One of Holy Name Province’s three novices recounts the past few months of education and fraternal bonding at the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate. Abel Garcia, OFM, Javier del Angel de los Santos, OFM, and Christian Seno, OFM, began their novitiate year in August 2014.
BURLINGTON, Wis. — Our novitiate year continues to be full of blessings and many graced moments of growth, on a personal level, as a community, and in our lives as Friars Minor. To say that our time here has flown by would be an understatement: the Wisconsin winter seemed to have passed as quickly as it came, and these first weeks of spring are showing the same signs of swiftness. Undoubtedly, the workshops and seminars planned by our formation directors have contributed to the feeling of energy and quickness of pace.
The novitiate community inaugurated 2015 by participating in a weeklong workshop on conflict resolution with Br. Tim Lamb, OFM, from St. John the Baptist Province. This was followed by a Jan. 26 to 29 seminar with Ronald Pecci, OFM, the Province’s postulant director, on the life and writings of St. Clare of Assisi, focusing on her forma vitae and the letters to Agnes of Prague.
February brought about a workshop on justice, peace and the integrity of creation with the Province’s JPIC director Russell Testa and other JPIC animators from the U.S. and Canadian provinces, and then a weeklong directed retreat at the Siena Center in Racine, Wis. The retreat, led by Sr. Ann Koerner, CSA, Fr. Michael Jennrich, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province, and Fr. Bert Pepowski, OFM, of Assumption Province, was a prayerful way to enter into the Lenten season. It helped to foster a spirit of contemplation and reflection.
In addition to participating in workshops and retreats, since January the novices have been working at two different ministry sites. The first site, Love, Inc. is an outreach program in Burlington that provides a range of services to disadvantaged families and individuals in Racine County. We assist Love, Inc.’s program and volunteer director, Ben Mitchel, with an array of tasks, including restocking the shelves of the food pantry, assembling grocery boxes for seniors, sorting clothes for the thrift store and shoveling snow in the parking lot. We also volunteer at Waterford Senior Living in the memory care unit, where we provide assistance for the activities staff and conduct room visits with the residents.
Learning About the Missions
The most recent installment of our spring programming was a workshop presented by Paul O’Keefe, OFM, and the secretaries for missions and evangelization for the English-speaking Conference during the week of March 23. This workshop followed the structure set by the JPIC session given in February, in which various speakers presenting a particular topic or ministry were followed by discussion and reflection. Joseph Rozansky, OFM, kicked off the ESC-SME workshop by presenting on “Mission Ad Gentes” and the connection between the JPIC Office and the Office of Missions and Evangelization. This proved to be a wonderful introduction to the ESC-SME workshop and also helped to redefine our concept of what it means to be a missionary and to go on mission today. By underscoring the transversality of JPIC and Franciscan missionary evangelization, Joe, who is stationed in Rome, placed the idea of mission alongside our call to be pilgrims and strangers in the world. For me, this greatly enriched my understanding of what it means to evangelize, to encounter, and to share with my brothers and sisters as a Friar Minor.
In the afternoon, Joe discussed the many missions of the Order all over the world, especially those directly under the General Curia. Special attention was focused on missions in Africa and Asia, as well as the Middle East. It was inspiring to see the spirituality of JPIC and Franciscan missionary evangelization being holistically lived out in concrete and exciting ways.
The next few days included presentations from the directors of missions and evangelization. Fr. Martin Ibarra, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, spoke about his work with Casa Franciscana in Guaymas, Mexico. Fr. Martin gave an overview of his vocation story, how he became involved in mission and his ministry in Mexico. His talk was filled with inspirational anecdotes, as well as heart-wrenching stories of the difficulties encountered by him, his partners-in-ministry, and the people whom they serve.
Fr. Larry Dunham, OFM, gave a wonderful presentation on the history of the ministries of the Custody of the Holy Land, as well as his role as Commissary of the Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the custody and the special place it occupies in the Order.
Javier del Angel de los Santos, OFM, who previously studied Biblical theology and archeology, was particularly excited by this portion of the workshop. “Larry’s presentation reminded me so vividly of my biblical learning experience,” he said. “His profound knowledge and committed passion for the holy places and for the people the friars minister to are not only remarkable but also contagious.”
Building Fraternity Through Lived Experiences
The last day of the workshop began with a presentation on domestic missions by Br. Joe Rogenski, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province. Br. Joe brought smoked salmon and an assortment of crafts from the Alaska Native American communities where he worked as a missionary. He also offered practical advice for those of us who may feel called to go on mission. For instance, Br. Joe encouraged us to consider places with climates amenable for our particular dispositions – it is apparently unwise for brothers who prefer more temperate climates to brave the Alaskan winter. In the afternoon, Fr. Joe Nelson, OFM, of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province, spoke of his experience with Hispanic missions, and the difficult, but ultimately rewarding, challenge of learning a new language in your 50s.
Paul closed the ESC-SME workshop by discussing his responsibilities as chairman of the ESC mission directors and his work providing student groups from various Franciscan colleges with mission immersion experiences in the United States, Turkey and Africa. Paul offered us a new vision of what it means to go on mission today. Rather than the undoubtedly well-intended proselytism and heroic triumphalism of missions past, Paul proposed a humbler model of mission where we reaffirm our status as pilgrims and strangers in relation and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in various host communities. For me, this echoes St. Francis’s call “to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake.”
As enlightening as these workshops were, the richest moments have been the conversations with the presenters outside of the classroom and workshop itself. For instance, an after-supper small group chat with Russ Testa about the DVD “Being a Poor Pilgrim” by Fr. Tom Nairn, OFM, turned into a heartening conversation on what it means to be a Franciscan today, in the context of the novitiate and beyond. The weeklong ESC-SME workshop also provided ample opportunity to talk intimately with the presenters and be inspired by their personal stories and their ardor for mission. Paul’s visit allowed us to exercise moments of fraternal bonding, and it gave a preview of the opportunities for mission immersion experiences available to us when we return to Holy Name College.
As we progress through the novitiate year, these workshops have provided us with an invaluable glimpse into the lived experiences of friars from our own Province, as well as the lives and ministries of our brothers in the other provinces of the English-speaking Conference. Their effusive joy, fraternity and generosity in sharing their time and passions have inspired me and my brothers in the novitiate to continue our discernment in the Franciscan way of life, to delve deeper in prayer and conversation with God, and to further examine what it means to be a Friar Minor actively engaged in the world today.
— Br. Christian, a native of the Philippines, is a novice at the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington. More photos featuring life at the novitiate can be found on the novitiate’s Facebook page. Biographical information about the Province’s student friars can be found on the “Becoming a Friar” page on the Be A Franciscan website.