Jubilarian Profile: Francis Pompei Celebrates Profession Anniversary

Wendy Healy Friar News

This is the fourth in a series of profiles of HNP friars commemorating their anniversaries of Franciscan profession this year. The last friar to be featured was Kenneth Paulli, OFM.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — “Thank you, Jesus, for leading me to the friars,” said Francis Pompei, OFM.

The guardian of St. Francis Friary in Buffalo was a diocesan priest for nine years in Upstate New York before becoming a Franciscan friar.

Francis, celebrating 25 years as a friar in June, said that his ministry was somewhat limiting to him as a diocesan priest and felt that something was missing in his spirituality.

“I wanted to work with the poor,” he said. “I wanted to do more than parish ministry. I wanted to preach and teach, and I have that flexibility with the Franciscans.”

While doing diocesan training at Christ the King Seminary near St. Bonaventure University, Francis met the friars, and was influenced by the late Joseph Doino, OFM, and Daniel Lanahan, OFM, to join the Order.

“After a few years as a diocesan priest, I began to really miss others to pray and share faith with. It’s just not diocesan priests’ spirituality.” So, remembering his experience of the friars at St. Bonaventure, and their brotherhood and prayer together, Francis prayed and discerned that he was being called to the Franciscans.

“As a diocesan priest, your identity comes from your ministry — you live for the ministry. As Franciscans, our identity comes from community, from fraternity — that is one of the things that drew me to the friars,” he said.

“I remember taking my vows, and telling the Provincial Minister, ‘Thank you, for setting me free.’”

A Gift for Preaching
While a diocesan priest, it was clear to Francis that he had a strong gift of preaching, so when he joined the Province, the Ministry of the Word was a likely place to land — to preach, teach and evangelize around the country and even with one of the friars who influenced him in seminary, Dan Lanahan.

That ministry has been very effective for Francis, who travels roughly 15,000 to 20,000 miles a year, doing retreats on both coasts, mostly from September to May. That mileage, he said, doesn’t include trips that he takes by car to other locations in the Northeast.

When HNP Today caught up with him by phone, Francis was preparing for a trip to Seattle for a parish mission and staff retreat. From there, it was on to California.

As part of the MOW, Francis started the Franciscan Mystery Players, teenagers who present a living dramatic meditation at churches around the country. Francis writes, directs and produces the mystery plays, for the 12 operating groups in the United States.

Francis has been in Buffalo for nearly four years, and while he could live anywhere since his ministry is traveling, he said he does not mind the cold New York winters. He grew up in Oswego and taught at Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School, where many friars have taught and attended. He also has ministered at St. Francis Inn, the Province’s soup kitchen in Philadelphia, from 1995 to 2006.

“I like Buffalo,” he said, “especially the community, which is into living simply. We cook, we clean, we live in simple rooms, a lot like a dorm. It is one of our oldest friaries — built in 1882.”

He also welcomed the chance to move back to Upstate New York to be closer to a brother and sister in a close-knit family.

“Our friary is a good house, with good men,” he said. “We’re trying to save our nickels and dimes to implement the vision of the Province of more direct service to the poor.” Not associated with any parish since St. Rita-St. Patrick closed several years ago, the friars are praying for the spirit to lead them to a new ministry identity and Franciscan presence in Buffalo, one that is closely associated with the poor neighborhood surrounding the friary.

“After Easter, we are going to meet with Russ Testa, the Province’s JPIC director, to seek his help in discerning the vision for us here in Buffalo, maybe similar to the one I experienced in Philadelphia at St. Francis Inn. Currently, we have a food pantry that feeds 150 families and a thrift store open a couple days a week. With the new vision of more direct service to the poor, we’re hoping to expand into new areas.”

Proud of the Province
Francis is most proud of being part of a Province that gives support and encouragement to individual friars and communities to live out their ministries.

pompei“The hallmarks and gift of our Province is that it really fosters a discerning of the spirit. We don’t operate like a corporation. Even in the HNP visioning process, there was a lot of praying, and the Provincial Minister and the council said, ‘Let’s listen to all the friars and to their experiences. We will be able to see how the Lord is working and where and what the Spirit is leading us to do.’”

“That’s a gift,” he added. “When you travel all over the country giving missions and retreats, I can assure you, many, if not most dioceses, don’t operate or discern the Lord’s will that way. We truly are blessed.”

Francis said that people may be surprised to know that he makes the time and effort to stay in shape, playing tennis two days a week. He also laughs when he tells people he plays the Highland bagpipes, learning during his time at the Philadelphia soup kitchen. He also performs and competes as a member of one of the best pipe bands on the East Coast. “I still play a lot, on all my parish missions, and at funerals and weddings. Imagine, an Italian playing the Scottish bagpipes.”

He counts as his many hobbies an interest in theater, ballet, and opera, and says is a flying enthusiast. “I love to fly. In another life, I’d get my pilot’s license.” But for now, he’s content with building and flying radio control airplanes as a member of the Flying Knights of Hamburg, N.Y.

“Who you come home to is very important in life. It determines what your life is like — that’s where you draw your strength. The friars I live with are truly brothers. We have a good a sense of the camaraderie of St. Francis.”

“I think I found my niche as a friar. Thank you, St. Francis and HNP.”

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to this newsletter. Next issue’sjubilarian progile will feature Daniel Sulmasy, OFM.