For interview and photo requests, contact Jocelyn Thomas, director of communications, at 646-473-0265 or JThomas@HNP.org.
NEW YORK — Jan. 3, 2020 — The Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province (HNP) are withdrawing from the Parish of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in Wood-Ridge, N.J. Ministerial responsibilities and administrative operations will be turned over to the Archdiocese of Newark this summer, ending 94 years of pastoral service by the friars at the North Jersey parish.
HNP’s Administration cited the challenges of a declining friar population, whose insufficient numbers make it difficult for the Province to staff all of the Fraternities-in-Mission it has served in the past. The diminished numbers also make it impossible to maintain a core component of the Franciscan Order – friars living and ministering together in fraternal community.
In 1985, just 35 years ago, HNP had 708 friars, a number that dropped to 443 in 2001, and currently stands at a little less than 300. While there are a number of men in the initial formation process, just three friars have professed their solemn vows since August 2018.
In addition to Assumption Parish, today’s announcement identified eight other Fraternity-in-Mission sites from which friars will withdraw this summer. One of the sites, a mall ministry in upstate New York, will be permanently closed, while responsibilities and operations of the others will be turned over to their respective dioceses.
This is the culmination of a more than two-year collegial process that HNP called “Fraternal Ecology” – an initiative that engaged the participation of virtually all friars, as well as local dioceses and lay partners, in evaluating the future sustainability of the Province’s 30 Fraternities-in-Mission, among them parishes, elementary schools, colleges, urban ministry centers, soup kitchens, and other pastoral and social justice ministries.
“This was a deliberate, measured and comprehensive process that consisted of dozens of meetings and site visits, and dialogue with all interested parties, which generated studies and reports that ultimately helped guide the Provincial Council’s final decisions on the Fraternities-in-Mission where friars would remain, and those where they would be withdrawn,” explained Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM, provincial minister of the New York City-based Holy Name Province, the largest Order of Friars Minor community in the U.S. whose members model their life after the Roman Catholic saint, St. Francis of Assisi, who founded the Order 800 years ago.
“It was collaborative and transparent discernment marked by frank discussion and honest assessment and evaluation by our friars and lay partners in ministry, as well as the dioceses where our Fraternities-in-Mission are located. The council made its final decisions after careful thought and prayerful reflection,” Fr. Mullen said.
“Our departure from Assumption Parish, as well as the other eight Fraternities-in-Mission, inevitably will bring disappointment and sadness – which are natural emotions because of the nearly one century of association between the Franciscans and generations of families in the Wood-Ridge community. The decision to withdraw from the parish was not taken lightly,” continued Fr. Mullen, “and, in fact, was very difficult and painful – as with the other Fraternities-in-Mission where we have announced our departure. But despite our long history and rich tradition since 1926 at Assumption Parish, the reality of our declining numbers – and the challenges and strain it places on our ability to fulfill our fraternal mission – made this a pragmatic and necessary decision.”
The provincial minister added, “We have been spread too thin for quite some time. The ‘Fraternal Ecology’ process has allowed us to reset and right-size our ministerial commitments. Since our fraternal life is central to our vocation – living in community and serving together as brothers – this will help our friars more effectively serve the people in our ministry environments and Fraternities-in-Mission, as well as the Church.”
Fr. Mullen said the Province was grateful to the “good and faith-filled parishioners of Assumption Parish for the support, collaboration, generosity and warm embrace” extended to friars for the past 94 years. “We are confident that we are leaving the parish stronger and more robust than when we first arrived,” said Fr. Mullen who noted that the transition to the Archdiocese of Newark later this year would be a seamless one.
Franciscan tradition and ideals are deeply rooted at the parish founded by HNP in 1926, when the church was built and Wood-Ridge residents no longer had to travel to neighboring towns for Sunday Mass. The parish elementary school opened 12 years later. In 1958, a new church was built to meet the growing population, followed by an addition to the school in 1965. Declining enrollment after the 2008 recession forced the school to close, but funds from the sale of the building were used to renovate the church and parish hall, the latter which serves as a center for the parish’s numerous ministries, programs and activities.
Besides Assumption Parish, HNP announced the withdrawal of its friars from the following Fraternities-in-Mission:
- St. Francis Chapel – Colonie, New York (a mall ministry that is closing)
- St. Mary of the Angels Parish – Anderson, South Carolina
- Catholic Center at the University of Georgia – Athens, Georgia
- St. Anthony of Padua Parish – Greenville, South Carolina
- Parish of the Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great – New York City
- St. Joseph-St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish – Orlando, Florida
- St. Francis of Assisi Parish – Raleigh, North Carolina
- St. Paul and St. Joseph Parishes – Wilmington, Delaware
About Holy Name Province
Holy Name Province is the largest of seven entities in the United States belonging to the Order of Friars Minor. The Order, founded in 1209 by St. Francis of Assisi, commemorated its 800th anniversary in 2009. Today, St. Francis, whose feast day is Oct. 4, remains one of the most widely known saints, revered for his affection for nature and care for creation.
Information about Holy Name Province can be found on HNP.org. News about its friars and events can be found on the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province Facebook page.