Aubrey McNeil and Michael Jones. (Photo courtesy of Mike)

Michael Jones Marks 25 Years as a Friar

Stephen Mangione Friar News, Home Page – News

This is the first in a series of profiles of friars commemorating the 25th and 50th anniversaries of their profession in 2021.

TAMPA, Fla. – Michael Jones, OFM, has never cared for traveling. In fact, he seldom ventured from Allegany, the small town in Western New York where he grew up, attended college, and worked until joining Holy Name Province in his early 30s. Yet, during his two-and-a-half-decades as a Franciscan friar, Mike treasures the eight trips he made with mission teams of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford, Connecticut, to their sister parish in Fouji, Zoranje, Haiti – where he and the group would walk the final stretch into the small village because there wasn’t a road to support the safe passage of motor vehicles.

“Those visits were very humbling,” recalled Mike, who this year is commemorating 25 years since his first profession of vows as a Franciscan friar in June 1996. Deeper into the phone interview, it was evident that Mike views his Franciscan vocation with the same humility.

Mike on a visit to Haiti. (Photo courtesy of Mike)

“When we arrived in the village, the people would greet us in their native Creole and say that we were in their prayers. The liturgies were always packed, joyful, and filled with lively music. They had no electricity, no running water, and very little by way of possessions. Yet, they always made sure we had fresh fruit and food for our meals. Their wonderful sense of hospitality and what it meant to welcome the stranger was deeply moving,” said Mike, now a parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Parish in downtown Tampa.

Mike is among four HNP friars marking major anniversaries of their profession in 2021. The Province traditionally honors silver and golden jubilarians at a Mass in June at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street in New York City. However, due to the ongoing pandemic, the celebration is being planned for later this year and will be a combined commemoration of the 2021 and 2020 jubilarians.

The pandemic has prevented him from fully engaging in ministry since arriving at the Tampa parish last September. “Sacred Heart is a large, vibrant parish with an active congregation and ministries,” said Mike, who noted that despite pandemic restrictions and limitations he and the other four friars living in fraternity have been able to connect with parishioners – including his work with RCIA faith formation – by holding meetings with parish ministries through video conference technology.

“Some programs have been completely suspended until they can resume in person – for example, we still can’t visit patients in local hospitals as we would do under normal circumstances,” added Mike.

He is accustomed to large urban environments, having served at the downtown Hartford parish as parochial vicar from 2002 to 2010, during which time he and other friars and parishioners launched the sister-parish program that provided funding and support for lunch programs and textbooks for school children, construction of a new school and rectory, and gifts at Christmastime for St. Genevieve Church parishioners in the Haitian village located just north of Port au Prince.

Franciscan Influence
The third-oldest of four siblings – whose father was a pharmacist at St. Francis Hospital in Olean, near Allegany, and whose mother was a teacher at the elementary school of their parish of St. Bonaventure – Mike was surrounded by the Franciscan influence. It was a friendship formed during adolescence and one that followed him into young adulthood as a student at St. Bonaventure University, also in Allegany, one of two higher education institutions sponsored by the Province.

Mike with his parents in 1996 after his first profession of vows. (Photo courtesy of Mike)

He came from a church-going Catholic family, first meeting the friars at St. Bonaventure Parish, where he and his brothers were altar servers, and where he would later become a Eucharistic minister and active in other parish ministries. Mike attended the parish elementary school and Archbishop Walsh High School in Olean, whose faculties were staffed by members of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, whose motherhouse was located behind the parish church.

Although religious vocation was something he thought about periodically, after graduating from St. Bonaventure University in 1983 with a bachelor of business administration degree in management, Mike went on to work in local retail sales positions and as part-time director of the Allegany public library. But serving in lay ministry at St. Bonaventure Parish and being around the friars reignited the call to religious life. In June 1994, one month after his 33rd birthday, Mike began his year as a postulant with HNP at Holy Cross Friary in the Bronx, New York, which at the time was a Province formation house.

In June 1995, he was received into the novitiate, assigned to St. Francis Chapel and City Ministry Center in Providence, Rhode Island. One year later, he professed his first vows as a Franciscan friar at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, also in Providence. Mike made his solemn profession in September 2000 at St. Francis Church in New York City, and after spending his 12-month internship at St. Francis Parish on Long Beach Island in New Jersey, he was ordained to the priesthood in May 2001 at the 31st Street church.

