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On Inaugural Religious Brothers Day, 10 Friars Share Joy of Their Vocations

(Photo courtesy of Silas Henderson)

Last week, on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the first-ever Religious Brothers Day was commemorated. The May 1 occasion, announced by the Brothers Think Tank – a group comprising members of four religious conference – was established to celebrate the religious brotherhood and to inspire young men to consider the brothers’ vocation.

Following the publication of the Vatican document on the “Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church,” a committee was formed to plan the celebration, which included prayer services and tributes to jubilarian brothers from lay and mixed communities and institutes of apostolic life, as well as other activities, according to the website of the National Religious Vocation Conference. A prayer card commissioned for the celebration focuses on the vocation of brothers — a gift given by God, received by the brothers, and shared with others.

“In today’s world and in service to the Church, brothers take their place with dedicated clergy, religious sisters, and laywomen and men to preach the Gospel message by the example of their lives, their commitment to be ‘brothers to all’ and in the many ministries where they labor for the kingdom,” said John Maganzini, OFM, of Boston in a reflection published April 28 in The Boston Pilot. “Religious brothers are men who, as an extension of their baptismal commitment and members of the priesthood of Christ, respond to a call to serve the Church in a variety of ministries. Under the umbrella of the Gospel message and in imitation of Mary’s ‘yes’ to God, brothers have heard the ‘word’ and seek to become ‘mirrors’ of the Gospel message in the modern world.” John, who professed his final vows as a Franciscans in 1985, is vicar of Franciscan spiritual companionship ministry and friary worship at the Shrine.

The Brothers Think Tank is a group of religious that meets twice annually to address issues related to brothers and generate ways to promote the lay religious vocation for men.

As people around the country recognized this inaugural day, friars reflected on what it means to be a brother. Nine non-ordained HNP members provided answers to two questions:

  • What do you like about being a Franciscan brother?
  • What is your ministry?

Their descriptions include comments about balance, opportunity, fraternal connectedness, serving as a bridge, and feeling rewarded.

George Camacho, OFM – Loudonville, N.Y.
I professed final vows on Aug. 27, 2016. Being a Franciscan brother has provided me with the opportunity to make the spiritual life and my relationship with God a top priority. By no means is that the only way to do so – however, becoming a Franciscan brother is the path that has best worked for me. I have the space to make prayer the top priority, and any “work” I do stems from that, as opposed to trying to squeeze in spiritual living when I am not “too busy” with other responsibilities. Living with other friars striving to do the same provides both a means of support as well as immense challenges. Nonetheless, living in community serves as a reminder that sustaining healthy relationships is important. When done well, it is the witness we give to the rest of the world, as Catholics and Franciscans.

I work for the director of the Damietta Cross-Cultural Center at Siena College. Our office advocates for students of diverse backgrounds (such as students of color, LGBTQ+, Muslim students) and we facilitate programming, workshops, and events to help foster cultural competency throughout the campus community. We offer support for the affinity clubs on campus (including Asian Students Association, Black and Latino Student Union, Pride – Gay Straight Alliance, Latinos Unificando Nuestra América, Muslim Students Association). Both within the classroom and beyond, our student leaders educate their peers on issues such as the importance of using inclusive language, being an active bystander, white privilege, as well as other topics.

Additionally, our students facilitate programs for the campus community such as Latin Dance Lessons, Chinese New Year, Black Heritage Month, Islam Awareness Week, Trans 101, and 201. Our office also facilitates programs such as Hip Hop Week, Interfaith programming, and speakers such as journalist and social justice advocate Shaun King, as well as Chuck D and Professor Griff from the legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy, among others. In the evening, I am a friar-in-residence. I live in a residence hall with mainly first-year students. Overall, it is a ministry of presence. I support the resident assistants with programming and provide a listening ear for residents who need it.

Gregory Day, OFM – Boston
I love being a Franciscan brother. My life has been very rewarding. Since my first profession in 1981, I have been involved in the ministry of education teaching in the primary grades. I have taught in our own Franciscan parish schools and in diocesan schools. It is a blessing to be involved in the lives of children and their families. I owe a lot to Holy Name Province because its leaders have always encouraged me in my vocation as a Franciscan brother and my ministry as an educator.

