Friars Gather at Historic Meeting in Denver

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

Friars from around the country gathered for fraternity, discussions, and prayers. (Photo courtesy of Frank Jasper, OFM)

DENVER, Colo. – History was made this summer when nearly 400 Franciscan friars from 25 states, as well as Canada, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, and the Philippines, gathered in unity and fraternity at the Chapter of Mats – an event whose environment at times was filled with the joyful atmosphere of a family reunion, and at other times the more serious tones of a business meeting, and still other times it could have been mistaken for a collection of focus groups.

Words like enlightening, honest and hopeful have been used to describe the event – a first-of-its-kind weeklong gathering of friars from the six U.S. provinces participating in the Revitalization and Restructuring Process. The Chapter was a step closer toward the formation of one coast-to-coast Franciscan fraternity, as it enabled friars to get to know their brothers and learn about the other OFM provinces in the United States.

A good portion of the Chapter was consumed with friars talking with their brothers — both those they knew and those they met during the week. (Photos courtesy of Frank Jasper, OFM)

Revitalization of Franciscan life and ministry in America is the key objective of the multi-year process of restructuring, which began in May 2018 when friars of the six provinces voted to support the creation of a new province that will consist of more than 800 priests and brothers who are part of the worldwide Order of Friars Minor.

All of the six provinces, which are involved in comprehensive dialogue and planning of the restructuring of their provinces since 2012, participated in the Chapter – including Holy Name Province; Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province which is headquartered in Franklin, Wisc.; Our Lady of Guadalupe Province in Albuquerque, N.M.; Sacred Heart Province in St. Louis, Mo.; St. Barbara Province in Oakland, Calif., and St. John the Baptist Province in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“The Chapter of Mats was a significant event in the lives of the Order in the United States,” said Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM. “Hundreds of brothers came together for several days to pray, to meet one another, and to share their hopes and dreams for a common future. The event itself was a great revitalizing moment for our Franciscan lives.

“The friars experienced the sentiment of the famous reflection of St. Francis in his testament ‘… the Lord gave me brothers.’ The Chapter of Mats was a work of the Lord,” Kevin added. “The steering committee did an outstanding job in planning, guiding and executing the agenda and flow of the Chapter.”

Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, was also encouraged by the Chapter’s unifying element.

Lawrence Ford, one of the Chapter organizers, gives information  to the friars. (Photo courtesy of Frank Jasper OFM)

“As I looked out at the assembled brothers, I instinctively felt that the history and work of the Franciscans in the United States is not at an end,” said Larry. “What struck me most forcefully at the Chapter was the positive energy and warm fraternity quickly generated by the gathering of so many friars from across the country.”

Larry continued, “The personal sharing of the brothers in witness talks, and the inspiring preaching at the liturgies filled me with a deepened appreciation of the goodness, wisdom, passion, and talent of our national brotherhood. The table conversations confirmed my experience that we have so much in common despite our distinct provincial cultures. This is a marriage that bodes well in so many ways.”

Jack Clark Robinson, OFM, provincial minister of OLG Province, agreed that the commonality of the provinces is a strength that will help make the transition for the US-6 a smooth one. “We have much in common with our brothers around the country,” according to Jack. “This Chapter gave us a chance to get to know more about each other and strengthen the bonds that unite us.”

A spirit of familiarity was evident from the first day of Chapter, as friars gave shouts of recognition to other friars as they arrived, and laughter rang throughout the atrium of the hotel.

The Chapter was organized by a committee comprising one member of each participating province: John Barker, OFM, of St. John the Baptist, who served as committee chairman; Lawrence Ford, OFM, of Holy Name; Robert Hutmacher, OFM, of Sacred Heart; Maxwell Kluge, OFM, of  Assumption BVM, and Sam Nasada, OFM, of St. Barbara. It was held in Denver because of its central location, and since it is a major city without a provincial headquarters.

A Week of Varied Components
The Chapter of Mats, which began on July 29 and ended on Aug. 2, included presentations, prayer, meals, a game, excursions in and around Denver, and the reception of 11 novices into the Order. Minister General Michael Perry, OFM, opened the meeting with a recorded video message in which he emphasized the importance of the Chapter.

The chapter meeting room accommodated the 400 assembled friars. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran, OFM)

“What you are doing this week is in step with what’s going on around the Order,” Michael said. “You’re there to share your dreams and to deepen your bonds. It is a time to talk about anything and everything.”

