Highlights from New Interprovincial Postulancy Program

Johann Cuervo Friar News

Members of the 2017-18 interprovincial postulancy class, shown in alphabetical order. (Photo courtesy of US Franciscans)

SILVER SPRING, Md. — In the sense of a religious vocation, discernment is a process of prayerfully exploring the life God calls one to live and in what context. More than a dozen men joined the interprovincial postulancy program last summer to discern whether God is calling them to be a Franciscan friar. Since then, they have learned more about religious life and about themselves.

The men live in a friar community – at Holy Name College just outside Washington, D.C. — and keep the friars’ fraternal and prayer schedule. An important component of postulancy is developing one’s relationship with God through personal and communal prayer, attending to God’s Word, spiritual direction and reading, and days of recollection and retreat, according to postulant director Br. John Gutierrez, OFM, of St. Barbara Province. Study, ministry, fraternal sharing, and spiritual dialogue also “round out the life of this diverse group.”

The new interprovincial program — which began in August — is also being led by Walter Liss, OFM, Charles Miller, OFM and Br. Rommel Perez, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province.

2017-18 Postulants
This year’s postulants, who range in age from 22 to 51, came to Silver Spring from a variety of places and through a variety of paths. Information about the backgrounds of the 15 members of the 2017-18 class is below.

  • Andrew Aldrich, 26, of Mishawaka, Ind., (a member of Assumption BVM Province) graduated from Holy Cross College with a degree in psychology and worked as a personal trainer at the Center for Weight Reduction in Goshen before entering the postulancy program.
  • Andrew Dinegar, 51, of New York City (St. Barbara Province) served at an Emmaus Ministry in Chicago for men who are homeless and involved in survival prostitution.
  • Ian Grant, 33, of North Brunswick, N.J., (Holy Name Province) was a case manager at the Anchor House — an agency whose mission is to work with abused, homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth — where he helped children and teens who were deemed victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking. He also worked for the Diocese of Metuchen.
  • Diego Lopez, 27, of Storm Lake, Iowa, (Holy Name Province) worked with ELL (English Language Learning) students before entering the postulancy program. He studied sports management and Spanish/Latin American studies at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa.
  • Daniel Mayer, 24, of Houma, La., (Sacred Heart Province) attended Louisiana Tech University before becoming a secondary teacher of evolutionary biology and environmental science in his hometown.
  • Salvador Mejia, 47, of Acambaro, Mexico, (St. Barbara Province) worked for almost 15 years in different roles at St. Elizabeth Parish in Oakland, Calif.
  • Loren Moreno, 33, of New York City (Holy Name Province) worked as a staff writer in the corporate communication office of Con Edison, the electric and gas company in New York City.
  • John Neuffer, 33, of Durham, N.C., (Holy Name Province) was a systems analyst and product manager for Fidelity Investments in Durham.
  • Rafael Ozoude, 22, of Lagos, Nigeria (St. John the Baptist Province) was a student at a medical center in Houston prior to starting the postulancy program.
  • Richard Phillip, 40, of Camden, N.J., (Holy Name Province) worked in the healthcare industry for several years and was particularly inspired by his work with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, with whom he served at the Camden “Last Stop” AA/NA Club House.
  • Carlos Portillo, 32, of San Vicente, El Salvador, (Holy Name Province) joined the postulancy program after working as the food services director at Sunrise Senior Assisted Living Center in Silver Spring.
  • Matt Ryan, 46, of Covington, Ky., (St. John the Baptist Province) was a public defender at the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, as well as a singing server at a restaurant.
  • Josh Tagoylo, 24, of Hayward, Calif., (St. Barbara Province) worked as a financial statement auditor in California after having studied accounting at San Francisco State University.
  • Nhan Ton, 40, of Saigon, Vietnam (Sacred Heart Province) came to the postulancy program after working in the food and nutrition department at the New Mexico University Hospital in Albuquerque.
  • Steven Young, 29, of Canton, Mass., (Holy Name Province) was a tutor at a community college and a youth minister at an Episcopal church in Boston.