John Gill, OFM – Philadelphia
I entered the Order in 1993 and professed solemn vows in 1999. What I like about being a Franciscan brother is the idea of being consecrated to a life of service within the Church and in our society at large. Over the years, I have been very fulfilled living a vowed life that is focused on prayer, community, and ministry. I really love the rhythm of work and prayer that I experience as a friar.

I am assigned to St. Francis Inn Ministries in Philadelphia, a Franciscan ministry among the poor. I have had the experience of working in both food ministry and doing some social work and social service type of ministry. I have been working full-time since 2006 as the director of the St. Francis Urban Center, which provides social services to families and individuals. I spend most of my days interviewing and providing assessments, information, and referrals for resources related to housing and other services. I also provide case management to some families and individuals. I believe that my role as a Franciscan brother is to be present and walk with those who are experiencing brokenness, poverty, and hunger.

Robert Lentz, OFMButler, N.J.
My primary vocation as a Christian is evangelizing through the visual arts. My artistic work depends on a solid foundation of contemplative prayer. When I re-entered the Order in 2003, I had worked as a sacred artist for 40 years and had a good sense of who I was and what my life was about. I might have finished studies for the priesthood, which I began in the 60’s, but I realized ordination would have made serious art work almost impossible for me. Art takes our best time, not the moments that are left over after other work. I also realized that, as ironic as it might seem, I would have more opportunity for contemplative prayer as a brother than if I were a priest.

I made my solemn vows in 2010. I identify especially with the first followers of St. Francis, in the years before Bonaventure began the transformation of the Order into what we know today. For all these reasons, I am very happy to be a non-ordained brother.

Walter Liss, OFM – Silver Spring, Md.
I love being a Franciscan brother. I thank God for my vocation every day, occasionally I find myself asking, “What did I ever do to deserve this?” Of course, the answer is “nothing,” since a vocation is a gift. I have been given tremendous opportunities, and the vowed life with communal support enables me to move freely and easily to wherever God is calling me to serve. I also get to live with funny, smart, good, talented, and prayerful men. A friend of mine who joined Holy Name Province before me (but eventually discerned out) said to me once that “there’s laughter everyday” in the friary – he was right. Even when the inevitable challenges of life emerge, the Franciscan joy is always present.

I work with our postulants and serve as guardian of Holy Name College. The postulancy ministry is largely one of accompaniment, teaching, and being attentive to grace at work.

Gary Maciag OFM – Lodi, N.J.
For me, it isn’t so much a matter of “liking” being a brother – it is more a matter of choosing a certain way of living in relationship with others that brings both joys and challenges. I think Francis chose this way because it kept him focused on others. Personal happiness is more of a byproduct than a goal. One of the advantages of this life for me is that it naturally puts me in the position of a bridge. On one side, there is the ecclesial world of religious life; on the other, there is the everyday life of the laity. With a foot on both sides of the bridge, so to speak, I can help to unite those worlds. On the challenge side, there is the struggle to avoid defining your world as a series of “nots” – not a priest, not quite a layperson, not necessarily a pastoral minister, not quite a “regular” employee, and so on.

Right now, I am involved in higher education administration. While there are the different aspects of “office” work involved, I am also working with such things as ministry formation, shared governance and bylaw revisions. As executive director of the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities, I am working to help build a national community of educators building to share the Franciscan tradition.

Jim McIntosh, OFM – Philadelphia
What I like about being a Franciscan brother is that unlike many congregations in the Catholic Church, in the Franciscan orders there is no distinction between ordained and non-ordained friars. The word “friar,” after all, means “brother.” Through our rule, all friars are brothers. In the Franciscan orders, ordination is not a distinction between friars, but is instead merely one of many ministries practiced within the Order.

