This is the first in a series of articles featuring friars celebrating jubilees in 2011.
RALEIGH, N.C. — Mark Reamer, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church, one of the Province’s largest parishes, is celebrating the 25th jubilee of becoming a Franciscan this year.
HNP Today caught up with Mark by phone recently to discuss his 25 years of friar life, which has included diverse work in parishes, a university communications department, as a Navy chaplain serving in Iraq, and chaplaincy to police officers outside Washington, D.C., and in Raleigh.
Mark has enjoyed responding to each call God had for him, saying that every assignment was the best. “The assignment most satisfying has been the one that I’ve been in,” he said with a smile. He thanks God for each and every opportunity and looks forward to continuing to serve as a friar and a priest for many years to come.
“The next 25 years, I’d do it over again. No regrets of being part of the Province. I encourage others to join us.”
Desire to Make a Difference
His initial reason for joining the Franciscans still rings true today. “One of the reasons I joined was to be part of something larger than myself. Living in community with others has been rewarding.”
While he is the pastor to a very vibrant and environmentally-conscious church, where approximately 5,000 people worship at five Masses each Sunday, Mark said he takes no personal credit for this. Instead, he credits the faithful parishioners.
“It’s because of the faithfulness to the vision of the second Vatican Council, and our collaboration in bringing together the gifts of the baptized.”
But he’s quick to point out that St. Francis Parish doesn’t compare itself to other Catholic churches, and is humbled to be such a vibrant parish. “Our Province stresses partnership in ministry,” he said, “and that’s what we do.”
Mark came to St. Francis in 1995 at the invitation of Daniel Kenna, OFM, when the church had a small sanctuary, an activity center and a small building that housed the preschool. Over the years, as the community grew around Research-Triangle Park, the parish burgeoned, and expanded to 35 acres. Today, it has 145 employees; including 35 pastoral staff members and 110 teachers in the preschool, elementary and schools, which serve 900 students and twice that in the parish’s faith formation program.
Strategic planning has supported this growth, according to Mark. “Every three years we evaluate where we’ve been and where we’re going.”
The leadership skills that Mark said he learned in the Navy have also supported this strategic growth. “During my time in the Navy, I went to leadership school that exposed me to a wider world in leadership theory.” He also gives credit to the friars who were his mentors.
Mark first became involved in the military while ministering at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, Va. Located near the marine base at Quantico, the Triangle parish serves many military families, and Mark was asked to lead a retreat at the base. He enjoyed it so much that he sought permission to join the U.S. Navy Reserves as a chaplain.
“For a span of 13 years, I enjoyed the opportunity to minister as a priest to the young men and women of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. I had the opportunity to serve in many varied places, from Coronado, Calif., to Camp Lejeune, N.C. I never anticipated that I would serve in a combat zone.”
In 2003, he served in the Iraqi War.
A Family of Priests and Nuns
Mark. who grew up in northern New Jersey, comes from a family of priests and nuns. The youngest of eight, he has a brother who is a diocesan priest in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and a sister with the Sisters of the Divine Compassion in Yonkers, N.Y. His cousin, the late Donan McNally, OFM, also influenced his decision to join the Franciscans.
Ever since he was a child, vacationing with his family on Long Beach Island and attending Mass at the Province churches there, Mark knew he wanted to go into the ministry. He recalls serving as an altar boy.
“Though I grew up in a dynamic diocesan parish, it was the fraternal experience of the friars in Beach Haven, N.J., that spoke to me when I began to think about priesthood and religious life.”
Once he enrolled at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., he studied religious studies and education toward his vocation as a friar. After Siena, he attended Washington Theological Union. With an interest in communications, he spent a part of three summers studying in a certificate program in communications at the University of Dayton.
Mark’s pastoral internship year was in the Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y., where he also was a campus minister.
SBU was actually his third ministry experience, after being assigned first to St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan, where he also worked with St. Francis Residences and in the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of New York, and then at Christ Hospital in Jersey City, N.J., to earn a unit of clinical pastoral education.
“This afforded me the opportunity to work with Richard Husted, OFM, and the Berakah Community,” he said. Berakah, which is Hebrew for blessing, was a community of single young adults in northern New Jersey.
After returning to Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., he was assigned as a priest at St. Francis, Triangle, where he was a formation student. Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, was the pastor at the time, and Mark recalls his time there as rewarding and exciting.
Celebrating His First Mass
“It was here that Frank Sevola, OFM, and I were ordained deacons, and later I celebrated my first Mass,” recalls Mark. “The people were wonderful and supportive. I learned a lot at WTU, but it was the people in Triangle who taught me far more about what it means to be a priest and preach the Gospel. … I must confess, they were very patient with me.”
It was during his time at Triangle that he also began work as the chaplain to the Prince William County Police Department.
One of the challenges for his current role in Raleigh is to expand the youth ministry and better engage middle and high school students, especially through the parish’s school.
“I love having our schools here. It adds energy and enthusiasm and is another way for families to be involved. We’d like to integrate lifelong faith formation into the parish.”
He said that just about the only other thing that people need to know about him is: “I’m a hacker when it comes to golf.”
He enjoys going to New Jersey to visit his mother, who lives in Pompton Plains and attends St. Anthony Church in Butler. He also enjoys reading leadership books and political/spy novels by David Baldacci.
He would like to be remembered in this world as a faithful man of integrity.
“One of the things that gives me great joy is ministering with people — whether it’s the pastoral staff or parishioners. It’s all worthwhile.”
Mark’s official anniversary of profession is June 7. He anticipates using the occasion for a jubilee celebration with a parish fundraiser. On June 30, he and the golden jubiilarians of profession will be honored at a Provincial event in New York City.
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.