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Historic Meeting Focuses on Future of Franciscan Life, Mission in U.S.

MILWAUKEE — Close to 60 friars gathered last week for the first-ever meeting of the entire leadership teams of the OFM provinces in the United States. Provincial Council members of Holy Name Province and the other six provinces met at Cardinal Stritch University to discuss future collaboration, and they departed with concrete plans.

“It was a productive meeting,” said Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, who, with Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM, five council members, and Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan, OFM, spent Dec. 10 through 14 in discussions, meetings, and liturgies. This group, along with council members of the provinces of Assumption, Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sacred Heart, St. Barbara, and St. John the Baptist gathered with General Minister Fr. Jose Rodriguez Carballo, OFM, General Vicar Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, and General Councilor Fr. Francis Walter, OFM.

A letter to the members of all the provinces announced the accomplishments of the gathering that was called “The Future of Franciscan Life and Mission in the United States.”

Action Steps 
“Over the course of four days, we made significant strides toward greater interprovincial cooperation,” according to the Dec. 14 letter, signed by the provincial ministers of the seven participating provinces.

The meeting resulted in two main actions:
1. Creation of an interprovincial commission to explore further collaboration among, and possible restructuring, of the provinces. The commission will include a friar from each province with one serving as chair. The Interprovincial Commission will make its recommendations to OFM leadership in the United States by fall 2013. All recommendations of the commission are non-binding and subject to approval of provincial leadership of each province.

2. Identification of six areas in which the provinces will seek enhanced collaboration. In each, a proposal for collaboration will be developed by the appropriate existing bodies of the provinces within 12 months, and presented to the U.S. provincials for review. The areas that will be evaluated are:

  • An interprovincial postulancy program
  • A common program for the temporary professed and ministerial formation
  • A national director of ongoing formation
  • A national webmaster/social media coordinator to focus on youth evangelization and vocation promotion
  • Consolidated operations for some financial matters — for example, common insurance, senior-friar care, liability, investment strategies
  • A national JPIC office

These two action steps reflect no decisions, said Dominic. “Where this all might go is dependent on the reports that will be submitted by the groups studying these various possibilities, and how those reports are received by the provincials and the provinces themselves. There is no direction set as yet other than to study each of these areas and see if and how greater collaboration might work.”

The provinces are in the process of naming the friar-members of the commission.

Background
The Milwaukee meeting was held as a follow-up to discussions about collaboration that have been held both in the United States and abroad.

“For two decades, the councils of the four provinces in the middle of the U.S. met annually about joint ventures in which their friars were involved, particularly in the area of initial formation,” according to the letter. “When those four councils gathered in Fort Mitchell, Ky., in September of 2011, they agreed that the time was ripe for all the provincial councils in the U.S. to meet. At the October 2011 meeting of the English-speaking Conference of the Order of Friars Minor in London, the American provincials endorsed this proposal, and called for a gathering of all the U.S. provincial governing councils in 2012.”

Dominic Perri, a consultant who has worked with religious organizations including Holy Name Province in the past, facilitated last week’s meeting.

During their stay in Milwaukee, the friars spent an evening at the OFM Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington. “We owe our solemnly professed brothers who serve on the novitiate team a profound debt of gratitude for their service to our fraternity, and we can be justly proud of our novice brothers who spoke eloquently and positively about their novitiate experience and were truly wonderful hosts,” said the seven provincial ministers in their letter.

The provincial ministers said what was accomplished during the meeting is “a reason for hope, a call to conversation, and a source of joy,” referencing a homily given by the General Minister urging us to be “Advent people of hope, conversion and joy.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.