Friars of Holy Name, St. John the Baptist and Assumption Provinces Share Thoughts on Unification of US-6

HNP Communications HNPNow

Starting with this edition and through the final publication of HNP NOW, the staff will interview friars of Holy Name Province and the other US-6 provinces, asking them to share their thoughts and reflections about the unification of the six provinces into a new national Franciscan province in the United States. Here is what the friars, who were interviewed this month, had to say.  

Michael Blastic, OFM
Holy Name Province
Instructor, The Franciscan School of Theology, San Diego, California

Strangers No More
And wherever the brothers may be and encounter one another, let them show that they are members of the same family.” (Rule of 1223, 6:7) I have been blessed throughout my Franciscan life and ministry to step into new and different opportunities on a rather regular basis: theological study at an international university in Rome, Italy; doctoral studies while residing in another province; ministries that have taken me beyond my province boundaries, living in fraternities of other provinces and obedience; participation at retreats and workshops with Franciscan men and women outside the USA; affiliation transfer from the Conventuals to Holy Name Province; collaborative formation ministry in the inter-provincial novitiate at Old Mission Santa Barbara, and in my current assignment living with brothers of St. Barbara Province and teaching at The Franciscan School of Theology in San Diego. In each of these situations, I encountered brothers and sisters who were initially “strangers” – living, praying and working in ways different than my own. But we shared a common commitment that stretched me to learn new ways of doing Franciscan life. Each of these experiences has been a source of personal renewal and growth, and has been very life-giving and enriching. Every change of location helped me see myself in a new light, discovering my strengths and weaknesses on a personal and fraternal level. We brothers of Holy Name Province have much to be proud of and thankful for in terms of what has been built and accomplished over the 122 years of our existence. At the same time, we have brothers in other provinces who have as much to celebrate and be thankful for. There are other ways of doing things, other perspectives, different experiences, and different ways of ministering to God’s people that are equally good and enriching. Sharing life with the brothers from other provinces offers us the opportunity to grow beyond ourselves and where God wants us to be, and to be renewed in spirit, perspective and action. The greatest opportunity from unification lies in the possibilities for renewal that this new experience of family offers – of being at home with the brothers that God gives me, and opening myself to the gift of that brotherhood in a new way. If we allow ourselves to be challenged and enriched by our new province, it will, in turn, enrich and challenge the people we meet and serve.

George Camacho, OFM
Holy Name Province
Director, Damietta Cross Cultural Center, Siena College, Loudonville, New York

Grounded in the Gospel

I am optimistic about this new configuration. On a practical level, it will open new opportunities for dynamic ministries and revitalize the ones that exist. It will open new connections with friars and, in my case as someone who went through the interprovincial formation process, the opportunity to build on some of the fraternal relationships with friars from other legacy provinces. I am excited for the revitalization of what makes us friars – living Gospel values and living with integrity. We should always be doing this, but the new province presents an intentional opportunity to revitalize our spiritual, contemplative, and relational side. This kind of change opens up opportunity for greater self-awareness and to be the best friar I can be. There’s the public side of what we do professionally, sacramentally, and ministerially – all of which is important and wonderful. But there is the part that no one sees that’s equally important – our friar life, how we engage in local fraternities. This new configuration is an opportunity to revitalize our life in fraternity and how we engage and project the Gospel values publicly and fraternally. This is what grounds us, treating each other respectfully and with Gospel values. I hope the new province makes us better colleagues and better representatives of the Church. This could be scary for people who don’t understand; they might think they are losing the friars. But I am hoping it makes us better brothers – that we have respect for everyone. I am hoping it gives us greater compassion that drives how we treat each other. This gives us prayerful spiritual grounding. In my experiences as a friar, I have seen how lay people and ordinary church folks feel reassured by the friars, especially in moments of crisis. They find comfort in knowing that we pray for them when they don’t have time to pray, and that we are their link to God. Their connection to God is their connection to us – and that’s a sense of responsibility we can build upon.