The postulants at a workshop at Graymoor Spiritual Life Center in Garrison, N.Y., in November. (Photo courtesy of Franciscan Interprovincial Postulancy)

“These men have taken the next step following the footsteps of Jesus Christ,” John said. “They left their jobs and homes to become part of the interprovincial postulancy community. They are men of prayer and action. We are looking forward to continuing this journey of Franciscan life, together.”

During the first four months of this year’s program, the men have participated in two retreats about aspects of the Franciscan way of discernment and – with approximately 30 other postulants and novices and their formators – a workshop on the ongoing conversion from the writings of Francis and Clare.

The postulants recently shared with HNP Today their reactions to their experiences as well as their observations about the challenges of experiencing religious life.

Could you describe what this phase of your life has been like, mentioning the parts of the interprovincial program have you found most interesting and rewarding?

Andrew A.: “This phase of my life has been an adventure. I have been given an opportunity to learn about myself in a completely new environment far from home.  Also, I live with a diverse group of men who have challenged my worldview and expanded my spirituality.”

Andrew D.: “The classes on St. Francis and our Order, especially the history, are most inspiring to me. Meeting friars from various communities, attending seminars, retreats and serving at different ministry sites has all been beneficial.”

Ian: “In August, I entered into a program with ideas that shaped my identity as a Catholic male discerning a possible vocation to the Order of Friars Minor. However, during my exchanges with friars, fellow postulants, and others beyond the walls of Holy Name College, I have found what I thought were developed thoughts and understandings to be challenged, reshaped, and — although quite rarely — affirmed. In short, growth as a person has been occurring. I do not want to have this be understood as growth that is gone through with ease or any small duration of time, as much of the time it is far from easy and farther from being complete.”

Diego: “It has been a rewarding experience. The initial transition was a little difficult, but one of the things I really like about the program is the consistent structure that we have with classes, ministry, prayer, and community events. It’s also rewarding to live with people that I can call my brothers and I know will always be there to support me.”

Daniel: “I really enjoy learning about myself, as well as the people we serve. I led a very independent life prior to entering this program, and I did not expect community life to be as difficult as it has been for me. As the program continues, I will be paying particular attention to this aspect of the discernment process. I have really enjoyed those moments of fantastic conversation with the older friars, especially regarding their ministries in the past.”

Salvador: “In the beginning of our program, I experienced some challenges — especially adapting to this new life and changes in my life — but eventually I started to feel more content.”

Loren: “There was much that I expected to find here prior to joining the postulancy program — time for prayer and discernment, meaningful ministry work, and deepening my relationship with God. But there was also much that I didn’t expect. I wasn’t prepared to grow in affection for complete strangers as quickly as I did and to be challenged to grow as a person so as to better serve the brothers who have embraced me.”

John: “The first couple of weeks were a bit tough because I was homesick and it was hard for me to adapt to a new routine. It helped when I was assigned my house jobs and ministry. The most rewarding aspect of the postulant program so far has been community life and prayer. Community life, more than anything else, has truly helped me feel joy with the journey. Sharing our faith, prayer, meals, and activities has been a rewarding experience.”

Rafael: “This phase of my life has been one of affirmation, challenge, and discovery. I feel more certain about my vocation than I was before entering.”

Richard: “This year could be described as crazy, seasoned with a dash of ‘you’re out of your mind.’ Living with people of so many different backgrounds can be challenging at first. I now have teachers among brothers, living books to enrich the way I live and minister to those I encounter, giving me strength and confidence in our bond as brothers, to live this faith in a dark and changing world. All this given in the gathering of our prayers as we sing to the love of Christ each morning and night.”

Carlos: “During my time here, I have found brothers who are looking – as I am – to find an answer to God’s call in their lives. In this way, we have learned more about the Franciscan way of life, the fraternal charisma and living in community. I am originally from El Salvador and for a long time, the desire to live in religious life has grown within me. When I first met the friars of St. Camillus and saw all the apostolic and social work they did, the desire to serve among those in need became greater.”

