Friars Present FMM Sisters with Francis Medal

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province

NEW YORK – A quarter century of shared service by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary was acknowledged earlier this month by the friars of Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great Parish when the sisters were presented with Holy Name Province’s Francis Medal in recognition of their many years of administrative assistance and spiritual ministries. The Francis Medal presentation was bittersweet.

Sr. Marie Teresa del los Rios with a group of well-wishers, including Dan Kenna. (Photo courtesy of David Steinberg)

“We wanted to recognize their work and also say farewell,” said Lawrence Ford, OFM, pastor, who celebrated the liturgy. “It was a happy event for a sad occasion.”That’s because the sisters are withdrawing from ministry in the Archdiocese of New York where they ministered for more than 100 years, and from the parish, after 25 years of service.

Since 1993, the friars and sisters have worked in a mutually respective, side-by-side ministry of social outreach, hospitality and prayerful parochial ministry, according to Lawrence, who along with John Heffernan, OFM, and two previous pastors – Daniel Kenna, OFM, and Jerome Massimino, OFM – presented the medal following a 5:30 p.m. Mass on March 2 at Holy Name of Jesus Church.

Jerome, who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., said that the group presentation demonstrated the entire Province’s gratitude for the sisters’ work and contributions.

The Francis Medal, established in 1998, recognizes individuals and groups that have displayed an uncommon contribution to the advancement of the ideals and values of St. Francis of Assisi.

As a result of decreasing numbers in the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary community, the sisters are moving from their convent on West 97th Street, which was around the corner from Holy Name of Jesus Church to the Queen of Peace Community in North Providence, R.I.

Sharing Franciscan Charism
The roles of the FMM sisters, an international community, varied over these past two and a half decades, and they were always part of the collaborative community. life. “I remember during the time I was stationed at Holy Name, we would often eat meals together,” Jerome recalled.

Sr. Emmanuel Shen with a parishioner (Photo courtesy of David Steinberg)

Among the roles and sisters who filled them were Sr. Liliane Alam, FMM, who served as treasurer of Franciscans International and business manager at Holy Name Parish; Sr. Maria Teresa de los Ros, FMM, who worked 20 years in Holy Name’s Hispanic ministry; Sr. Mary Griffin, FMM, who staffed the parish reception desk for more than 10 years, and Sr. Mary Petrosky, FMM, who served as a spiritual director at Holy Name and St. Francis of Assisi Parish counseling center on West 31st Street. Sr. Petrosky also served on the HNP Franciscan Life and Mission Directorate and as a bereavement counselor at Holy Name.

A number of other sisters participated in the outreach ministries of the parish and Franciscan Community Center, as well as in adult faith formation activities and parish liturgical ministries, according to Larry. “They always offered hospitality to lay and religious women who came to New York City for work in the United Nations or to pursue academic degrees,” he said. “Their hospitality also extended to neighborhood women who would join them for holiday meals.”

The sisters may be gone, but a special banner at the church means their memory will not be forgotten.

“The sisters have gifted us with a banner that they crafted,” said Larry. “It was originally created for one of their chapters, at which each community was asked to make a banner illustrating the name of the ministry and city where its members worked. The sisters felt that this banner should remain at the church.”

“Our presence and service here fit in so easily with the charism of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary,” Sr. Mary Petrosky, FMM, said after the sisters were presented with the Francis Medal. “Our foundress, Blessed Mary of the Passion, had written ‘Jesus in the Eucharist sends us out to the people and the people send us back to the Eucharist.’”

Sr. Mary, who served at Holy Name Parish for 16 years, continued, “What a joy it has been to serve here, working with the friars of Holy Name Province, beginning with Jim Hynes, OFM, then Jerome Massimino, Francis Gunn, OFM, Dan Kenna, and now Larry Ford. We do not forget the many friars who were here to assist and who lived here, whom we also got to know, especially Fr. Matthew Pravetz, a regular Sunday Mass presider.

“We thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” she added. “We love this parish, and we love the friars with whom we have collaborated.”

Jerome said that the evening was a “wonderful feeling of reunion,” and a great opportunity for him to see the faithful parishioners who love the diversity of Holy Name Parish.

“I can’t stress enough the wonderful Franciscan spirit that the sisters embody. They contributed an incredible amount of time and energy,” he added.

Providing a Sister Community
Jerome, who served as pastor from 1999 to 2005, said that when he first came to Holy Name Parish, 18 sisters were stationed there.

Dan said the sisters were always very involved with parish life.

“In many ways, the sisters provided a ‘sister community’ for the friars,” said Dan, who lived at Holy Name Parish Friary from 2006 to 2014. “They always seemed to be there with their prayers, encouragement, and support. Their warmth and compassion, and their sensitivity to the needs of the poor in our midst, truly were a part of the fabric of the parish. They will be missed by many.”

A table full of memories of the FMM sisters. (Photo courtesy of David Steinberg)

The March 2 presentation of the Francis Medal was an emotional one for Larry, who said his presence was as a pastor, guardian, and friend.

“I wanted it to be a celebration, but it felt sad as the finality was settling in,” he said. “The Francis Medal was a surprise to them, so after hitting the high notes of their ministry in my homily, I explained that although this particular group of sisters may have been there to accept the medal, this honor was an acknowledgment of all those who came before them.”

Larry invited Dan, Jerome, and John to come to the sanctuary before calling each of the sisters by name. The entire congregation stood and applauded, which Larry said was “a wonderful moment of appreciation and gratitude.”

The music presentation at the Mass and the reception that followed filled all participants with great joy.

“Many parishioners came to thank and wish the sisters well. There was a joyful din of conversation and laughter and lots of lingering. There was no denying the sadness of the occasion, but the experience was one of happiness and joy,” said Larry, who appreciated the quiet consistency the sisters provided at the parish, where he has been stationed since 2009.

“They were always, present – at Masses, educational activities and social outreach events,” he said. “They didn’t draw attention to themselves, but they always knew everyone’s name and story. I enjoyed the Franciscan connection, which brought mutual trust and responsibility to care for each other – whether shared dinners or conversation about ‘community life’ and its benefits and trials. That was especially true when a brother or sister was sick and dying. We understood what it was like to lose a sister or brother in fraternity.”

The sisters commented that the relationship with friars was always one of utmost respect and collaboration.

“One of my fondest ‘fraternal memories’ with the sisters was St. Patrick’s Day 2015,” said Larry, “when Sr. Lillian Alam was very sick, and who died six weeks later, and Sr. Mary Petrosky was worried and tired. She was on her way to the noon Mass and we started chatting on the sidewalk about the experience and its pressures. We talked right through the Mass and then decided to go to the Dive Bar for a corned beef sandwich and a beer. A couple of people from the parish joined us. Funny stories were shared, tension and sadness were relieved for the moment, and our Franciscan connections were celebrated. It’s amazing what an afternoon beer and Irish Coffee can do.”

In recent months, the Francis Medal has been presented by friars at other sites in the metropolitan New York area – including St. Francis of Assisi Church-Friary in New York City, as well as in Butler, N.J., and Newark, N.J.

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

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