Casey Cole, OFM
Holy Name Province
Parish Administrator, Holy Spirit Church, Macon, Georgia

Dream Big of What Might Be Possible

I’m excited about the emphasis on revitalizing our brotherhood and seeking a universal mission together. While friars from other provinces knew each other and may have even worked together in passing, there was a sense of distinction that kept us separate, not only in residence but in imagination. I’ve been inspired over the past few months to hear about new fraternal opportunities and friars coming together from other provinces to share what they’ve done well in the past and to learn from one another for the future. It has me thinking – for the first time since, maybe, novitiate – what might be possible. I hope that others take this opportunity to dream big. We are not bound by the provincial structures that led us here. We are simply called to live the Gospel in our world today. The possibilities before us are far greater in number than the ones we’ve already established.

Thomas Gerchak, OFM
St. John the Baptist Province
Guardian, Nursing Home Fraternity, Cincinnati, Ohio

 A Delicate Balance

I look forward to hearing the ideas of our younger friars. I see our new province as being in a delicate balance. We want to care for each other as we grow older, while at the same time provide opportunities for ministries that will engage our culture and reach out to the poor and marginalized. It is encouraging that we will have a core of friars who are willing to address our administrative and fraternal needs, and younger friars who have the energy, courage, and generosity to give their lives to the poor in the Spirit of the Gospel.

Kevin Hamzik, OFM
Holy Name Province
St. Joseph Interprovincial Post-Novitiate House, Chicago, Illinois

Leaving the Comfort Zones

All four years of my formation have been interprovincial, so all I’ve known since entering the Order – even though it was with Holy Name Province – has been interprovincial life. It has been great because I’ve been able to meet a lot more friars from around the country. But now going forward, all of us will be able to do that. Unification of the provinces will push us to renew ourselves in our fraternal lives. As we go through the growing pains of becoming a new province, we will look to each other – even to brothers who are new to us – for help and support. We may not get everything perfect the first time around, but we will move forward together by helping and trusting each other as brothers. Our unification will present new ministerial opportunities and will push us to continue to go outside our comfort zones, just as Francis and the early brothers did. I think we can look to our namesake, Our Lady of Guadalupe, as we begin our new provincial lives together. Just as Our Lady was a sign to the Mexican people that God had not forgotten them, we as friars are presented with a new way to minister to those in our society that remain forgotten. Moving forward into the new province will allow us to open ourselves up to these different opportunities to continue to spread the love of God through our Franciscan values.

Linh Hoang, OFM
Holy Name Province
Professor, Religious Studies, Siena College, Loudonville, New York, and active in Asian and Pacific Islander Catholic ministry

 The New Province Is on Old Land

Change brings the excitement of new opportunities and a yearning to keep things the same. This sentiment provides a tempered balance when discussing the new province. As the months yield to the official start, I am trying to put this all into perspective. I am looking forward to attending the Chapter of Unity in mid-October as a delegate. It is an honor to be able to vote in the very first chapter of the new province. I know that there will be high expectations as well as concerns about what the new reality will be like in the new province. I am not sure how the new province will be different for people we work with in ministry, but I think that the name and identity of Our Lady of Guadalupe may be more scrutinized. I say this because Our Lady of Guadalupe is complex and layered in varied historical interpretations – colonialism, indigenous servitude, cultural clashes, racism, Marian apparitions, and the debate of authenticity. These layers are also part of the Franciscan history, which will now need to be reexamined and re-explained through the lens of a 21st-century Church that is dealing with dwindling numbers, lack of participation, suspicion of the hierarchy, and a warming globe. I think that the new province will be urged to take up these layers since we have adopted the patroness Our Lady of Guadalupe as our name and, effectively, our identity. This may be an opportunity to discuss the multicultural complexity of the Order, as well as how effective it has been in addressing that. It also may be a time to be better witnesses to the world on how indigenous people have been and continue to be neglected and sidelined in the very lands and places they call home. It is these same indigenous who are offering advice to better relate with Creation and to the urgency to curb the devastation of human over consumption. The lands we occupy now are the ones that have been cared for by indigenous people for thousands of years and we may be able to help sustain it for thousands more years to come. The task is daunting, but we have the means and the opportunity to make that change.

