Friars Share Their Hopes for New Year

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When the calendar turned from 2020, a year plagued by a global pandemic and political upheaval, HNP Today asked friars to share their thoughts on what gives them hope for the new year. Now more than ever, people seem to be looking ahead with anticipation and searching for ways to find comfort. Friars from the Midwest to New England to Puerto Rico, serving in many roles and ministries, provided their perspectives on major news events, such as the COVID-19 vaccine and the new U.S. president, as well as the effects of 2020 on their personal and ministerial lives.

Jim Bernard, OFM, Boston, Massachusetts

Jim, a native of New York City, is a student-friar who professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 2017. He is currently serving an internship at St. Anthony Shrine. Prior to joining Holy Name Province, Jim was vice president and director of member services at a New York-based bank. He met the Franciscan friars at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street, where he was active in lay ministry.

Despite pandemic restrictions, my internship experience has been life-giving and hope-filled. The greatest source of my hope has come from my brothers in fraternity, and from the staff, volunteers, and broader community at the Shrine. It is a hope that I understand is occurring all over the Province – friars and lay partners navigating the unknown while continuing to step up with passion and commitment to service. I draw hope and inspiration from the courageous optimism, charity, perseverance, and overall goodwill and fraternal love shared by my friar brothers. Not surprisingly, my brothers have been committed to an unwavering willingness to help each other and to make sacrifices for the benefit of the community. The brothers have found new ways to be together and to share their talents in the community. Those who have been able to continue ministering in similar or modified formats have tapped into their creativity, reimagining ways to reach out and serve so that no one is left unaided.

As a student-friar and guest at a friary composed of seasoned veterans, it’s always easy for me to identify and appreciate the multitude of talents and skills that my brothers bring to ministry. For example, I might notice what a good pastor, preacher, counselor, musician, craftsman, or maintenance director a brother might be. Yet, living at the Shrine during the pandemic has acutely highlighted the little acts of love and friendship that would ordinarily go unnoticed during a time of busy ministry. It’s these little acts that speak hopeful volumes of what it means to live in Franciscan fraternity, and that are characteristic of our witness and commitment to living the Holy Gospel.

Without exception, I have found the love and support of the Shrine’s staff, volunteers, and benefactors to be very hopeful. Their steadfast and faithful collaboration, which contributes to the success of the Shrine’s activities, is indicative of love for neighbor and commitment to the Franciscan spirit. Overall, the hope that I found in Franciscan community in 2020 sustains my hope for a better new year. Through worldwide cooperation and recognition of the common bond of our humanity, I am hopeful that we can eradicate COVID-19 and heal our fractured nation. I am also hopeful that the global fraternity and social friendship imagined by Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti takes root in our hearts and is transformed into concrete action by people throughout the world.


Tom Conway, OFM, Boston, Massachusetts

Tom has been stationed at St. Anthony Shrine, where he serves as executive director, since 2011. His assignments during his nearly 32 years as a Franciscan friar have included teaching, administration, formation, and campus ministry. He celebrated his silver jubilee as a friar in 2014. 

In this extraordinarily bleak time of the pandemic, one looks for sources of comfort, solace, and hope. I naturally turn to an inanimate object. I have always loved the feeling of holy places. After decades of respectful and quiet prayer by all manner of holy people in all kinds of circumstances, these places develop an inexplicable aura. The Shrine does it for me. There are three places of worship – the public churches on the first and second floors, and the private friars’ chapel on the fifth floor. Fortunately, the sacred stuff generated by these three rooms doesn’t stay there. It spills into the rest of the building. People often tell me, “I feel better as soon as I walk into the lobby of the Shrine.” I also think that some element of holiness spills onto the street because there has to be an explanation why homeless people hang out more on our Arch Street block than in the rest of Boston’s downtown financial district.