Matt: “It’s been a challenge to learn to be a brother to people I may not have necessarily been friends with outside of the postulancy. We bring our individual struggles, hearts, and talents to the community and that is a blessing.”

Josh: “Being in postulancy has been a blessing so far. Although living in community has been quite a transition, the support of my wonderful and diverse brothers has made me feel quite at home among them. I very much enjoy the rhythm of prayer, ministry, and fraternal life.”

Nhan: “It has been up and down, but overall a good year. I’ve realized living in this community takes a lot of prayers and energy. In the past, I had a chance to meet a lot of medical students. Their training is quite long, like religious formation, but they have their peers’ support system. Likewise, my formation journey is long, but I do not walk alone because there are many Franciscan friars who are willing to walk with me.”

Steven: “I have already seen a lot of change within me. Now that I am living in community, I have had to deal with some of my insecurities. Although recognizing the areas in which I need to grow has not always been a picnic, I’m grateful that I have this opportunity to grow as a human being and to do so in the midst of some great, genuinely caring guys.”

Postulants enjoy spending time in the chapel and welcome the opportunity to reflect on their Franciscan journey. (Photo courtesy of Franciscan Interprovincial Postulancy)

What aspects of the Franciscan message have you found most thought-provoking and are you involved with a ministry or a community outreach program?

Andrew A.: “I help out at a Jeanne Jugan nursing home in Washington, D.C., with the Little Sisters of the Poor. I lead the morning rosary and a short bible study. After that, I help residents get to the chapel for daily Mass. I also visit residents who cannot get out of their rooms and talk to them. I see my ministry mostly as a ministry of presence. Simply being present and listening and talking to the residents brings a little energy to them and I hope increases their quality of life. What drew me initially to the Franciscans was the idea of fraternity in mission. Over the past few months, I have continued to contemplate and evolve my understanding of this idea. The Franciscan family is much bigger and more diverse than I ever would have imagined. Whatever work or ministry I end up doing I will always have brothers to lean on and I will never be alone.”

Andrew D.: “My ministry is serving at Saint Francis International School in Silver Spring three days a week. I enjoy the Franciscan messages of prayer, community, ministry and the fraternal lifestyle.”

Ian: “For me, the most inspiring part of the Franciscan message is that of service. The 800-year tradition of not only caring for Catholics, but caring for people in all paths and cultures is something that I find very inspiring. I am in ministry at a nursing home in Washington, D.C., that is operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, three days a week. While I am there, I fill many roles – from being a bedside reader to serving the altar for daily Mass. Like much of what I am learning about Franciscan daily life, while at the nursing home, there is no such thing as an ordinary day. I can only start every day with an open mind and a prayerful heart.”

Diego: “I serve as a school minister for Saint Francis International School working as a teaching assistant in a fifth- to eighth-grade Spanish classroom. I also work with the student servers and lectors to prepare them for the weekly school Mass and serve as a youth minister, catechist, and youth group coordinator. I find inspiring that we are called to be brothers to all people and live in love as Christ has taught us, and to love and cherish all of God’s creation.”

Daniel: “My ministry includes teaching ESL classes and second-year catechism on Sunday morning and praying the rosary as well as visiting with elderly folks at a local assisted living facility. I also volunteer for the Meals on Wheels program through St. Camillus and participate in other immigration and environmental ministries. Franciscan theology has inspired me, particularly the works of Blessed John Duns Scotus and others of similar theological thought. I have cultivated a great appreciation for this ‘wing’ of Catholic theology in this brief time and am looking forward to learning more about this topic.”

Salvador: “My ministry is helping within a community of immigrants from Central America. I am helping in the ESL program for adults and in the catechetical program of RCIA for teens.”