Jacek Orzechowski, OFM
Holy Name Province
Pastor, Immaculate Conception Church, Durham, North Carolina

 Abundant Future Harvest Awaits

What excites me the most about being part of a new province is the fresh opportunity to work together with other friars, and lay partners-in-ministry across the country, on revitalization of Franciscan life and ministry in ways that align with the Gospel vision laid out in Pope Francis’ encyclicals, Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti. The unification of the US-6 is an invitation to friars to be more intentional and creative in our fraternal life. The unification process is complex. It is yet to be determined whether or not it will pan out and deliver on its promises. I place my trust in our greater, collective wisdom; in the mysterious working of God’s grace, and in the desire of those in leadership positions to seek creative, collaborative and courageous solutions to the challenges we face. I also continue to pray and seek to discern with others what my contribution could and should be in that process – the gifts, talents, past experiences, and even limitations and failures, that God might be calling me to offer and share to help with the unification of our six provinces. When it comes to ministering to the people of God, I hope we will glean from some of the best practices and combine that with creative thought. In my previous and current ministry, more than half the population has been Spanish-speaking, many of them the marginalized of society. I am hopeful that our new Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be able to put in place new structures that will enable friars to serve in dynamic, multicultural ministerial settings and develop a comprehensive vocational outreach to the Latino community.  Certainly, there is no magic wand to deal with the vocation crisis, but it is critically important that we live up to our new name and be proactive, collaborative, and prophetically courageous in figuring out an innovative approach in the area of Franciscan vocations. I have no doubts that an abundant future harvest awaits us. As Saint Oscar Romero reminds us: “We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

Raphael Ozoude, OFM
St. John the Baptist Province
Internship Year, Negril, Jamaica

Widening Scope of Franciscan Life

I am glad that we are uniting as one province. One of the positive consequences of this fresh unity is that it offers us the possibility to undergo a robust revitalization of our Franciscan lives and ministries. This was evident to me at last summer’s friars-under-65 gathering in Kansas City, Missouri. Friars from all provinces of the US-6 shared ideas about friar life and ministry service – things like where the Spirit may be leading us; the needs and thirsts of the Church, the United States and its environs, and what methods are more likely to bear good fruits. This restructuring removes provincial boundaries, allowing friars of various cultures to move and serve across the country and our foreign missions. This movement will allow for transcultural exchange, which will enrich all the friars involved by widening their scope of the world and Franciscan life. Friars will be better able to interact with and serve people of various cultures, ethnicities and experiences whom they will inevitably encounter in our global village. My hope is that we don’t stop at the process of restructuring and assume that everything is done, and that we don’t hesitate to participate in this process due to a mindset of missing the good old days of the soon-to-be suppressed provinces. There are a lot of positives that will come from this. We should ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us along the way so that we do not stray. We should follow the example of Our Lady, the patroness of our new province. She trusted in the goodness of God and willingly offered her whole self, so just as the Eternal Word was giving his whole self to her, he may receive her totally and work through her and with her for the redemption and healing of the world. Perhaps by surrendering our fears and willingly walking together with Our Lady, we can do what is ours to do today.

Michael Radomski, OFM
St. John the Baptist Province
Facilities Maintenance and Friary Guardian, Our Lady of Lasalette, Berkley, Michigan

