Franciscan Sojourners Plan First Gathering

Jocelyn Thomas Features

WEST CLARKSVILLE, N.Y. — A new community has been formed based on the Franciscan philosophies experienced at the Mt. Irenaeus Franciscan Mountain Retreat.

The Franciscan Sojourners community is a group of men and women from various geographical areas who are working to “bring the spirit of The Mountain down” to their everyday lives.

A flyer promoting the first gathering of the Franciscan Sojourners, that is scheduled for May 20 in the Albany, N.Y., area describes the Sojourners as being “moved to follow the Gospel manner of life and ministry of Mt. Irenaeus by committing to their own ongoing personal formation, extending the work and spirit of the Mountain to their families and communities and contributing to the growth of this Franciscan Mountain Retreat.”

As people transition from one phase of life to the next, Sojourners sense that “one never graduates from the Mountain,” but rather is sent forth to “make all things new” by creating and nourishing communities that transcend a particular place, opening to all peoples, ages and cultures, according to the recently-produced brochure.

The Franciscan Sojourners program is being led by a group of St. Bonaventure University alumni and friends of the Mountain who are part of a steering committee.  Members are aiming to get together with other like-minded people several times a year for prayer, hospitality, reflection and discussion in an informal setting, probably the home of a participant.

Daniel Riley, who serves as the group’s mentor and facilitator, said that “for some time,  I have heard from friends and alumni the need for enlivened faith.  “Many people want to make a difference. Now they are forming energy and excitement of new church life.”

Committee member Franey Donovan, a father of two SBU alumni, said that he is glad to have been given the opportunity to take the Mountain way of life into local communities through the Franciscan Sojourner program.

“The Sojourners, as an extension of the Mountain, will help people enhance their spiritual lives and their relationships with their families, friends and coworkers,” he said.

The group began developing last summer as an evolution of people, ideas and discussions from an alumni retreat held at Mt. Irenaeus in July.

Leaders of the Sojourners planning team include Donovan, a graduate of St. Francis College in Brooklyn, and St. Bonaventure alumni Michael Fenn, a Buffalo, N.Y., resident; Mike Camoin of Albany, N.Y.; Kevin Purdy of Rochester, N.Y., and Kate Clemens from Connecticut. They are encouraging local groups to be formed in a variety of geographic areas.

The name was chosen “through the desire to walk with one another through the journey of life following the ways for Christ through Francis,” Michael said.

Albany Area Program to Launch Sojourners
The May 20 afternoon program is the first of many Sojourner gatherings being planned for 2007. It will be held in Castleton, N.Y., and, according to organizers, will provide participants with a scripture reading and discussion as well as a family-style meal based on contributions from attendees.  The objective is to offer a program that is similar to the Mountain on the Road events that the friars of Mt. Irenaeus have been offering for more than a dozen years.

“I believe the value of our gathering is to mirror some of the many benefits we receive by going to the Mountain – a sense of community and an opportunity to learn more about a loving God that is within each of us,” said Mike Camoin, a 1988 graduate of St. Bonaventure. “Faith grows deeper when shared with fellow Sojourners.”

“Renew the Spirit of the St. Bonaventure community as we join with family, friends and children of all ages in an afternoon experience of the Franciscan Sojourners,” is the invitation on the flyer for the May 20 program.

The Sojourners will provide a similar theme and structure as a Mountain on the Road, according to Dan, who leads most Mountain on the Road programs; however, the Eucharist will not be included. The FS events will be led by individuals with interest in carrying on the goals of the Mountain and who have been provided with literature by the friars.

“The Mountain on the Road events were initiated to show that what is special about the Mountain can be special wherever we live,” Mike Fenn said.

The logistical demands of the popular On the Road ministry prohibit it from being delivered to a geographical area more than once every other year.

“Ever since my years at St. Bonaventure, Mt. Irenaeus has been a wonderful destination to help focus on what’s important in life, “Fenn added.”It’s a place where we can remove the clutter from our lives, rekindle our relationship with God, and interact with others who thirst for the same spiritual element. However, it’s difficult to keep that spark burning day after day and to get to the Mountain. “

“The Franciscan Sojourners seek to enrich our lives by gathering as a local community, praying and sharing in ways that are in line with the Mountain experience. it’s difficult to regularly make the trip up the Mountain Road,” he said, adding that “If we can’t make it to the Mountain, being a part of the Franciscan Sojourners is the next best thing.”

Dan said, “There is special delight and deep peace in traveling with other Sojourners, seeking Christ at the center of life and extending the circle out to others to make all things new.  The blessing of the Sojourners is that people can form a network of spiritual growth.“

“People are looking for a deeper spiritual and personal relationship with God, I think, more than what is available through weekly attendance at Mass,” said Donovan.

Retreats to Add Depth and Participants
Other locations where Franciscan Sojourner programs will be held this year include Connecticut, Chicago, and Binghamton, Rochester, and Buffalo.  A planning meeting was held by Donovan on May 8 to organize an inaugural event in Connecticut.

Several retreats are being planned for the Mountain to plan the Franciscan Sojourner group and to discuss how interested volunteers can support each of the interdependent groups, Mike said. These “summer getaways” are on the weekends of June 22 and August 3 and are open to all SBU alumni, spouses and friends.

Once the process of arranging and publicizing the Franciscan Sojourners becomes established, the steering committee anticipates that each gathering will comprise 15 to 20 participants.  Most Sojourners gatherings will be held in private homes; Mountain on the Road programs, on the other hand, are usually conducted in church halls or college meeting rooms.

In the Franciscan tradition, it is important to open our homes, Dan said. These Sojourners are finding new ways to find the home within themselves and offer it to others. They aim to enable participants to experience a sense of “coming home.”

As its brochure says, the Franciscan Sojourners community is an outreach of Mt. Irenaeus providing service to those who seek the Franciscan Way.

Information about the retreats and the Franciscan Sojourners is available by contacting Michelle Marcellin at Mt. Irenaeus Information is also available on the Mt. Irenaeus Web Site.

Reservations for any of The Mountain’s events can be made by contacting Louis McCormick.

— Jocelyn is Director of Communications for Holy Name Province.