Loren: “My ministry is with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, specifically with a program called Parish Partners. This group goes out to parishes to assist in setting up social ministries like clothes closets, soup kitchens, and immigration assistance. The most rewarding part of my ministry so far has been helping to develop an awareness in parishes about domestic violence and how to minister to people who are experiencing violence in their homes. I resonate with the Franciscans’ message of radical inclusion and love. I’ve found that every friar I have met – each different in his own way – seems to express in his being a warmth and welcome I haven’t found anywhere else. God humbled himself to dwell among us out of his love for us. I am inspired by the friars I have met who emulate this form of downward mobility to humble themselves to dwell among and serve the poor and marginalized in our society.”

John: “I am helping with Catholic Charities’ Welcome Home Reentry Program. The program supports returning citizens – recently released prisoners – as they re-enter the community, offering daily necessities like public transportation costs, hygiene kits, and referrals to housing, as well as a volunteer mentoring program. The Franciscan focus on reaching out in mercy to those abandoned is the message that has caused me the most reflection. We are called to identify the ‘leper,’ both in our lives and the lepers of society. I like that Franciscans try to live the love of Jesus Christ and preach through their example and compassion.”

Rafael: “I am a mentor at Saint Francis International School for one of the students and my ministry includes helping him keep up with his schoolwork, explaining concepts that he may find difficult to understand, and being a big brother — someone he can relate to. I also assist with the liturgical ministries at the school and help students prepare to be lectors and altar servers at Mass.”

Richard: “I work with Catholic Charities and their partners in parishes, helping with domestic violence awareness and establishing new programs in the D.C. area. We do everything from pantry supplies to coat drives. I’ve been exposed to different programs that the Catholic Church is involved with. I love the idea of helping people in need and meeting that need wherever they are.”

Carlos: “I work in a place that helps the homeless, people with addictions and those who are looking for a job. I also work in the St. Camillus parish mission, the community of Langley Park. I teach catechesis and collaborate with the music ministry. The service to our brothers attracts my attention, as the Franciscan friars work hard in different ministries.”

Matt: “I feel blessed to be working at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land. I’m exposed to people from all over the world who want to come closer to Jesus and experience the places where he lived. I also work for Franciscan Action Network, advocating for social, climate, and immigration justice. We come together with believers of different faiths to speak in a single voice and promote fairness, compassion, and just policies. I’ve always wanted to be part of a mission. My public defender work didn’t adequately provide a sense of mission because most of our brokenness is spiritual. I felt a disconnect among the needs I recognized and what I was doing. Living in the world and working in a profession where there is so much heartbreak, loss, and confusion, I needed hope. People need hope. I believe that hope is Jesus. I want to grow closer to him and serve him by serving others.”

Josh: “I work as a reading tutor at a public elementary school in Washington, D.C. We work with students one-on-one using a curriculum that targets pronunciation, reading comprehension, and writing skills. I’ve found most thought-provoking the Franciscan spirit of joy, which has become more and more important in our society. With so much discord in our world, Francis challenges me to bring Christ’s joy not only to those close to me, but in every person I meet.”

Nhan: “I help at Shepherd’s Table – an organization that helps individuals who are homeless or in need by providing basic services, including meals, social services, medical support, clothing, and other assistance – in downtown Silver Spring. I do everything from helping with pantry supplies to coat drives. I also help serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner for about 135 people. I love the Franciscan charisma and working for the poor, being an instrument of peace and never being afraid to get our hands dirty for God.”

Steven: “Three days a week, I do my ministry at a public elementary school in Washington, D.C. I am a reading tutor, leading one-on-one sessions with students in grades K to 5. The aspect of the Franciscan message that I have found most inspiring is the importance of promoting peace. The story of the meeting of the Catholic saint and the Muslim sultan in the midst of the Crusades is so important to tell in our time, which is often characterized by political polarization and global fears. Although the Franciscan tradition is more than 800 years old, it still has a relevant and much-needed message of building peaceful relationships based on the view that all people are kin to us.”

— Johann Cuervo is the communications assistant for Holy Name Province.

Editor’s note:  Information about the vocation and formation programs can be found on the BeAFranciscan.org website.

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