Friars Gather at Chapter of Mats

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — Nearly half of Holy Name  Province’s friars gathered earlier this month for meetings, meals, and conversation at their Chapter of Mats at Siena College here.

The 186 friars came from all parts of the world – China, India, Peru and areas of the United States stretching from New England to Florida – and represented a variety of expertise and ministry.  Gathered together from June 5 to June 8 were pastors, professors, missionaries, soup kitchen managers, prison ministers, retreat leaders, spiritual directors, formation directors, and a bishop.

For three days, Chapter participants reviewed their Province – its strengths and interests – in order to develop a vision statement that would put into words the identity of the community and the focus of its ministry and fraternity.

The event was organized by the Province’s Visioning and Planning Committee, formed in 2005, to guide the Province toward the future. At its 2005 Provincial Chapter, the friars said that it was important to focus on sharpening a vision and establishing a plan.

Statistics show that the size of the Province is shrinking; it now has 377 members compared with 495 in 1997, just 10 years ago.  To be able to serve as strongly as the Province has done in the past, the community is examining where ito focus its energy. Personnel and resources will be assigned where most appropriate based on many studies including the discussions held at the chapter of mats.

“It is important for our provincial leadership to know what the friars are committed to regarding how we live together, who we believe we are called to serve, and where we can best witness Gospel values to the Church and the world, going forward, ” said Francis Gunn, chair of the V&P Committee.

Provincial Minister John O’Connor opened the chapter by telling the friars that he hoped they would accomplish five “R’s” during their gathering: re-create (meaning work for a vision that will name our future), recommit (strengthen the commitment to the life and work of the Province), renew (invite the Lord to accompany the friars on their journey), reconnect (get to know each other , to deepen the bond of brotherhood and friendship), and participate in recreation (reminisce, laugh).

The facilitators of the chapter were Dominic Perri and George Wilson, SJ, specialists in providing process guidance to groups across the United States in the areas of visioning and strategic planning.  Dominic, who has experience with many dioceses across the United States , as well as the Paulist Fathers and the Society of Jesus, has worked with the visioning and planning committee since last fall in developing its draft vision statements to assist with focusing the friars in their work.

Format Encouraged Discussion
During each day of the chapter, the facilitators asked attendees to discuss with other friars at their tables specific exercises geared toward drawing opinions of draft vision statements.  By providing clear instructions and setting timeframes for these discussions, they were able to encourage the friars to openly discuss their desires and concerns about the Province’s work.

Before the gathering, a leader and approximately eight participants were selected for each of the 24 tables of friars.  At the table discussions, the friars analyzed the merit of more than a dozen vision statements, divided into two categories – ministry and fraternity – with varying themes.  The differences in the statements were in the amount of emphasis each encouraged placing on a variety of work ranging from parishes, schools, immigration work, justice and peace initiatives as well as the living style of the friars.

The format used was a process developed by MDI, an organization based in Cincinnati, Ohio, with which both George and Dominic have worked, Dominic said, adding that George has more than 30 years experience facilitating church groups across the United States.

The facilitators instructed chapter participants to dissect, discuss and reword the statements to bring to the attention of the V&P committee and, in turn, the Provincial administration aspects that they like and dislike. They also had the friars quiet time each day to pray about the assignment.

Each day of the chapter began with morning prayer and ended with dinner. The atmosphere on the campus during the chapter was one of camaraderie.  Many friars who had not seen each other for some time were eager to update each other on their lives and ministries. Some did this casually while others did this in group format.

A summary of the chapter’s table discussions will be complied and reviewed by members of the visioning and planning committee who are meeting June 22 in the Provincial Office in New York City. A preliminary review of evaluations shows that  75% of the friars were pleased with the content of the chapter, John O’Connor said.

Discussions Generate Optimism
The chapter was successful in achieving the goals for which V&P Committee was hoping, according to Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti.

 “I was very happy with the dynamics of the table discussion groups,” he said.  “The resulting consensus we achieved was not dramatic, but it still moved us forward.  I was especially pleased that the friars recognized that new and creative efforts will be needed to reach out to the younger generation of Catholics.”

Francis Gunn said he found the “the overall spirit of the Chapter of Mats was very fraternal, supportive, and positive.

“Many friars commented that they appreciated the test of support process we used,” Francis said.  “I think we have the information needed to formulate a vision statement that will honor the values and priorities of the friars and assist us with beginning the Strategic Plan.

Attendees also voiced their satisfaction with the chapter. Some friars said this was the best chapter they had ever been to, John said.

John Ullrich of Long Beach Island, N.J., said, “I found this Chapter of Mats a rather satisfying fraternal experience, as I would expect such a gathering to be. Personally, for me it was a good opportunity to reconnect with many of the brothers, especially because of their warm and generous support during my recent illness.

“Beyond that, I was encouraged by the progress we made on developing the strategic plan. It seemed that we were able to gain some focus on a number of important issues. In particular, I thought the group process employing a consensus-building model based on a numbered scale was very positive. People felt they were listened to, while avoiding some of the pitfalls of past meetings that could be tedious and time-consuming. I trust that the planning committee will be able to use the results well to move us along to the next phase of the plan.”

David Convertino of Boston said he “felt the Chapter of Mats was a great experience for me personally, and the other friars who went from Arch Street also certainly seemed to feel it was very worthwhile.”

“As always, just getting together and seeing friars I haven’t seen in awhile was wonderful,” David added. “I think the workload was heavy but necessary if we are going to accomplish what the last Provincial Chapter asked of us as a Province. I thought it was a very good experience, and as a member of the V&P Committee, I look forward to continuing our work toward the 2008 Chapter.”

Logistics for the chapter were organized by Michael Harlan, the Province’s Secretary, shown in photo above withDepaul Genska. Michael worked with Brian Belanger, guardian of Siena’s friary, and staff and friars at Siena College..

The Province’s most recent Chapters of Mats were held in 1989 and 2001.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.