The building itself is quite remarkable – 11 stories tall, loaded with secret features like crawl spaces, trap doors and access panels. It is one of the many large architectural works on the East Coast of a talented Franciscan friar, Cajetan Baumann, OFM. Several times I have opened a door and found something quite different than what I had expected on the other side. Yet, during all these years, large hallways with many rooms have managed to escape my attention. I recently came across, for the first time, a large vertical vent that runs from the basement to the third floor – a space wide enough for several people to stand comfortably. Apparently, there are many rooms in my Father’s house.

During my time here, we friars have had to rally groups of mechanical tradespeople to take on some big projects in the building – including emergency repairs on the main sewage line on a sweltering Labor Day. I am always amazed by the enthusiasm of the groups of paid and volunteer laypeople that take on these endeavors. There are many possible explanations for that: an opportunity to make friends, a genuinely holy place, a fascinating building from an architectural standpoint, or perhaps it’s the colorful, endearing, stereotype-smashing occupants. Whatever the reason, the Shrine on Arch Street has a way of bringing people together for the good.

After the pandemic passes, the character of the building will remain the same and Bostonians will still love this place. The one COVID-era change will be the recent renovations that improved the medical clinic for homeless women and some of the public restrooms. I am filled with hope in knowing that we will be back to “Shrine-normal” when we see a homeless person sitting in a pew next to a multi-millionaire at Mass.


Larry Ford, OFM, Loudonville, New York

Larry worked at Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side from 2009 to 2020,  serving six as pastor. Last April, he was appointed director of the US-6 Office of Revitalization and Restructuring, the process in which six Franciscan provinces are working toward unification.  Although he currently lives at the St. Bernardine of Siena Friary on the Siena College campus, Larry plans to eventually move to Wisconsin to live with the Franciscan Friars of the Province of the Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary, to be more centrally located for his work with the R&R office. He professed his first vows in 1991 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1997.

The intentionality toward the other is the silver lining of this pandemic and the 2020 experience. I have hope that this new year will be better because of the intentionality that I have seen on so many levels from so many people. When I was still at Holy Name Parish, I witnessed the generosity of people and how careful they were toward each other. While everything else came to a stop, the only thing that didn’t stop was feeding the hungry from our food pantry and sandwich line – and when there weren’t enough volunteers, the staff stepped in because they knew that the needs of people didn’t stop because of a pandemic. Even though the parish thrift shop was shut down, everyone was intentional about finding ways to get coats and sweatshirts into the hands of those who needed them. People were intentionally looking out for each other. That’s what gives me hope.

With racial and economic tension on exhibit in this country, I see the intentional desire of people listening and wanting to help. People ask whether we will come out of this with different values, but my hope is that we come out with different practices of our values. Do we say we want to be more aware of the world around us, or do we actually do something – maybe start with having that hard conversation about social injustices? We can’t just sit back. How do we learn from the impacts of these things and put what we learned into service to protect our values? If we can be intentional in how we listen to and deal with people, and recognize our own role and complicity – especially in racial and other social injustices – that’s where hope comes from.

I have seen the same intentionality with friars. As a member of HNP’s Provincial Council, and as the director of the US-6 Office of Revitalization & Restructuring, I have been privileged during this difficult year with a seat at the table of Holy Name Province’s leadership, and with all the provincials of the US-6 provinces. It is a unique opportunity to see, listen and hear, and to participate in the care of friars and Franciscan values throughout the world. It is an emotional set of relationships that holds the provincials together. There is a desire to be optimistic, open-minded, and protective of the fraternities and the friars. I am witness to the physical endurance that’s demanded of provincials in their leadership roles. I am amazed – not because I didn’t know it existed, but because I have witnessed first-hand the degree, depth, and breadth of the intentionality of the provincials – Holy Name’s Fr. Kevin included – in their care for each individual friar and their fraternities. The provincials are intentional about how they can support, help, guide, and protect all friars. Their focus, energy, and spiritual and intellectual guidance, and commitment have been inspiring for me. It has energized my fraternal commitment.

