 and is president of the bishops conference in Honduras. He spoke eloquently about “Pope Francis and the mission of the laity,” emphasizing that “the Church should always be a place of mercy and hope,” and entertaining listeners by singing a song at the conclusion of his talk.

Attendees of the World Care Benefit at St. Francis Hall in Washington. (Photo courtesy of the Franciscan Mission Service)

Attendees of the World Care Benefit at St. Francis Hall in Washington. (Photo courtesy of the Franciscan Mission Service)

Growth and Impact
The evolution of the Franciscan Mission Service from its early years is “amazing,” said Thomas Cole, OFM, who attended the celebration and who was involved with founding FMS. “The way the program has evolved in these 25 years is remarkable. From a bare bones operation struggling to find people and places for the missioners to serve, it now needs to limit the number of applicants it accepts.”

Tom was part of a team of Franciscans that created the framework for the mission service in the mid-1980s. He and several other Franciscans —including Charles Finnegan, OFM, of Holy Name Province, and Franciscan sisters — worked with Fr. Anselm Moons, OFM, a Dutch friar, and lived together on Lorain Avenue in Silver Spring to establish the program.

“FMS was a leader in being interprovincial and inter-Franciscan,” said Tom, now the Province’s archivist. “It has grown from a program looking for its way to a well-known and well-respected Franciscan lay mission program leading the way.”

Holy Name Province has always supported FMS both fraternally and financially, said Tom, who served as administrator of the FMS in its early years. “John was guardian when we, the FMS team, lived in Maryland. He was always very supportive.”

A timeline in the World Care program offers highlights of FMS history. The list includes 1990, the year the first class of lay missioners was sent overseas to Mexico, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and South Africa and 1991, when the FMS became financially independent. It also mentions 1994, when Joseph Nangle, OFM, became executive director.

Since its founding, the variety of FMS programs has grown. It now offers short-term mission and global awareness trips, as well as a D.C. Service Corps.

The May 1 celebration was “a superb evening,” said John. “Several who attended commented that it was the nicest FMS event that they had been to.”

Kim Smolik, director of FMS since 2009, said: “The hope-filled and joyous evening was a perfect way to celebrate our 25th anniversary. I am so pleased that it included giving Fr. John O’Connor our Anselm Moons Award, which was also meant to honor Holy Name Province for its longstanding commitment to FMS.”

John O'Connor speaks at the World Care Benefit

Fr. John O’Connor receives the Anselm Moons Award at the World Care Benefit. (Photo courtesy of Franciscan Mission Service)

Recognition and Celebration
John’s deep commitment to mission and lay religious partnership is rooted in the historical experience of the Franciscan family, according to the description in the event program.

“I am deeply grateful to the board of FMS for bestowing on me the Anselm Moons award,” said John, guardian of St. Francis of Assisi Friary in northern Virginia, and who now serves the Order as executive assistant for development. “I am also very grateful to the many friars from Holy Name Province who were in attendance, including Provincial Kevin Mullen, OFM, and Provincial Vicar Larry Hayes, OFM. I am thankful also to the folks from St. Bonaventure University who were there. Finally, I want to thank the General Secretariat for the Franciscan Missions and St. Bonaventure University for the very generous donations they made to FMS, in my name.”

“Receiving the recognition was a special honor because of what these missioners do,” said John when he accepted the award, named for a friar he knew. John said that Fr. Anselm’s style exemplified the best qualities of three people who the Franciscans follow: St. Francis, St. Bonaventure and Friar Tuck.

John lived with Fr. Anselm at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., in the 1980s. The Anselm Moons Award was created in 2005 to recognize those who exemplify FMS’s mission — to build partnerships with Catholic women and men who are inspired to live and serve in solidarity with economically poor communities across the globe.

Past recipients of the Anselm Moons, OFM Award include Joe Nangle, Jack Jezreel, Sr. Pat Farrell, OFS, Sr. Barbara Fried, SMIC, and Holy Name Province staff member Russell Testa and his wife Megeen.

“We want to celebrate the culture of encounter,” said Smolik at the celebration. “Sharing, more than giving, is what is important. We want to encourage this reciprocal approach to service.”

The FMS’s first recipient of the San Damiano Servant Leadership Award was Emma Laut, a senior at Marian University in Indianapolis, Ind., who participated in her school’s San Damiano Scholars Program.

Through her extensive work with several social justice-minded organizations and her dedication to her faith in Christ, Laut embodies what it means for a student to be dedicated to serving her community with more than 400 hours of registered service hours, according to the FMS website.

The selection committee was impressed with how Franciscan and service values permeated all aspects of Laut’s life. “This lived-witness encourages her peers along their own personal and spiritual journeys,” according to an online description of the award winner. “Laut is well-known for her random acts of kindness around campus, such as keeping care packages and food at the ready for the homeless she encounters.”

Laut has also led alternative break trips to the Navajo community in New Mexico and participated in several mission trips, including a trip to Guatemala.

The celebration included a showing of a FMS 25th anniversary video, a silent auction and an invocation by Fr. Michael Della Penna, OFM. An assortment of 2015 World Care Celebration photos, taken by Jerry Martineau, can be found on the FMS website.

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.