Although we have a checkered history in regards to the non-ordained friars – despite Francis of Assisi not being a priest, entrance to the Order by non-ordained friars was drastically restricted as early as the term of the fourth general minister, Haymo of Faversham (1240-1243) – the returning to our founding charism, as mandated by the Second Vatican Council, and the recent request by the four Franciscan general ministers that the pope allow all friars to be elected to all levels of governance of the order shows that Franciscans are rediscovering the basic value that all friars are first and foremost brothers.

I professed final vows in 2003 and now I work part-time as a team member at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia. I also work part-time for the U.S. provincial ministers running USFranciscans.org and associated websites and other communication vehicles, such as the FRIAR smartphone app.

Daniel Murray, OFM – Boston
I professed my final vows in August 1976. To me, that means I have almost 41 very happy years as a Franciscan brother. I love being a brother because it has given me many opportunities, places, and different ministries in which I can serve God and his people. As a Franciscan brother, I have ministered in places I would never have imagined. I have been blessed with opportunities to serve God through all kinds of people and events that have challenged and deepened my Catholic faith. I’m grateful for the opportunities Holy Name Province has given me. I’m a better and happier person because I have answered God’s call to serve the Church as a Franciscan brother.

At the present time, I am stationed at St. Anthony Shrine. I work in the development office and I am on the spiritual direction staff. I minister to the seniors by giving occasional presentations. I also work in the Mychal Judge Center for Recovery, hearing 5th Steps for people who are alcoholics. I consider each of these ministries as my way to serve God and his people.

Paul Santoro, OFM – Macon, Ga.
I professed my solemn vows on June 21, 1986. Being a brother has been the best 35 years of my life. I love the fact that I have had a variety of ministerial opportunities to share God’s unconditional love with others. Serving is this capacity has freed me to give myself fully to the people of God in the tradition of St. Francis. An additional blessing is sharing in the lives of the friars with whom I lived.

My current ministry is serving as case manager for the homeless at Daybreak, a day resource center for the homeless and poor in Macon. My role is to assess the needs of new guests to our facility and to set them up with the resources they need. Additionally, I follow up with those who have secured housing or jobs to assist them in their ongoing reentry into the community.

Basil Valente, OFM – New York City
As a Franciscan brother, I’m truly grateful for the fraternal connectedness that we share, including the tremendous support between and among my brothers, our community prayer experiences both in larger groups and at smaller gatherings, and the diverse ministries provided by each of us. “And after the Lord gave me brothers, no one showed me what I should do, but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the Holy Gospel.” (Testament, 1226) Especially this year, as I celebrate 30 years as a Franciscan friar with Holy Name Province, I will always remain grateful to God and to the Province for the tremendous support of me and my ministries, during my formation years and throughout my 30+ years in ministry. As Gervase White, OFM, a wonderful friar and my first guardian at St. Bonaventure University, used to say, “God is good and She’s getting better.” I pray that God and Saints Francis and Clare will continue to guide me as I continue on my good journey as a Franciscan brother.

As a Franciscan brother, I have been blessed to serve in a variety of ministries, in particular higher education ministry for more than 24 years at St. Bonaventure University. Currently on a leave of absence from St. Bonaventure University (as I hope to return there and get back to teaching one day), I am honored to now serve in the role of vocation director for Holy Name Province, where I have the privilege of ministering with my brothers and sisters and with men considering the Franciscan brotherhood. Additionally, I serve my province, and the larger Franciscan community, as a member of the Siena College Board of Trustees and as president of the vocation directors of the English-speaking Conference.

As Franciscans, we see ourselves as brothers to one another, living in community and supporting each other on our fraternal and ministerial journeys. While some are called to the ordained ministry as priests and others to lay ministry in a variety of roles, we are all brothers first and foremost. As a Franciscan brother, it is my sincere pleasure to invite men to consider the important question, Is God calling you to be a Franciscan friar? “The brothers, aware of the appeal that St. Francis has, should make it clear that his way of life and his values are an essential element of our calling.” (Constitutions, 145a)

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

(Artwork courtesy of Debbie Saenz)

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