This has been a difficult balance for friars, who are accustomed to helping people. That’s what we do. But we have to tell someone not to do the things he normally does because he may be putting at risk the health of the person he’s trying to help, as well as jeopardizing his own health and the health of the fraternity he lives with. The Siena fraternity has been very intentional in its concern for the emotional well-being and health of all friars. The intentionality of guys making sacrifices for the greater fraternal good – thinking twice about making an unnecessary trip, for example – because they don’t want to put the entire fraternity at risk has been uplifting. Intentional choices by friars – taking certain actions to safeguard the community – that’s where I see hope.


Roberto González Nieves, OFM, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Roberto has served as archbishop of San Juan since 1999, the city where he spent most of his adolescence in a parish staffed by Holy Name Province friars. Although born in New Jersey, he grew up in San Juan. The Siena College graduate was ordained to the priesthood in 1977 and was appointed  auxiliary bishop of Boston at age 38, becoming the youngest Catholic bishop. Prior to becoming the archbishop of San Juan, he served as chair of two committees – Hispanic Affairs, and the Church in Latin America – for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Prayer of St. Francis has always lifted up my spirits. I have often repeated this prayer with diverse groups and in many different circumstances. I have also engaged this prayer in personal meditation. In this prayer, we pray to become instruments of hope – the hope that we know in the Lord and the hope which enables us to walk through life, each new year and in each new challenge, with renewed strength. It is my hope that each human being experiences the hope that overcomes every form of despair, heals our wounds, and satisfies our hearts with the fullness of grace, peace, and love.


Louis McCormick, OFM, West Clarksville, New York

Louis taught high school math for 25 years before joining the Mt. Irenaeus community in 1991. He serves as a spiritual assistant for the secular Franciscans and director of hospitality at the Franciscan Mountain retreat. Louis, who professed his first vows in 1959 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1965, collaborated with the three other Mt. Irenaeus friars in a video recording – “Rediscovering Peace During a Pandemic” – released earlier this month, in which they reflected on 2020 and their hopes for 2021.

Scripture and fraternal life – and the grace of God that can be found in them – give me great hope for the future. Reading daily scripture gives me hope over and over, not just for this new year. Scripture gives us the message of faith, hope, and love. Love, of course, is the most powerful, but together they are three legs of a stool that give you support when you sit. Hope is very important, but there is such a lack of hope in our society – and, really, the world in general – because people are not acknowledged and appreciated. That’s a product of the capitalist structure. They feel they have nothing to give because they’re not supported, acknowledged or rewarded. That sometimes motivates people to do ugly things because they believe it’s the only way to be heard.

When I preach the homily at Mass, I try to give people hope. Preaching on doctrine is important when you’re preaching to academics. But preaching on hope is important when you’re talking to everyday people and applying the message of hope to their lives. We need to distill this hope, especially in today’s times. Hope needs a connection to someone or something – whether it be Jesus, other people, an idea, or a project. Stories are about connections, so we can find hope in the many stories told in the scriptures. But there are also a lot of our own stories and the stories of others that provide encouragement and lift us with hope.

Being a Franciscan fills me with great hope. That is what Franciscan life is about – a life of faith, hope, and love. My hope for the new year comes from living in this strong fraternal community. When someone comes to the Mountain, I share our Franciscan fraternity – joy, the sense that you can feel safe where you are, and, of course, hope.

I hope for a solution to all of the turmoil in society, and that the new White House administration, while it can’t solve everything, will do things differently. I hope for an end to the pandemic and that the vaccines start working so people can gather again in person. I miss the presence of people and the pace at the Mountain – the energy, sharing conversation, and a meal with someone who comes here for reflection, Mass, or retreat. Zoom is good, but it doesn’t fill the heart like a handshake or an embrace – and it’s hard to see smiles through a mask. Jesus says the Kingdom of God is among us. I hope everyone can experience this realization in some way – perhaps by acknowledging and appreciating others, especially our essential workers. My hope is that they are rewarded with acknowledgment and appreciation.


Steve Patti, OFM, New York City

Steve, a Massachusetts native who professed his first vows in 1996, is commemorating his silver jubilee this year. He moved to St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street last September after serving six years as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, North Carolina. He joined HNP in 1994 after serving as a volunteer at St. Francis Inn, the soup kitchen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2001 and has also served in Wilmington, Delaware, Providence, Rhode Island, and Durham, N.C.

