Franciscan Volunteer Ministers in Three Cities Near End of Satisfying Year

HNP Communications Features

For the past year, the Franciscan Volunteer Ministers (FVMs) have continued working alongside the Franciscan communities at three locations: St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, N.J., at St. Paul’s and St. Joseph’s in Wilmington, Del., and at the St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, Pa.

Their role involves working with grade school students, homeless men, women, and children, and people affected by HIV/AIDS.

In late March,the FVMs participated in their spring retreat at Mt. Irenaeus Franciscan Mountain Retreat in Western New York where they reflected on their experiences over the past year in light of social justice and simplicity, said FVM Kelly Zientak. See Photo Gallery. The volunteers will end their year of service with a closing retreat in West Virginia in mid-July.

Recently the FVMs participated in a prayer walk in Camden.

The Franciscan Volunteer Ministry is a one-year commitment to community, ministry and expressed prayer.  It begins in mid-August and ends in mid-July, with the option to apply for a second year. This year, six of the 13 were returning volunteers. Joanne Lannan and Kelly Zientek plan to return for the 2007 to 2008 FVM year. Both Joanne and Kelly live and serve in Camden, which opened as an FVM site last year.

Most of the current volunteers will conclude their time as FVMs this summer. Many of the volunteers hope to remain in the area where they have lived as FVMs. Two volunteers will continue their studies; Mike Smith plans to pursue his masters degree in English at Boston College, and Matt Johnson plans to complete his bachelor’s degree at Temple University, which he delayed two years to volunteer. Renée Willey and Jamie Ryder, second-year FVMs at the St. Francis Inn, plan to remain there as full-time team members.

Since there are still volunteer opportunities open for the coming year, the FVMs ask that anyone who is interested in volunteering to contact program director Katie Sullivan at or 215-427-3070.

Reflection from a Wilmington FVM
A Franciscan Volunteer Minister based in Wilmington — Debbie Holihan — recently shared reflections about the effect that her FVM experience has had on her. Her story is below.

“But Debbie, how do you expect me to forgive my mother’s murderer?  I was only eight when it happened.  I still have mommy’s encyclopedias stained with her blood.”

“I’m 55 years old and not a day goes by when I don’t think about what my father did to me – he molested me for eight years, starting when I was five.  I lost all my innocence.  He’s an evil, evil man.  A father’s supposed to love and protect his children.”

“It should’ve been me dead.  I held my sister in my arms when she passed.  With her last breath she told me to try to give love a chance.  She took the blame for my drug dealing.  That bullet should’ve hit me.”

These are just some of the stories that have been shared in my Healing group at the women’s prison in Delaware.  Now serving my second year as Franciscan Volunteer in Wilmington, my experiences have been nothing but a blessing filled with God’s grace, joy, and love.  I also serve as an English-as-a –second-language instructor for adults, a religious education teacher for our fourth grade parishioners at St. Paul, boys basketball coach for the school, Development assistant, and a migrant worker minister.  But don’t be fooled – I don’t do it all at the same time of the year!

Among the most profound ministries in my time as a Franciscan Volunteer have been inside a place where many wouldn’t expect to find sheer happiness — prison.  I have the privilege to spend Tuesday mornings with 10 women inside Unit 6 leading a healing group. We talk about everything from anger and grief to meditation and forgiveness.  There is so much pain and suffering inside those walls, it can be overwhelming.  But as we are in the midst of the season of Lent, I am reminded of Jesus’ own pain and suffering.

And then I think of what my women say and the most horrific abuses and traumatic experiences they have been through.  How can I possibly understand what they are feeling?

Jesus.  Jesus was sentenced to death.  Jesus forgave his prosecutors.  Jesus knows what they are feeling.  Jesus wants us to be happy and to love one another as he loves each of us.

What can I do for these women?  I can’t take away any of their pain, but I can listen to their stories attentively and just be with them as they cry out their pain, yell out their pain, and even some hope in their pain.

Perhaps the greatest gift of being a Franciscan Volunteer is simply being present with the suffering, guilty, shameful, bitter, angry and scared people in our society, the “lepers.”  Whether it be a woman trying to forgive her dead father for molesting her, listening and supporting an immigrant in prison on the road to probable deportation, or a child with a troubled home life.  Ministering to the most vulnerable and broken in society makes more sense when I think about Jesus’ life, especially his pain and suffering.

But through that pain and suffering there is always hope.  God has blessed me with the gift of seeing that in others and in their situations.  My time as a Franciscan Volunteer is precious and “been especial,” so special.  It has been the most significant and important transformation of my life.  God is good, God is really really good!!