Michael’s message set the tone for the week – for a meeting at which there was no standard business agenda and no specific established objectives, aside from the goal of providing a venue for friars to get to know one another.

“As I like to say, we cannot have revitalization of Franciscan life if we don’t have revitalization of Franciscan lives,” said the general.

Each day, friars were asked to share their ideas about three topics with others who sat at their tables. They were given these questions:

  • What did you hear that struck a chord or that resonated with you?
  • What are your hopes for revitalization, and what personal challenges do you see for yourself?
  • What excites you when you think of the future of Franciscans?

Throughout the week, 12 friars gave “witness talks” in which they described their Franciscan journeys and what motivates them about the revitalization process. In addition, friars attended presentations about province image. At these sessions, a member of each province presented – often with humor – his views on the perception by friars outside his province. Dominic Monti, OFM, gave Holy Name’s reputation presentation.

The provincials squared off against the vicars in a Franciscan version of Family Feud, with General Councilor Caoimhín Ó Laoide as M.C. (Photo courtesy of Frank Jasper, OFM)

HNP friars who gave witness talks were Hugh Macsherry, OFM, and Dennis Tamburello, OFM.

Discussing common interests was an important exercise throughout the week. Friars were given the opportunity on two days to join others with interests in more than 20 topics, ranging from elder care and immigration  to vocations and campus ministry.

Despite the unity theme that abounded, a mid-week game of “Family Feud” kept the atmosphere amusing and light. In the morning activity, which included music from the popular television game show, teams of provincials and vicars tried their best to guess answers given by friars to four questions. The quips by participants and the moderator – Caoimhín Ó Laoide, OFM, of Ireland – were entertaining and generated enthusiastic laughter.

Feedback of Hope and Encouragement
The format of the weeklong historic Chapter elicited positive feedback from many friars.

“I was surprised by the number of friars from all the different provinces who attended,” said Brian Smail, OFM. “It showed that there is a real interest among the friars to come together and begin the process of getting to know one another. I thought it was very well organized and allowed plenty of time for friars to interact with one another, whether at table discussions, the evening socials, or the outings. I really enjoyed the outing into the mountains to Echo Lake.”

Brian added, “For me, as a former vocation director, it was a great opportunity to reconnect with friars I have come to know in the other provinces over the years – and, of course, it was nice to meet some new friars as well.”

Casey Cole, OFM, of Athens, Ga., said that being at the Chapter “was one of the most fun and encouraging things I’ve done as a friar.” He posted a video about the gathering.

The “positive energy” at the event did not go unnoticed by Gregory Jakubowicz, OFM, of Buffalo.

Liturgy and prayer was an important part of the Chapter. (Photo courtesy of Frank Jasper, OFM)

“Everyone I encountered wanted to be there and was excited about the revitalization the provinces are undertaking. I particularly found the table discussions with brothers from other provinces to be enlightening and honest,” said Gregory. “Even with the many hurdles yet to come in the restructuring process, I left the Chapter more hopeful. I hope we have at least one more Chapter of Mats like this before 2023, when the US-6 becomes a new province.”

Stephen Kluge, OFM of Raleigh, N.C., said, “I thought this was the best chapter I’ve ever attended. Basically a ‘meet and greet,’ I found the table conversations and interest group discussions honest, sometimes humorous, and hopeful. The highlights were praying for our deceased brothers, not as members of different provinces, but as our brothers. The second highlight was the reception of novices. Many thanks must be given to our brothers who worked so hard to make this a blessed success.”

During the Chapter, daily reports were emailed to the members of the US-6 provinces participating in the Revitalization and Restructuring Process. With photos, videos and brief articles, these reports summarized each day’s activities. This kept friars, who couldn’t attend the Chapter for one reason or another, apprised of what was happening in Denver. These emails were produced by a communications team of friars and lay staff members – and their work was appreciated by those who stayed back at their ministries.

“The team members worked many hours to make sure that information and, just as importantly, the spirit of the gathering was conveyed,” said John Eaton, OFM, provincial vicar of Sacred Heart Province.

The Chapter of Mats is one phase of a process of forming the new province, a process that also includes considerations related to civil and canon law. The provincial ministers, who hold regular video conference meetings, are working to identify and hire a consultant to lead the strategy and communications for the balance of the R&R Process. The provincials expect the unification to be completed by early 2023.

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