 

Here at 31st Sreet in New York, there is a chapel on the third floor. On the far wall, there is a series of stained glass windows that overlooks 31st St. below, and in the mornings, the persistent sounds of the city are muffled, and in the short while that it takes my eyes to adjust to the early-morning semi-darkness, the windows begin to reveal their colors and their subjects: scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

There are six scenes, and I am drawn to the one on the far right, which is an image of Francis writing his Canticle of the Sun. The darkness of the chapel gives way to the light coming in from outside, refractions of color, and here is Francis outlined in lighted glass.  He is bent over slightly, a quill pen in hand, writing on a scroll, and you can see the words that begin the canticle, “Most high, almighty, glorious God…” Just above him in the window, the sun shines. The window is filled with light and color and refracted beauty.

Francis, of course, wrote this canticle toward the end of his life. He was nearly blind. What did he remember of his former world? – the light, the view out over the valley from Assisi, being able to gather among friars and friends, the deep love he had for God’s created world. He couldn’t see those things now, couldn’t go off and do the things he remembered he could once do; he was confined to a small and uncomfortable space, limited, surely missing what he once had and once knew.

Francis, in this window in the early morning light, unable to see, confined to this space, is surrounded by sun, moon, stars, flowers, air, sky.  It’s his remembered world, given to him. In this small space, it feels expansive. In this window, he calmly writes on his scroll, and seems vastly contented with the beauty of God’s creation which surrounds him. It all seems larger than his circumstances, and his act of praise points to a hope that is deeper than whatever is happening in his life right now.

What do we hope for in 2021? Maybe this stained glass window shines some light on that question, on the darkness that more and more seems to define our times: the rise of authoritarian politics in our own country and around the world; a global pandemic that has affected millions and exposed the inequalities that exist among us; a culture in which, according to Pope Francis, “the outside world ceases to exist and leaves only ‘my’ world, to the point that others, no longer considered human beings possessed of an inalienable dignity, become only ‘them.’ (Fratelli Tutti, 27); religious belief that often seems focused only on the otherworldly; a lack of care for our sister Mother Earth.

It all seems too much. And yet here is Francis, living in his own dark moment, singing out God’s praises amid the world he lives in, and inviting us by our own lives to reflect something of God’s goodness and light and care for the given, created world. And on this morning, the light slowly emerging into the darkness of the chapel, that seems like a beginning.


Joe Rozansky, OFM, Chicago, Illinois

Joe is a member of the interprovincial formation team and guardian at the St. Joseph Interprovincial Post-Novitiate Formation House, where he has been stationed since 2015. He also represents Holy Name Province as a board member of Franciscan Missions, a fundraising arm of the OFMs – and for the past five years, has been president of the board of directors of Franciscans International. Joe served in Rome as director of the OFM Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation from 2005 to 2016. He made his final profession in 1975 and was ordained to the priesthood one year later.

I’m not coming into the new year with naive hope. However, working in formation at the interprovincial level gives me hope as I think about everything that’s been happening in our world– COVID, of course, but also the political turmoil and racism. I look at the guys in our community – the five solemnly professed and 16 simply professed friars, quite a few with Holy Name Province and all with diverse backgrounds – and I find hope in the way we have worked together to take care of the house. Not that everyone is cheery and bouncy all the time, but the guys decided early on to dig in and do their part – whether it’s signing up to cook a meal, or remaining dedicated to their educational responsibilities even if not everyone likes online classes.

We see how people have been discouraged and have given up on even the normal stuff of day-to-day life, but that hasn’t happened here. The guys are doing what needs to be done through collaboration, participation, and dedication. At house chapters, we have talked about racism and social injustice and the political situation. What can we as Franciscans do in these situations? How can we address the issues? We don’t have all the answers, but talking is the first step. As difficult as things have been, I find hope in the way our formation team works together and has a willingness to find ways to do things better.

