NEW YORK — At what was called a “rehearsal of the heavenly banquet,” more than 100 people gathered last week to celebrate 25 years of service and friendship generated by the Province’s Franciscan Volunteer Ministry. They enjoyed Mass, a reception, and time to share memories and news with FVMs past and present.
Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, FVM’s new president, celebrated the July 26 Mass in the lower chapel of St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street. Several other friars participated, including Michael Duffy, OFM, a FVM founder, who presented the homily, and Claude Lenehan, OFM, of Butler, N.J., and Patrick Sieber, OFM, of Philadelphia, who concelebrated. The 4 p.m. liturgy was followed by a reception in the Province’s San Damiano Hall where attendees — current and past FVMs and their guests — were treated to refreshments and a slide show.
Since 1989, the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry has given young adults the opportunity to donate a year or more of their lives serving the poor at the Province’s ministries. Alumni from 23 of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry’s 25 years attended the celebration and group photos were taken of people who have been stationed at each site — Boston, Buffalo, N.Y., Camden, N.J., Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del.
“It was wonderful to see how many people have been affected by the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry,” said Michael, who has served as supervisor of the Philadelphia site for a quarter century. “This program really instills Franciscan spirit. It brought together many people who had never met, yet who have the same background with the Franciscans and a similar outlook on life.”
The Mass was “glorious,” said Katie Sullivan, executive director of the FVM program since 1998. “It was a sacred and life-giving celebration of the Eucharist. Michael’s homily wove together the origins of FVM, the power of transforming a negative answer into a positive, of the growing family of FVM, of what it really means in Jesus’ eyes to be ‘great,’ and of the legacy and continuation of the life of FVM through our alums and their families.”
Guests at the anniversary celebration enjoyed “being immersed in the joy of Franciscans, of remembering and celebrating the gift of and importance of serving each other, and of remembering and celebrating the call that we all have to pray, to live simply, to have people rather than material things be priorities, and to love all of our brothers and sisters,” Sullivan added.
Leo Vaccaro, a volunteer from 2009 to 2010, observed, “This celebration allowed me to reflect about how working as an FVM changed me and my perspective on life. If I had to look for a distinctive mark of FVM that unites it as a community and differentiates it from other yearlong volunteer groups, I would say that it is a group that leads with joyfulness.”
Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan, OFM, appreciated the opportunity to be with so many people that have been part of the FVM program through the years. “The celebration was a wonderful reunion, and I was grateful to see some of the FVMs from my years in Boston and Siena College, especially those I have not seen in some time.”
Michael first connected with the FVM program in the late 1980s when he and the friars serving at St. Francis Retreat Center in Rye Beach, N.H., hosted the FVMs for their opening and closing retreats. Michael went on to serve as site supervisor, from 1993 to 1995, while living at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston. He was also a member of the FVM Board of Trustees from 1996 to 2005 while serving at Siena College.
“I continue to be grateful that I have been able to support the FVM program through the years,” he said.
Christopher Posch, OFM, of Wilmington, enjoyed seeing “alumni volunteers, many of their spouses and children, ministerial supervisors and various extended FVM family members in the same room all at one, eating, drinking, being merry, and sharing memories and hopes. It was a rehearsal of the heavenly banquet.”
The friars’ presence at the anniversary made visible the Franciscan identity of the program, said Sullivan.
“The friars have dedicated their lives to following Jesus and to lives of community, of service, of poverty, and of obedience,” Sullivan noted. “Their joy and dedication serve as encouragement and models for us. Their presence showed their investment and commitment to walking with and sharing their lives with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministers and all whose lives they touch.”
Looking back on the history of the program was a way for friars and FVMs to celebrate its significance. Many commented on the powerful impact of the program.
“My Franciscan vocation has been profoundly enriched by the FVM’s truth-seeking, connecting faith with action, wrestling with dragons, longing for union with the Almighty, selfless giving, articulating thought-provoking questions and outrage, maximizing each moment, and simply having a good time and enjoying life’s many blessings,” said Christopher. “This is a life-changing experience for participants of the Franciscan Volunteer program.”
Christopher Keenan, OFM, of New York City, said that the community at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia and others like it have for 25 years “put in Panasonic vision and ‘surround sound’ the Province’s vision of “partnership-in-ministry with the laity. The program resounds the call of our last two Provincial Chapter themes: ‘Where our greatest desire meets the world’s greatest need’ and ‘Being who we say we are.’
“Whatever their professions in life, the FVM participants seem radically changed by the program in the way they see and respond with the gift of their lives for the rest of their lives,” added Christopher. He supports the program by both fundraising and encouraging college students to volunteer at St. Francis Inn.
The event continued for nearly seven hours and was organized by a team of former FVMs.
The planning committee of five included Sullivan, who served as an FVM from 1995 to 97, and Vaccaro, a member of the FVM Board of Directors, as well as Kathryn Getek Soltis, a member of the FVM Board of Advisors, Matthew Johnson, FVM associate director, who created the slide show, and Andrea Messina Smargiassi, of the FVM Board of Advisors. The music planners were Tim Quinn, and Tammy Kinney, two recent FVMs.
Others involved with organizing the event were Fred Dilger, OFM, who is stationed at St. Francis Inn, Philadelphia, and Barbara Salapek, a former FVM who planned the chapel ambiance, and Katie Anderson, a former FVM who created the Mass program.
Christopher Posch thanked Sullivan for her longtime service as the ministry’s director.
“Often, one’s first exposure to the FVM program is through Katie Sullivan, which is a great first impression,” noted Christopher Posch. “She is a warm, welcoming, thoughtful, and wise sister who embodies Francis and Clare all wrapped into one. She balances her many responsibilities heroically, goes the extra mile, gently and effectively challenges, and sees her position not as a job, but as a ministry.” Sullivan welcomes young adults curious about the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry to contact her at FVMEDir@gmail.com for information about the program.
More photos of the event can be found on the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry’s Facebook page.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.