 Model of Fraternity for a Fractured World

I have little to no anxiety over the unification of our provinces. It’s about time! My formation was interprovincial, often providing opportunities to gather with brothers of other provinces.  I have always had a sense of being a brother to other brothers beyond my own province. I have found it discomforting that we were separated by the provinces in which we entered the Order. All of the provinces are pretty diverse, yet we have this separation. I guess the only anxiety I have is my zero language skills in anything but English. Our liturgies and gatherings – everything we do together – will need to incorporate, cherish and respect the diverse heritages, cultures and languages we bring. I look forward to when the geographical boundaries will no longer exist, so that I could meet and be with my brothers without hinderance. The younger friars will find it easier; those who have lived for generations will find the transition a little difficult, and others won’t care either way. Change won’t happen overnight. We will have to get used to our differences in languages, cultures, and the way we do things. But what a wonderful model of fraternity and love for this fractured world. In all of our differences, we have much in common – particularly that we are loving people filled with faith and joy that we are willing to share with others. I am excited that I have brothers all across the country and look forward to getting to know these brothers, some who I have met along the way. This unification tells us that we are brothers together, respecting each other and sharing our Franciscan values. Nothing will build brotherhood better than what is already foundational to our hearts and souls.

Michael Reyes, OFM
Holy Name Province
Parish Administrator, St. Bonaventure Church, Allegany, New York, and Artist in Residence at St. Bonaventure University

Different Shades, Same Brown

For a long time, our provinces have been territorial. With the unification, we as friars have the opportunity to embrace an even bigger community, from the East Coast to the West Coast, from North to South. This newness and reach are exciting for me as a friar. We can bring the energy of our ministries to other parts of the country. Franciscans are known for our creativity, so this image of embracing a larger entity and geographical area, and putting all of our experiences and creativity together to come up with new ways to minister and listen to the needs of the people of God, is exciting. Sure, we will face some challenges, and adjustments will be necessary, especially for those who are set in their ways. But we all have the same mission rooted in the spirit of St. Francis and united in the Gospel of Jesus. Like any family, there will be tension and challenges, but we have each other. As brothers, we will find our way together. Wherever there is change, there is always growth. I was among the last class to do the entire formation process under Holy Name. My first experience of living in fraternity with friars outside of the Province was in Santa Barbara when I was studying philosophy. It was an eye-opener! We all got along so well and found many commonalities. We lived, ate, prayed and studied together. I realized – I can do this! The unknowns of unification may be a little scary, but we are going through this together – and it must always be centered in fraternity and serving the people of God. Being together as brothers is a gift. We may be wearing different shades of brown, but we have always been united in St. Francis brown.

Matthew Ryan, OFM
St. John the Baptist Province
(As of this writing, he was awaiting his new ministry assignment to be finalized.)

Same Spirit Guiding Us

The unification of our provinces marks a new beginning oriented toward the future while remaining firmly rooted in Franciscan traditions. As we embark on this journey of unity, we must continue to seek brothers and sisters on the margins – including fraternal brothers unsure of this process. We must all walk together. As we come out of this liminal space of unification, I recognize my own liminal spaces. As a 52-year-old simply professed friar, I am one of the “young guys,” but I straddle a generational gap. It will be next year when I complete my master of divinity degree – and, at this time, I await the beginning of my pastoral year this coming fall. It is the same Holy Spirit who led all of us to Franciscan vocation, and who guides us through our liminal spaces, who will lead us in this new province of ours – Our Lady of Guadalupe. I am grateful that the new province, through its name, recognizes the importance of the Patroness of the Americas. As a simply professed friar, I have lived with brothers from Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Cuba, Columbia, Canada and Brazil. Our diversity is a strength. This strength, along with our dedication to serve, love of God and hope for the future, will transform us into a field hospital that Pope Francis calls us to be. My hope is that our new, streamlined province can quickly respond to the urgent needs of the people of God and bring us closer to the Lord and each other.

