As part of the Franciscan formation process, prior to his solemn profession of vows, each Holy Name friar completes a yearlong internship, immersed in a Province ministry. This is the fourth in a series of profiles of student friars currently in their internship year. The most recent, about Frank Critch, OFM, appeared in the May 4 issue of HNP Today.
RALEIGH, N.C. — Eric Dwayne Fernandes, OFM, an intern at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, said his internship at this Franciscan community has given him more time to fall in love with the Order.
“I firmly believe in presence and this year was a most rewarding opportunity to be with people and journey with them,” said Eric, who prefers to go by Dwayne.
The native of India, who originally immigrated to Georgia at age 23, said the internship has allowed him to experience all aspects of life in a Franciscan faith community. “It’s a combination of everything that goes on in a parish,” he said.
His ministry work has included homiletics in church, nursing homes and prison settings, liturgy, spiritual direction, hospitality, music ministry, presentations in the Franciscan school, participating in fundraisers, and reaching out to African Americans, men, seniors, and gay and lesbian groups.
JPIC Fulfilling Ministry
An especially fulfilling aspect of his ministry, Dwayne said, has been with Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, and as a facilitator for JustFaith Ministries, a program that provides resources that transform people and expand their commitment to social ministry.
“As a facilitator of JustFaith, with its rich and varied program of study, I find myself especially challenged and strengthened to live out the vow of poverty in solidarity with the poor, the immigrant, the prisoner, the disadvantaged and the marginalized.”
Through the JPIC program, said Dwayne, he has been able to get to know the needs of the community. “Internships are good,” he said, “because they give a real perspective of what the community is about — theology and practice together.”
Growing up in Bombay, the youngest of five children, Dwayne said he was raised in a protective family and as a young man wanted to see more of the world. He came to Atlanta on a work visa eight years ago, working as a chef and attending a church that was once part of the Province.
“My vocation stemmed in Atlanta at the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,” said Dwayne. Not having U.S. citizenship, he was told that the best way to pursue the priesthood was to return to India to go to seminary. “I spent three years in the seminary in Bombay but I yearned to return to the birthplace of my vocation. So I applied to various dioceses in the United States and Canada and was selected by the Diocese of Calgary, Alberta. Having met the Franciscans in Canada, and then the Franciscans in the United States during my novitiate, I knew that this is where I belonged.”
He was drawn to the Franciscans, he said, because of their Gospel-oriented ministry and a spirituality that goes back to Christian roots. He also was attracted to St. Francis’ love of eco-spirituality and care for creation, the marginalized and the downtrodden.
When HNP Today caught up with him last week, he was driving to a prison where the friars were celebrating a liturgy. Dwayne was going to give the homily, focusing on a reading about Christ leaving to return to his Father and how the Church would survive. This was a good message, he said, for prisoners.
“Being in prison, you are without hope. But there is always hope in the Spirit. There is good news.”
Prison Ministry Very Rewarding
Dwayne said that prison ministry has been personally very rewarding. “My most sacred experience was celebrating the Eucharist with the inmates on death row. It truly was the oddest of places to encounter such a high level of spiritual intimacy.”
Dwayne’s association with the Province has allowed him to work in a variety of places. “Having been a part of Holy Name Province for some time now and having experienced much of the fraternity, ministries and vision of this Province, I have to say that I truly enjoy the opportunity of being a part of this community.”
During his novitiate in Wilmington, Del., he enjoyed working with Hispanics and took a lively interest in the youth group, children’s liturgy and Latino culture. “I used my CPE training and experience as a chaplain to advance a Gospel-oriented outreach to the homeless and to persons living with HIV and AIDS.”
In ministry assignments on Long Beach Island, N.J., Boston, Tampa, Fla., South Carolina and Raleigh, Dwayne said he has been able to challenge himself and grow, given the infinite diversity of ministries and expectations of the Province.
He said he has enjoyed living in community with HNP. “I constantly look upon celibacy as personal growth and an empowerment that is solely focused on God and the Church. At St. Francis, Raleigh, I was fortunate to develop an excess of wonderful relationships, and it feels incredible to be able to name many, including the friars, who love, care for, and support me.”
He is also happy that his internship affords him the opportunity to resurrect his talents in theater and drama, event management, advertising and marketing, he said, “to meet the standards of heightened creativity and hospitality that Holy Name demands.”
He is using his musical talents to help compose a piece, which includes four-part harmony, for the Mass with the New Roman Missal.
Dwayne will be at St. Francis for a few more weeks and is looking forward to his next ministry opportunity.
“In terms of the vow of obedience, I have come to see it as God’s call to a particular place, ministry or setting, and with a Christian concept like kenosis, I have always found great peace bowing down to the greater will.”
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.