PATERSON, N.J. — Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan, OFM, and I met with new and veteran guardians on Tuesday, Oct. 28 at St. Bonaventure Parish to discuss the significance of the role of guardian in the Franciscan life of our Province.
“I see this time together as an opportunity for the administration to listen to the guardians, rather than just announcing policy,” said Kevin, as the day began. “It is also a way for the guardians to support one another by sharing their concerns and questions. We are here because guardians play a key role in helping the brothers to live our life.”
Stephen DeWitt, OFM, administrator of St. Bonaventure Parish, hosted the gathering and provided gracious hospitality and a delicious lunch for the participants: Robert Frazzetta, OFM, Joseph Hertel, OFM, Kevin Kriso, OFM, Hugh Macsherry, OFM, Richard Mucowski, OFM, and Xavier Seubert, OFM.
A document titled “Reflections on Franciscan Leadership,” by Michael Blastic, OFM, provided the “grist” for a candid discussion of the responsibilities and challenges of a guardian. Michael, in his article, lays out four qualities of Franciscan leadership: Franciscan vision (the mission of paying attention to the gospel, while going about the world as an agent of God’s peace); Franciscan integrity (embodying the virtues of poverty, simplicity, humility and charity); Franciscan conviction (that universal brotherhood is the way God has established reality); and Franciscan common decency (recognition of each brother’s and each person’s “thisness,” or God-given uniqueness).
The guardians, old and new, reflected on how they are called to embody and attempt to live out these leadership qualities in the daily life of their fraternities. Of particular interest was the call to create spaces (houses) where human beings can flourish as God intends. “This is what ‘preaching the Good News’ is all about,” commented Kevin Kriso. “This is the meta-vision of our houses and our ministries.”
Xavier noted how this fundamental task of the guardians is, at heart, sacramental, since we are really “creating spaces where God and communities can come together. But this implies that we need to know and understand each brother and the God we are searching for.”
Michael Blastic linked the practice of minority with being servants of others. “In other words, everyone and everything is deserving of one’s attention.” This requires time spent together, discovering each brother as a unique individual contributing to our common mission and fraternal life.
The guardians agreed this value needs to be facilitated by the horarium of the fraternity. In one community, preprandium and postprandium have become times for significant discussions. Another friar commented that “there is something magical about food!” for creating community. And another friar mentioned that the friars in his community reveal deep spirituality, compassion and wisdom in their homilies, “but we never share on this level in the friary. We need to get to know our brothers in new and deeper ways.”
After lunch, the focus moved to topics of interest and concern to guardians. Kevin Mullen again stressed that the main responsibility of the guardian is the welfare and well-being of the friars. Also discussed were the importance of encouraging friars to participate in interprovincial opportunities (retreats, joint ventures, meals, etc.) as we move forward with the merging of provinces; the question of how best to inaugurate and structure peer-support relationships/opportunities for and among guardians as a part of ongoing formation (this will be worked out in the near future); the possibility of establishing a “New Guardians’ Workshop,” using a case-study format to assist new guardians as they begin this form of service to the friars and the province; care of friars with difficulties; care of friars along the life-stages (including moving toward retirement); the nature and purpose of fraternal visits by Provincial Councilors to the local communities; communication within the fraternity and in the Province; and the importance of making sure that each friar has shared with his guardian a duly-executed will, authorization for access to medical records and information, funeral requests and health care proxy information.
The time together and sharing were warm, fraternal, supportive and honest in tone. The guardians expressed satisfaction with the day and are looking forward to more opportunities — one-on-one and otherwise — to continue their fraternal support and assistance to each other.
— Fr. Lawrence is Provincial Vicar of Holy Name Province.