Franciscan Volunteer Ministry Celebrates History, Seeks New Associate Director

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province

It was an eventful summer for Franciscan Volunteer Ministry – from launching the search for a new associate director to celebrating three decades of service at a reception in New York City, to kicking off its 31st year with an orientation retreat for the 2019-20 Franciscan Volunteer Ministers.

In addition to the joy of celebrating the 30th anniversary with a reunion-like reception, and the excitement of welcoming this year’s Franciscan Volunteer Ministers, the FVM community is busy with the search for a new associate director, according to Katie Sullivan, the organization’s executive director.

The associate director, a full-time position based in Philadelphia, assists with the administration of the program, with a focus on marketing and promoting FVM, recruiting Franciscan Volunteers – which includes visits to colleges and universities (mostly those run by Franciscans and those with a Franciscan presence) – and maintaining alumni relations.

Candidates for the position, says Sullivan, should have a bachelor’s degree and the ability to demonstrate a passion for Franciscan-based service. The position requires a significant amount of travel, according to information on the FVM website, which provides a detailed job description.

Applicants should send resumes to Sullivan by Sept. 15.

The previous associate director, Lizzy Heurich, served in the position for nearly three years before leaving in June.

FVMs and their guests celebrate the 30-year anniversary at a reception this summer in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Katie Sullivan)

Reunion Feel to 30th Anniversary Reception
On July 20, more than 100 guests, including former Franciscan Volunteer Ministers, friends, family, friars, and supporters, attended the gathering at HNP’s San Damiano Hall on 31st Street to commemorate FVM’s 30th anniversary. The reception was held following a late afternoon Mass next door at St. Francis of Assisi Church attended by many of the former volunteers.

“It was a wonderful gathering that had a ‘reunion’ feel to it – bringing together people who had little to no contact with each other for years,” said Ron Pecci, OFM, one of the first friars to be part of the program when it was established three decades ago.

“It was a delight to see some of our former FVMs, remembering them as young adults and now with children of their own – and some even with grandchildren,” added Ron, who noted that the FVM program has largely involved men and women joining shortly after college graduation, although others were in their late teens and some in their 30s when they served.

The Franciscan Volunteer Ministers look back to their service as a significant time in their life, according to Ron, who served  in Buffalo, N.Y., from 1989 to 1990 and 1998 to ’99 and in Camden from 2016 to ’17.

“That year of service had a major influence on the direction and path of their adult lives. Most of the former volunteers are now in ‘helping’ and service professions, such as education, social work, health care, advocacy, and law. They are still volunteering in their local communities and look back frequently and fondly to their time as  Franciscan Volunteer Ministers,” said Ron, who now lives in the Bronx, N.Y. “The anniversary celebration was a renewing experience for me, especially realizing that I had facilitated a very significant phase in the lives of the volunteers.”

Student friar James La Grutta, OFM, who served as a Volunteer Minister from 2013-14 and 2015-16, said the celebration was particularly special because it enabled him to connect with people he hadn’t seen for a few years. It also prompted him to reflect on the impact of his FVM experience on his discernment of religious life.

“The event brought everyone together under one roof and it also provided the opportunity to thank the founders and leaders of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry,” James said. “The program helped me find my calling. I remember being at St. Bonaventure University as part of an FVM program when I felt the call to Franciscan life. My time as a Volunteer Minister was life-changing. It enabled me to see poverty firsthand and it taught me about community – two very important lessons.”

James, who said he was glad to be able to attend the event as a friar, wearing his habit, enjoyed meeting members of the first class of FVM. Three were there. The Volunteer Ministry was established on the request of graduates of Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y.-based college who had interest in volunteering post-graduation for one year with a service organization that would continue the Franciscan charism instilled in them as Siena students. Surprised to learn that no such organization existed, their desire to serve and grow in Franciscan values was instrumental in the creation of the FVM program.

Nearly 200 photos of the anniversary reception were posted on the FVM’s Facebook page, along with the message that proclaimed: “A fabulous time was had by all. Many thanks to all who made it a reality and who came from near and far.”

Ten Volunteers for 2019-20
Turning the page on three decades, 10 Franciscan Volunteer Ministers for 2019-20 began their year – and FVM’s 31st year – with a retreat during the week of Aug. 19 at Loyola-on-the-Potomac, a Jesuit retreat house in Newburg, Maryland. Four of the volunteers are serving a second year with the program.

The three friars who serve as site supervisors are, left to right,  Hugh Macsherry, Michael Duffy, and Chris Posch. (Photo courtesy of Katie Sullivan)

Before beginning their work in friar communities, mostly in service to the poor, needy and marginalized, the volunteers participated in the orientation retreat with the three friars – Michael Duffy, OFM, Hugh Macsherry, OFM, and Christopher Posch, OFM – who will be their supervisors and spiritual directors at the three ministry sites, which are St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, North Carolina, and St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland. The retreat included presentations by three FVM alumni.

“The experience, as our retreats always try to, captured the spirit and purpose of the volunteer ministry – which provides an environment for young adults to grow in faith, love and hope by serving those on the margins and by advocating for social justice through Holy Name Province ministries” said Sullivan, who served as an FVM in from 1995 to 97.

During the retreat, discussions were held on several themes and subjects to lay the groundwork for the next 12 months – including FVM’s history, Sts. Francis and Clare, Franciscan simplicity, and intercultural communication. The FVM alumni spoke about intentional community, Franciscan ministry, and power and privilege.

The 2019-20 Franciscan Volunteer Ministers also participated in orientations at their respective ministry sites before officially beginning their volunteer year.

Their service will include tutoring, mentoring and teaching religious education and English as a new language to elementary school children; working at food pantries, soup kitchens and other “reality” ministries; providing interview coaching and job preparation to people trying to acclimate back into the mainstream; working in hospital and prison ministry, and serving in adult religious education and immigration programs, as well as various parish and pastoral ministries. the Franciscan  Volunteers often find themselves contributing in ways they never anticipated, particularly when their talents and skills are a match for a particular need that arises.

Each Franciscan Volunteer Minister is matched with a ministry that suits his or her skills, and where their gifts will flourish, according to Sullivan, who recently produced a video in which the new volunteers described what Franciscan means to them.

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.