NEW YORK — Surrounded by more than 100 of their OFM brothers, three friars – Brothers James Bernard, OFM, Steven Kuehn, OFM, and Aaron Richardson, OFM – professed their solemn vows as Franciscans at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi this summer. Friars from around the country, as well as relatives and friends, gathered on Aug. 21 at the West 31st Street church to watch them profess to live the Franciscan vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and to rejoice with them.
The Mass was traditional, but the joy and attendance seemed enhanced after nearly 18 months of pandemic restrictions requiring smaller celebrations. Like the 2020 solemn profession, this year’s event was live-streamed Facebook. However, unlike last year, more people were able to attend this Mass, generating a greater feeling of energy and enthusiasm. All in the church wore face masks for protection against the coronavirus, as required by the parish.
Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, who celebrated the 11 a.m. Mass, greeted the crowd with a big smile and words of welcome.
“We come to celebrate God’s gifts in the lives of our three brothers and to thank the Lord for their generosity in sharing their lives not only with the Order, but with all the people of God,” he said. “Congratulations, brothers. It’s great to be here.”
Along with the friars who came to Manhattan from ministry sites near and far, the pews were filled with family members, friends and provincial staff members.
“Having my family there meant the world to me,” said Br. Steven. “They have busy schedules and many responsibilities. The fact that they were able to be at Mass and share the celebration means so much. I would not be here if it weren’t for their love and support.”
“My profession made manifest what has always been present in my heart – a merging of my nuclear family with my Franciscan family – and it felt very special,” said Br. James.
Serving at the Mass were Fr. Lawrence Hayes, OFM, Provincial Vicar and secretary for formation and studies, and Fr. Joseph Rozansky, OFM, guardian of the interprovincial post-novitiate formation house in Chicago, who concelebrated, and Brothers Edgar Alberto, OFM, James La Grutta, OFM, Neil Pavao, OFM, and Carlos Wagner, OFM, who served as altar ministers. The master of ceremonies was Fr. Thomas Gallagher, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish. Music was provided by Meredith Augustin, the parish’s music director, Jared Lamenzo, organist, William Mulligan, cantor, and the St. Francis Rhythm Section. Nicholas Carbuto and Sarah Reyes served as lectors. Serving as Eucharistic ministers were two friars – Brothers Jason Damon, OFM, and Mike Specht, OFM – and two relatives of Aaron, Jodi and Terry Thein.
In his homily, Fr. Kevin highlighted the importance of transformation, sharing the perspectives of the three friars.
He talked about having recently read a review by Fr. Daniel Horan, OFM, of a new book called “Seeing Differently: A Franciscan View of Creation” that was written by three Anglican Franciscans.
“The day I read it was the day I received from these brothers the readings for today’s liturgy, so the title was in my head,” said Fr. Kevin, who noticed that the scripture readings were not about vocation – they were about penance and fasting.
Fr. Kevin described how the theme of the book encouraged him to think about what Aaron, Jim and Steve were thinking and feeling about their lives and approaching profession. The scripture choice made him wonder what the brothers were seeing differently.
“I realized that they’re looking at their vocation as Friars Minor through the lens of penance, through the lens of sacrificial giving, and through the lens of laying down your life for your sisters and brothers,” said Fr. Kevin. “That led me to recall the words of our Father Francis in his testament, which opens in this way: ‘The Lord gave me, Br. Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way – for when I was in sin, it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I had mercy upon them. And when I left them that which seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body.”
Fr. Kevin urged the listeners to see the world differently. “As we join with the brothers and witness this sharing of their lives for the Order and the people of God, we embrace a new way of looking. We recognize that in the broken and divided world that we live in, we desperately need a new way to see it, a new way to do it and a new way to act upon it.”
Br. Aaron said his family loved every aspect of the Mass. “They were especially taken by the music and the sight of the fraternal embrace. I am very grateful for the incredible ministers at St. Francis Parish who created such a moving liturgy and to the many friars who were present. It was a wonderful witness of who we are as a big, happy Franciscan family.”
“The gathering to celebrate the solemn profession was an outstanding example of brothers coming together,” said Fr. Kevin several weeks after the Mass. “Numerous friars have commented on how good it was to be together that day.”
The three recently professed friars reflected on the milestone, describing its significance with emotions ranging from gratitude to excitement to confidence.
“My profession is my ‘yes’ to God, to the Order, and to my brothers,” said Br. Jim. “It signifies my strong commitment to live the Holy Gospel and authentically live out my Franciscan vows in humble service to others for the rest of my life. It is the intersection of my heart’s desire and the desire God has for me to live a life of joy and to be my best self — the man I was created to be.”