Robert Sandoz, OFM
Holy Name Province
Assistant Director, Academic Success Center, Siena College, Loudonville, New York

A Moment of Grace

A visual exercise best describes what excites me most about the unification of the six provinces. Imagine that all of the friars in the United States are gathered in one room. There is a facilitator who asks every friar to list their 10 most important values, and then to prioritize them from 1-to-10. The first is most important, the non-negotiable value, while number 10 on the list is the least important. My guess is that there would be a pretty strong agreement in the 10 values. The rub would come in how they are prioritized. Sitting at my table would be a friar whose number 10 is my number 1. He judges my fundamental, non-negotiable value as his least important value. This is the moment of grace. This is where I recognize that I cannot universalize my thinking. News flash to self: not everyone thinks like me! Moreover, because we are friars living in community, I cannot self-segregate. Unlike a social media site, which I can just delete or engage in “cancel culture,” I must live with this friar in a sincere and honest way. Why is this exciting? Because this is counter-cultural. We friars are presented with a huge witness opportunity for our American culture today. Rather than associate only with those who think, act, believe and value as I do, I am called to share a life with those who hold some very different ideas and perspectives. I am challenged to even more – that is, to love that friar. I confess, I have failed in this on many occasions. But the challenge remains and is very real. We are setting out on a whole new way of living our Franciscan vocation. I believe that, in this, grace abounds.

Jeff Scheeler, OFM
St. John the Baptist Province
Pastor and Friary Guardian, Church of the Transfiguration, Southfield, Michigan

You Can Count on Me

I certainly have some feelings of anxiety and expect there to be some bumps in the road as we move forward, but I also think this union is necessary for us and will bring many opportunities. I don’t know exactly how it will impact my day-to-day life in the beginning, since I expect that my ministry and local fraternity will likely remain the same. But we will have to learn to think differently, perhaps do things in ways that we are not accustomed to, and be willing to change – and that will be stretching. I think it will be necessary for us to undergird this journey with the spiritual values of letting go, trust, and generosity. A number of years ago, a retreat director defined our vow of obedience as an attitude of, “you can count on me.” I have great confidence in our leadership-elect to guide us in the coming years. I look forward to getting to know new friars.

Joachim Studwell, OFM
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province
Pastor and Friary Guardian, St. Francis of Assisi Church, Greenwood, Mississippi, and Vicar Provincial of the Province 

Don’t Blow It, Guys

When the midwestern provinces, and the southwest province OLG to some extent, consolidated the formation process, that was, in my opinion, the precursor to unification of the US-6. At the time, the other provinces had their own programs, but eventually signed into the interprovincial formation model. Men were entering the Order through sponsoring provinces, but they were developing an interprovincial mentality and the feeling that they belonged to something that was not just provincial. I think unification was happening organically ever since. I feel good about this – it’s the right thing for us to do at this time. I also feel nervous (but it’s a good nervousness) because there are a lot of guys I don’t know. In living with friars from different countries and speaking different first languages, I have seen the value in a diverse fraternity. With all of our cultural diversity and differences, living fraternally under one roof allows us to give witness to the broader Church community and our fractious country and world. My hope is that we can genuinely revive our sense of mission – our contemplative fraternities in mission. Prayer is central to who we are and what we are about. It’s also a time for us to review and reflect what we are doing in mission. What is it that we want to do? How do we want to live and proclaim the Gospel? How do we respond to the concrete needs of people? We have to find new ways of doing things. I see value in using social media to reach out to young people. When Pope Francis met with friars who were gathered for a chapter in Rome, he told them – and I am paraphrasing – people love you, don’t break that trust. In other words, don’t blow it, guys! Of all the exhortations and admonitions, that spoke to me about what we can do here and now in the U.S. as a new unified province. We have the opportunity to deliberately make a choice to be in solidarity through service with people on the margins, especially people of color. This becomes a way for us to be genuine proclaimers of the Gospel.