I also find hope in my work with Franciscans International and Franciscan Missions. Although many of the people working with us at FI are not Franciscans, they become infected with Franciscan values. Their work is hard under normal circumstances, but they continue to represent the Franciscan family in these difficult times. At Franciscan Missions, we thought it would be more difficult because of the pandemic’s effect on the economy, but we have been able to continue our fundraising work. The financial resources we provided to three different communities in Brazil is feeding thousands of people. In one instance, food is being purchased from farmers in the countryside and volunteers are delivering this food to the cities. Franciscan Missions are keeping the growers in business and workers employed while guaranteeing that the food gets to the people who need it. It is this type of creative cycle that gives me real hope.


Basil Valente, OFM, New York City

Basil, who lives at St. Francis of Assisi Friary on West 31st Street, has been director of vocations for Holy Name Province since 2014. Previously, he was a professor at St. Bonaventure University for more than 24 years, where he taught integrated marketing communications. Basil professed his first vows in 1987 and celebrated his 25th anniversary as a Franciscan friar in 2012.

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” These words of the Prophet Isaiah (40:1) give me hope as we begin the new year. As they did so long ago for a discouraged people, these important words provide the hope that 2021 will bring joy and good news after a uniquely difficult year. We Franciscans continue to stand among the people of God as friars “who rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:5). During the tumultuous year of 2020, what has not changed is the tremendous sense of hope in the story and meaning of Jesus’ birth – God is with us. God is with us in both the chaos and peace, in disappointment and satisfaction, in sorrow and celebration.

The message of the baby born in Bethlehem is that God is radically involved in our lives and our daily experiences. Our Franciscan tradition affirms that God does not stand far off. He doesn’t watch from the distance. God comes to us, walks with us, stays with us, and loves us. My prayer for each of us, particularly as we begin 2021, is that we may know God’s embrace and that we know His love and hope for us, especially as we welcome a new year with so many opportunities. May we bring that gentle, joyful, and hopeful love to others as we continue to celebrate Jesus’ presence in our lives during this new year.


Paul Williams, OFM, Silver Spring, Maryland

Paul, a native of northern Virginia, is stationed at St. Camillus Parish, where he serves as parochial vicar. Before moving to Silver Spring, he served as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Wilmington, Delaware, from 2013 to 2020. Solemnly professed in 1980 and ordained to the priesthood in 1986, Paul – along with the other friars at St. Joseph and St. Paul Parish in Wilmington – was given a curbside parade-send-off (due to COVID restrictions) by parishioners before leaving for his new assignment.

That which gives me hope is what this holy season is all about – Emmanuel. Christmas is a reminder that God is with us – and, thus, we are not alone. We have no idea what this new year will bring, but I know that with the help of God – and with help from the people of God – everything will work out for the good. I believe that we must be able to see the goodness in people and not dwell on the negatives, as some so often do.

Last fall, just two days before Thanksgiving, my 45-year-old niece gave birth to a baby girl. This new life wasn’t planned, but it was embraced as a sign that God has wonderful surprises in store for us. God challenges us to celebrate the promise that this child offers and to realize that we humans have seen worse things than COVID-19.

I believe that the goodness within us will offer hope to embrace this blessed new year and all of its challenges. Like so many, I am hopeful for the promise offered by the COVID vaccines, a new president in the White House, people returning to Mass, the reopening of schools and colleges to full classroom learning, and the gathering of friends at restaurants and the cinema. The hope of this new year depends on us being willing to protect each other and ourselves. We are in this world together, and only together will we be able to transcend any and all obstacles. I am optimistic about 2021 because I am a firm believer in the goodness of human beings. I am shouting out loud for all to hear – Happy New Year!

Compiled by Stephen Mangione with research by Jocelyn Thomas.

Editor’s note: Friars interested in contributing reflections for a future HNP Today article on a timely topic — a holiday, current event, holy day, or other seasonal themes – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at communications@hnp.org. The December issue of HNP Today featured a compilation of friar comments about lessons learned during 2020.

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