He added, “The predominant emotion I felt on the day of profession was gratitude – to God for my vocation and for the HNP Franciscan fraternity. I felt especially grateful to those brothers who were part of my formation – the brothers who were my guardians and supervisors during my summer and yearlong internships, and the friars who have been mentors to me over the years.”
Br. Aaron said: “For me, it was incredibly moving to sit in front of the altar next to Steve and Jim. We couldn’t see the congregation behind us, but we certainly heard them. I think that the feeling that will persist in my soul’s memory from that day is the support and encouragement behind me.”
To calm himself that day, Br. Aaron made time for a quiet moment of prayer between the morning rehearsal and the start of the Mass.
“It was reminiscent of many hours that I’d spent throughout my discernment, being before the Divine and asking for God’s will for my life to be revealed in my heart,” he said. “I loved being able to go into prayer space, to mark the milestone in the journey of my life with God in a private and intimate way, knowing that so many people were waiting to mark that milestone with me publicly.”
“Returning to my seat after making my solemn profession and being greeted by the brothers, I felt a certain lightness – a new level of confidence knowing my place in the world, in the Church and as a full member of the fraternity,” said Br. Aaron.
Br. Steve said he felt many emotions leading up to and during the profession – a combination of nervous and excited.
“I was thinking about how much we have put into getting to where we are,” he said. “I really felt the joy that comes with celebrating this event. One part of the Mass that was especially moving for me was the litany of the saints. I remember tearing up a bit.”
“Professing final vows, for me, is an outward sign of how God has been moving in my heart,” Br. Steve added. “I first felt drawn to this way of life over seven years ago. I felt that God was calling me to something different from my path in the Navy, but I wasn’t exactly sure what, how or where.”
The newly-professed also reflected on their paths to solemn vows, which included a four-week retreat this summer at Mt. Irenaeus in Western New York.
“The time at Mt. Irenaeus helped me a great deal,” said Br. Steve. “Spending time with the other brothers who were preparing for solemn vows – Aaron and Jim as well as Josh Critchley and Henri Djojo – gave me a lot of encouragement and confidence in taking this step. It helped me to remember that we don’t walk this path alone. Our brothers are there to help us along the way.”
“Spending time in prayer and reflection during the summer was helpful in preparing my heart and mind for my profession,” said Br. James. “But equally important was the sharing of stories and the generous fraternal love and support I received from friar communities around the Province, and especially at St. Anthony Shrine on Arch Street and at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Butler.”
Paths to Solemn Profession
The three brothers, who have completed the traditional Franciscan formation process – postulancy, novitiate and several years of study, as well as a yearlong ministry internship – are working toward ordination. Their formation emphasized outreach ministry, which is so central to Franciscan life.
Br. James, a native of Bohemia, New York, served his 2020-21 internship at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, where he worked primarily at the Franciscan Food Center. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in financial planning from Grove City College in Pennsylvania, a graduate degree in banking from the American Bankers Association Stonier Graduate School of Banking on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, and accreditation as a mortgage professional from the School of Mortgage Banking in Washington, D.C. He joined the Franciscan Order in 2016 and professed his first vows in 2017. After professing his solemn vows, Br. James moved to Chicago to complete studies at Catholic Theological Union for his master of divinity degree.
Br. Steve grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, where he attended the U.S. Naval Academy, earning a bachelor of science degree in systems engineering. After graduation, he went to flight school in Pensacola, Florida, and served as a Navy aviator, disclosure analyst and catapult officer. While stationed in San Diego and Washington, D.C., he volunteered at food pantries and was active in prayer groups, Bible study, fellowship programs and other ministries at area parishes. After 12 years of service in the U.S. Navy, Br. Steve changed course and joined the Franciscans. Like Br. Jim, he professed his first vows as a friar in 2017. During the 2020-21 academic year, he completed an internship at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York.
Br. Aaron, a native of California who grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia, holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from nearby George Mason University. He joined Holy Name Province in 2014 and professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 2016. He studied at Catholic Theological Union where he plans to return in 2022 to complete his master’s in divinity degree. This past year, Br. Aaron served an internship at St. Francis Inn soup kitchen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he is now serving a second year.
The Province’s 2020 solemn profession Mass took place at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in Hartford.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
Editor’s note: Information about joining the Franciscan formation program can be found in the Become a Friar section of the HNP website.
- “HNP Formation Program Announces Transitions” – June 24, 2021, HNP Today
- “Two Friars Profess Final Vows” – Sept. 11, 2019, HNP Today
- “Veterans Day: Honoring Those Who Serve” by Steven Kuehn, OFM – Nov. 8, 2017, HNP Today
- “Nine Franciscans Profess First Vows” – Aug. 14, 2017, HNP Today
- “Post-novitiate Community Settles into Chicago” – Jan. 18, 2017, HNP Today