Michael Surufka, OFM
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province
Rector and Friary Guardian, Cathedral of the Holy Angels, Gary, Indiana

A Change of Heart

Some years ago, when the Midwest provinces were talking about uniting into a single province (well before the national initiative took shape), I was dead-set against it. I wouldn’t even attend meetings about the subject. Then a friar asked me to think about where I would envision the geographic location of a consolidated Midwest province, and what name I would give it. When presented with the opportunity to think more deeply about something that would truly be new, it converted me to the possibility of that reality. It gave me a different view of things. I am using that experience to process the unification of our six provinces. We have a new name and new headquarters, which is great, but I hope the idea of doing something truly new becomes infectious among the friars. The idea of going out in radically new ways in places we already minister, and to new places – that’s what excites me. It takes to heart the words of St. Francis – “Let us begin again.” It would be unfortunate if the new province is just a way to reapportion personnel, and then maintains the status quo. My hope is that we are not centered around the administrative part of the new province, but around the people we are here to serve in contemplative mission. We are not here for ourselves, but for others. We need to go to places where no one else wants to go – places where we can make a difference, places where we can be the kind of evangelic witnesses that people want to see.

Gonzalo de Jesus Torres, OFM
Holy Name Province
Parochial Vicar, Immaculate Conception Church, Durham, North Carolina

In Good Hands

I look forward to continuing our Franciscan life as the new national Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I give thanks to God for the new leaders the Lord has given us. They all are very qualified, hardworking and committed brothers. We are in good hands!

I look forward to continuing our Franciscan life as the new national Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I give thanks to God for the new leaders the Lord has given us. They all are very qualified, hardworking and committed brothers. We are in good hands!

Kevin Tortorelli, OFM
Holy Name Province
St. Anthony Friary, St. Petersburg, Florida

Synodality and the Friars Minor

In a happy coincidence, the careful preparations for the creation of a new Franciscan Province in the U.S. took place at the same time Pope Francis laid out his understanding of the Synodal Path, his vision for the future of the Church. Not to overdraw the coincidence, but the first Chapter of our new Province and the first Synodal Assembly in Rome both take place this October. There are some rich and suggestive convergences between them. There is a shared emphasis on listening to each other and to the people. Listening is important! It is a humble and welcoming listening that lives with the kinds of tensions that surround things in process. This connection between the new Province and the Synodal Path gives me hope that the future of the Order in this country and the Synodal Pathway to the future of the Church are bound together. They are mutually enriching! The particular Franciscan contribution to the Synodal Path will lie in our experience of the charisms found among us. Here, the Synodal Path is enhanced by our historical embrace of welcome to those at the margins; befriending those torn by conflict; simplicity in our manner of life, speech and behavior toward each other; and liturgy and contemplative integrating prayer. This bond between our new Province and the Synodal Path will renew and cast a fresh light on our witness to the Lord Jesus and to the imprint of His cross on the world. The bond between Province and Synodal Path will minister to our people with vitality. The bond promises to open our eyes, remove our blinders, and sharpen our vision. Who is the leper here? Does a new form of the Fioretti call to us to deepen our appreciation of each other? Does the Canticle of the Creatures look ready to take the form of prophetic speech? This alliance between Province and Synodal Path will give us courage to face our illusions and deceptions, especially in the formidable areas of power, wealth and status. An early sign of blessing takes shape in the simultaneous birth of a new Province and a new Synodal Path, born as twins together.

Angel Vazquez, OFM,
Holy Name Province
Team Member, St. Francis Inn Soup Kitchen, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Be Adventurous

I was part of the cohort of New York friars that experienced interprovincial studies and formation, so being unified with friars outside Holy Name Province has been my entire Franciscan existence. The idea of unification of the US-6 as a whole body is not new for me. As one province, there is the possibility of me going to New Orleans, or Cincinnati or San Francisco, and interacting and serving with brothers I went to class with. The possibility of living with them in fraternity is far more exciting than simply going through interprovincial studies and not seeing them again. I am very hopeful for that future. Joining as one province gives us more diversity, not just culturally, but in Franciscan and religious traditions. Each province has a different prayer style or the way a feast day is celebrated. These pockets of diversity, this newness – doing things differently on, say, the West Coast than the way things are done in the Mid-West – will be a wholesome experience. It opens up new ways to minister, and the way we pray and live in fraternity. Some brothers may still have concerns and worries, but the only way to shake those worries is to be adventurous. Change environments. You’ll find people are not much different, no matter where they are. Fears will vanish because we are all brothers in this together.