A former NFL scout, ex-U.S. Marine, migrant from Mexico, culinary school graduate, and onetime college assistant director of career services are among a group of seven men who entered the interprovincial postulancy program this month to begin the first phase of their Franciscan formation.
The men, ranging in age from 21 to 33, arrived on Aug. 12 at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland, where they will spend the next year in prayer and reflection, service ministry and education, and fraternal life. They were welcomed by the interprovincial postulancy team and others from the friar fraternity of neighboring St. Camillus Church in a ceremony at the Holy Name College chapel highlighted by the traditional presentation of a handcrafted Tau cross to each postulant.
“As we welcome these men and their diverse cultures, backgrounds and talents into our fraternity, we are inspired by their eagerness to take this significant step in discernment, and by their joy and enthusiasm to experience and learn more about our Franciscan life and ministry. Blessings and prayers go with them as they begin their journey with the friars,” said Basil Valente, OFM, vocation director of the National Vocation Office of the US-6 Franciscans.
Although the 2023 class of postulants entered under four of the six legacy provinces, they will make history on the back end of the 12 months when they advance as the first group of novices under the new national province that becomes operational this October.
The postulants are Sam Allen, of Hays, Kansas (Sacred Heart); Jimmy Beh, of Washington, D.C. (Holy Name); Ryan Crain, of Arlington Heights, Illinois (Assumption); Luke Cumby, of Greenville, South Carolina (Holy Name); Christian Gonzalez, of Bronx, New York (Holy Name); Thomas Pack, of Charlotte, North Carolina (Sacred Heart), and Jesus Romero, of Chihuahua, Mexico (Our Lady of Guadalupe).
“It’s nice to have seven men in our postulancy cohort this year, since it is larger than in the past several years,” said Lawrence Hayes, OFM, Provincial Minister-elect of the new U.S. Franciscan province. “I’m grateful to all the vocation and formation directors for their good work in helping these men discern their possible call to Franciscan life. I am also reminded of that old Latin adage, ‘non multa sed multum’ – ‘what is important is not the number of men, but the quality of the men who come to discern their future with us.’”
Added Lawrence, “I would encourage the postulants, first and foremost, to be themselves and, second, to open their hearts, minds and being to the multiple formational experiences that will be offered to them – life in fraternity, ministry, classes, prayer, mentoring – and to follow courageously where they sense the Spirit is moving them in their lives as the year unfolds.”
After a whirlwind of orientation activities, including a tour of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land and other D.C.-area historical sites, the postulants will visit St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia and other Franciscan ministries, and attend a Mass of solemn profession in New York City. The year will be balanced with academics, immersion experiences, and fraternal life – such as theology and Franciscan spirituality classes; workshops and spiritual retreats (including a Southwest pilgrimage); communal prayer and meals, and ministry service at St. Camillus outreach programs, a local nursing home, St. Francis International School, and the immigrant population of the nearby Langley Park neighborhood.
“These men represent the diversity of who we are as a national province. We are privileged to accompany them as they take the first step from secular life to religious life. We are excited to hear their stories and help them grow in their Christian identity,” said Gino Correa, OFM, director of the interprovincial postulancy program.
The postulants enthusiastically embraced what’s ahead and shared their thoughts about this next phase of their Franciscan journey and how they got here.
Jesus Romero visited the friars in Albuquerque, New Mexico, while working in human development. It rekindled his interest in religious vocation; he had left the archdiocesan seminary in his native Chihuahua to pursue a degree in psychology. “The fraternal aspect of Franciscan life was the missing piece. I am happy to start formation, but I am also a little nervous having to learn a new culture, language and customs. I look forward to immersing myself more in the San Francisco way of life with the other postulants,” said Jesus, who came to the U.S. 18 months ago.
Striking a friendship with the friars at St. Peter’s in the Loop Parish in Chicago and teaching in Catholic schools stirred an interest in Catholicism for former Southern Baptist Thomas Pack, who converted in 2018. “I wanted to be the friars. They are incredibly humble and genuine. I am drawn to their sense of community life, diverse ministry, and working with the most marginalized of society. I am excited to explore Franciscan life at a deeper level,” said Thomas, who has a master’s degree in science education from Northwestern University, coached football and taught in high school and college, and was a scout for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.
“This is the beginning of serious discernment – a time to focus on prayer, service to others, and forming into the friar I am meant to be. I look forward to the simplicity, letting go of everything and giving myself fully to Christ,” said Christian Gonzalez, who was drawn to the friars for similar reasons he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps – brotherhood, living in common mission, and service to others.
“The friars in my Greenville parish were joyful with one another and the community. They genuinely cared more about a person’s abilities than their disabilities. I am excited to now live and experience ministry with the other postulants,” said Luke Cumby, who graduated in May from Belmont Abbey College with a bachelor’s degree in theology and philosophy.
“Humility, serving the poor, love of creation – that’s what drew me to the Franciscans. I want to do the will of God beyond all else – and I believe that right now, God’s will for me is to further explore His calling,” said Ryan Crain, a graduate of St. Thomas University who served in youth ministry, organized retreats, and volunteered in community outreach programs.
“There are so many things familiar to me – being from D.C. and living in Baltimore, being around the friars here and while I attended the University of San Diego. But it’s the unknown that’s most exciting – finding out what it will be like living on the inside and getting to experience the ministry and itinerant life as a member of the fraternity,” said Jimmy Beh, who worked in residential life at Gonzaga University and in career services at Loyola University Maryland.
“I’m excited about the sense of community and discerning more clearly with a group of men with the same mindset in a prayerful and driven environment, all looking toward the same goal,” said Sam Allen, who worked on his grandfather’s farm as a child in Kansas, met the Capuchin Franciscans at the family parish, and graduated from culinary school in 2022 – but learned his kitchen skills from his mother and grandmother (the friars can’t wait to try his specialty dessert – a white cake with blackberry-raspberry filling and cream cheese frosting).