NEW YORK — It was a celebration of the past – but even more so, the glorious beginning to the next plateau of their ministerial journey – as a group of friars marking their golden and silver anniversaries of profession this year were honored at a special Mass on June 21 in the magnificent setting of St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street.
With voices raised high and the organ pipes reverberating the beautiful hymn “All Are Welcome,” the jubilarians processed up the main aisle of the church, occasionally acknowledging well-wishers with wide smiles and subtle waves. The pews were filled with family members, friends and friars from throughout Holy Name Province, all of whom came to acknowledge and celebrate this group that humbly calls itself part of the fraternity established centuries ago by St. Francis of Assisi.
The friars marking 50 years since their first profession are Paul Bourque, OFM, of Boston; Peter Chepaitis, OFM, of Middleburgh, N.Y.; Daniel Kenna, OFM, of New York City; Charles O’Connor, OFM, of Loudonville, N.Y., John O’Connor, OFM, of Triangle, Va., and Richard Trezza, OFM, of Ringwood, N.J. Celebrating 25 years of profession are Russel Murray, OFM, of Rome, Italy, and Sean O’Brien, OFM, of Loudonville.
The Journey Has Only Begun
Provincial Minister and celebrant Kevin Mullen, OFM, challenged the jubilarians not to rest on their laurels.
“Don’t sit back, don’t become complacent,” Kevin encouraged during his homily. “The game goes on. There is much to achieve, not for ourselves, but to proclaim the beauty of God. We look forward because the best is yet to come.”
He added, “We thank you for the gift of your profession, and we give thanks that you have shared your gift with us.”
One of the more dramatic and emotional moments came in a simple act of humility when the jubilarians – standing across the altar and facing the congregation – renewed their vows as one voice.
While Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan, OFM, was the chief organizer of the celebration and the reception that followed, the honorees played a major role in planning the liturgy by choosing the Scripture readings and musical selections.
Several of the jubilarians had participatory roles in the Mass – including Peter and Russel, who proclaimed the first and second readings, respectively, and Dan, who presented the petitions during the prayer of the faithful. Sean took part in the Communion Rite.
Others made the Mass an extra-special occasion – the music ministry team, in particular, consisting of St. Francis Parish’s director of music ministries Meredith Augustin, organist Jared Lamenzo, and cantor Liam Mulligan.
The themes of the Scripture readings – “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:1-10) and “Christ Jesus humbled himself; because of this God greatly exalted him” (Philippians 2:6-11), appropriately reflected the lives of the jubilarians, according to Kevin.
“Not unlike young Samuel, they were able to discern the Word of God calling them to walk the path of Francis and Clare of Assisi, and embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Kevin said during his homily. “In doing that, they very much followed the path that we hear unfold in the second reading, when the great Philippian hymn challenges all the leaders – that their attitude, disposition and outlook on life must be that of Jesus Christ.”
He continued, “We empty ourselves to be filled with the blessing, grace and life of Jesus Christ. These brothers have emptied themselves to be filled with Christ – and when you are filled with Christ, it is not ever for yourself. It is always to share.
“The perennial truth – if you want to discover who you are, give yourself away. That’s what our brothers have done,” he added.
Kevin also pointed to the powerful connection between the ministerial journey of the jubilarians and the five signs of holiness cited by Pope Francis in his recently published third apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate.”
“Pope Francis speaks of perseverance, patience and meekness. Perseverance is that [the jubilarians] hang in there; the test of time has been given to these men. They respond with patience and meekness. They have gone forth and have continued to strive,” said the Provincial Minister, who went on to mention the Pope’s other signs of holiness – including fundamental joy, boldness, community and prayer – and thanked the jubilarians for reflecting these signs of holiness in their lives.
Celebrating with Family and Friends
After the jubilee Mass, a reception followed at the nearby San Damiano Hall, where fellowship, family, friends and friars abounded. Memories were awakened, stories were shared, old friends caught up, and new friendships were made.
New York City firefighters of Engine 1/Ladder 24, whose firehouse is located across the street from St. Francis of Assisi Church, greeted the jubilarians with a unique tribute when they emerged from the church. The friars were saluted with lights and sirens of the fire trucks that peered from the open firehouse doors, as firefighters gathered on the sidewalk and waved. Christopher Keenan, OFM, arranged the special salute. For one jubilarian, the FDNY recognition hit close to home.
“I went over and shook the hands of the firefighters and thanked them on behalf of all the friars,” said John, who in addition to serving as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, Va., is lead chaplain and battalion chief of the Prince William County Virginia Department of Fire & Rescue.
“It was also great to see so many friars, family and friends gather to honor us. The liturgy was uplifting and, as is always the case for celebrations at 31st street, the music was excellent,” said John, adding, “But I couldn’t help but think of the old adage – ‘Where does the time go!’”
Dan, who is assigned to the Provincial headquarters in New York City, said, “The jubilee celebration was wonderful. My family, the gathered friars, Kevin’s homily and the liturgy were uplifting and filled me with a deep sense of gratitude for blessings received. Mike Harlan made the celebration special.”
Russel, who flew from Rome (where he serves as moderator for evangelization at the General Curia of the Order of Friars Minor) to attend the celebration, called his 25th anniversary of profession a testimony to grace and an occasion of profound gratitude.
“I am grateful to the Lord who called me and continues to sustain me in this graced life – and I am equally grateful to my brother friars the Lord has given me to make this Gospel journey,” said Russel, who acknowledged classmate Sean as one of those brothers.
He also singled out a point in Kevin’s homily that resonated with him. “We do not look to the past for our best days, because our best says are always yet to come – the days to which the Lord continues to lead us in fulfillment of our Christian and Franciscan vocation,” said Russel, whose parents, who reside just across the Hudson in New Jersey, attended the celebration and witnessed their son renew his vows.
Gratitude for Fraternity
Another jubiliarian was deeply moved by being able to celebrate 50 years of profession with classmates, as well as his brother friars and other individuals who have been part of his five decades as a Franciscan.
“I was abundantly blessed that the guests who joined me at the celebration reflected different parts of my 50 years in community and ministry,” said Peter, who leads a contemplative prayer and collaborative preaching ministry that offers missions, retreats, interfaith prayer services, and Franciscan spirituality meetings out of Middleburgh, N.Y.
The liturgy at the jubilee Mass took on personal meaning for Peter. “I was moved by its beauty and simplicity, but the two moments that touched me were the responsorial psalm – which was the same one I sung at my mother’s funeral Mass – and the response of the congregation when we renewed our vows,” said Peter, who acknowledged the presence of Chris and Benedict Taylor, OFM, as being special to him because they all have been part of the Emmaus fraternity for friars who have lived singly in their ministry.
Charles, who is a member of the friar team at the St. Francis Chapel mall ministry in Colonie, N.Y., said he had a recurring thought throughout the Mass and reception. “How grateful I am to be serving the Church as a Franciscan for the last 50 years,” he said. “This fraternity of friars has given me the encouragement and support in all of the joys and challenges that I have faced.
“The jubilee Mass was a very moving scene – to have so many friars in attendance recognizing us as a class and thanking us for years of faithful service. It was a chance to truly celebrate with my fellow friars,” said Charles, noting that the part of the Provincial Minister’s homily about the pope’s exhortation on holiness was particularly appropriate.
“Fifty and 25 years as friars is a true test of perseverance, facing many challenges with true patience, meekness and humility, and recognizing that it was ultimately God’s grace that has sustained us,” Charles said.
— Stephen Mangione is a longtime writer and public relations executive based in Westchester County, N.Y.
- “Seven Jubilarians Honored at Mass in New York City” – June 25, 2017, HNP Today