“The discernment of my religious vocation was always to be a Franciscan. I was surrounded by Franciscans my entire life. Holy Name Province and the friars appealed to me because of their fraternal way of life – large groups of them always with that sense of fraternity and ministry of welcome. I wanted to be part of that,” said Mike.

“I take pride in our Franciscan values – especially the willingness to welcome all people, particularly the poor and marginalized, and to accept them wherever they are in their lives without passing judgment,” added Mike, who studied philosophy at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, and earned his master of divinity degree in 2001 from Washington Theological Union.

Appreciation of Parish Ministry
Mike’s 25 years of Franciscan life have been centered in parish ministry, something he has relished not because of the geography or types of ministries – or whether the parish is urban, rural, large or small – but rather because of the friars with whom he lives and ministers, and the people who make up a parish.

“Working and ministering with other friars brings comfort in knowing that you always have this fraternity of brothers you can count on for support. That’s one of the special characteristics of Holy Name Province and being a Franciscan friar,” said Mike, whose first assignment after ordination was parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, North Carolina – which he described as a dynamic community where he learned much from the friars, parishioners and large staff of laypeople during his one-year stay.

Mike celebrating his first Mass in Allegany, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of Mike)

“That’s the other aspect of a parish – its people. The congregants are what make a parish unique. I love parishes where the community is active in ministries and programs. Interacting with parishioners becomes that much more rewarding because, in a lot of ways, they’re ministering to me as much as I am ministering to them,” said Mike, who is excited and open to the opportunities of expanded fraternity and ministry when six of the provinces of the Order of Friars Minor in the United States are scheduled to become one province in 2023.

As he reflects on the past two-and-a-half-decades, Mike said it would be impossible for him to single out one assignment over the others. After being stationed in Raleigh for one year and in Hartford for eight years, he moved in July 2010 to St. Anthony of Padua Church in Butler, New Jersey, where he served as parish pastor and guardian.

“Living adjacent to the Province’s retirement house was a joy because it enabled me to experience a larger extended fraternity. There were many dinners with wonderful brothers who were living there,” said Mike.

After brief assignments at Assumption Parish in Wood-Ridge, New Jersey, and St. Anthony Parish in Yulan, New York, he served for six years – three as pastor – at St. Mary of the Angels Parish in Anderson, South Carolina, where he had the opportunity to extend his pastoral ministry beyond parish boundaries, working at a local homeless program and soup kitchen serving the wider community.

While in Anderson, he also enjoyed connecting with HNP friars stationed at nearby Clemson University and St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville, and spending the Thanksgiving holiday with a local community of Poor Clares. Last summer, he found himself in a holding pattern for two months at St. Francis in Raleigh until travel restrictions were relaxed, allowing him to travel to his new assignment at Sacred Heart Parish.

Mike (right) with the late Jim Hynes during a visit to Assisi. (Photo courtesy of Mike)

Murder Mysteries, Baking and Fraternity
There’s a running joke among parishioners and the new contingent of friars who arrived at the downtown Tampa parish – that their arrival in September had something to do with the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team winning the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team reaching the World Series, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team taking home the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LV.

“The teams won because the friars came here – at least that’s what we’re going with,” said Mike, a fan of the Buffalo Bills, which play just 75 miles away from where he grew up. However, after the Bills were eliminated from the playoffs, he joined Sacred Heart parishioners and rooted for the hometown team.

When he has some downtime, Mike pursues his hobby – tracing his genealogy. He has learned that part of his family lineage dates back to the 1600s in Alsace, a historical region in northeastern France that borders Germany and Switzerland. He also enjoys watching movies, especially British murder mysteries.

A little-known fact about Mike is that he has a penchant for baking – “nothing in particular, more like trying new things,” he says – a talent he inherited from one of his grandmothers. His comfort in the kitchen, however, goes beyond desserts. “I look forward to my weekly turn to cook for the other friars in the house,” said Mike, whose favorite is Italian cuisine. “The biggest challenge is figuring out what everyone likes and avoiding cooking a dish that someone already made that week.”

Most of all, Mike relishes the friendship and fraternity – whether in conversation, watching a movie, or ministering – of living in a five-friar community at Sacred Heart. He says that many friars have been inspirational to his ministerial life over the past 25 years.

“I have learned something from all the brothers I have lived with. Everyone has something to offer, and every friary has created the opportunity to meet a different group of brothers. Fraternity is important because you know that you’re not doing this alone. As a Franciscan friar, you’re never alone,” he said.

Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.

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