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Momentum of Regional Vocation Work Builds

Friars at St. Bonaventure University celebrate the graduation of three men who have been accepted into the Franciscan postulancy class of 2019-20. (Photo courtesy of HNP Vocation Ministry)

Prayer, community and fraternity, desire to help others, pastoral life and missionary service, social justice advocacy – these are just some elements that draw men to religious vocation with the Franciscan friars.

Prospective candidates – also called inquirers and discerners – are aided in the discernment process and are able to learn firsthand about Franciscan life in an abundance of informative, hands-on opportunities throughout the Province – which makes HNP’s vocation work a team effort, according to vocation director Basil Valente, OFM.

Visiting friaries and other Franciscan ministries, which often include overnight and weekend stays, gives discerners the opportunity to participate in a number of activities, such as outreach to the marginalized, prayer on college campuses, and different aspects of parish life. Candidates also have the opportunity to meet friars who have served as pastors, missionaries, teachers, chaplains, college administrators, and other roles in HNP’s vast ministries and programs.

Since parishes, college campuses and ministry sites have become part of the process – often hosting discernment weekends – regional vocation efforts have expanded in helping candidates decide if religious life – and the Franciscan Order – is right for them.

“The welcome that these visitors receive is a testament to the friars and their commitment to increasing vocations in the Province,” said Basil, who noted that besides him and his colleagues in the vocation office at 31st Street, friars at local ministries across the Province play a key role in the discernment process.

“The process of discovery comes through the Internet, but the process of connection comes through personal interaction and invitation. Friars are eager to host candidates. They enthusiastically share their stories and experiences to provide a full picture of Franciscan life in the hope of sparking interest in the Order,” said Basil, who has served as vocation direction since summer 2014.

Ross Chamberland, OFM, a regional vocation director at St. Bonaventure University, said seeing the interest and fraternal energy of young people is invigorating. “We are making contributions to their lives that they will remember forever,” he said.

For Michael Reyes, OFM, who lives at St. Francis Friary on West 31st Street, helping with vocation ministry is a way of sharing his joy with those contemplating religious life.

A man interested in joining the Order talks with Hugh Hines at Boston’s St. Anthony Shrine. (Photo courtesy of HNP Vocation Ministry)

“Being involved with vocation events is a way that I can help others who are trying to navigate through discernment,” said Michael, who professed his first vows as a friar in 2010. “I was blessed with so many brothers who encouraged and supported my vocation from the moment I started my discernment process.”

Regional vocation programs help to personalize and extend the work of the central office to the local scene, according to Tony LoGalbo, OFM, of Boston, whose work with the regional vocation program has spanned his assignments at St. Bonaventure, Holy Name College and now at St. Anthony Shrine.

Beyond the Classroom and Chapel
At St. Bonaventure in Western New York, two vocation initiatives are offered to students – including the Men’s Discernment Fraternity through which candidates attend gatherings at the university friary.

“The gatherings often include Mass or evening prayer,” said Ross, who has been stationed at SBU since 2014. “It’s an opportunity to socialize, have discussions, and pray and eat together – a contrast to gatherings with formal talks and specific themes.”

SBU’s second initiative is a residential discernment program, which, according to Ross, is a house where inquirers live and pray together for intentional discernment of friar life. “They agree to a fraternal life plan and meet weekly for themed discussion. They are assessed in four areas: academic, ministerial, human, and spiritual development,” Ross explained.

The Province’s 2019-20 postulant group will include three recent graduates of St. Bonaventure, according to Basil, who said that the candidates have benefited greatly in getting to know not just the Franciscan charism, but also the friars.

“The most significant factor in my discernment was getting to know the friars beyond the classroom and chapel,” said Daniel Horan, OFM, who graduated from St. Bonaventure in 2005 and professed his first vows in 2007.

“Programs like the vocation discernment group introduced me to friars who shared their own stories, many of which continue to inspire me today,” said Dan.

“Praying with the SBU community, joining them occasionally for meals, and getting to know the good and challenging aspects of being a friar helped me see myself as a friar, too,” Dan continued. “That personal invitation, openness, and opportunity for discernment is the greatest asset the friars bring to those considering a call to Franciscan life. I wouldn’t be a friar today if it weren’t for that experience.”

Answering Questions
Simply reading about religious life is not enough, according to Michael, who says candidates should experience it and talk to friars who are living the Franciscan life.

“We invite them for prayers, meals and sometimes to participate in one of our ministries, like the breadline,” he explained. “These simple actions help visitors understand who we are as Franciscans, and answers questions about living in community and ministries of interest.”

Vocation programs around the Province vary by location and nature of the ministry site.

Jason Damon participates in a discussion about religious life. (Photo courtesy of the HNP Vocation Ministry)

In Boston, the Shrine on Arch Street – where Tony, Michael Johnson, OFM, and Hugh Hines, OFM, are involved with regional vocation work – offers organized events as well as opportunities for candidates to participate in ministries and get to know the Franciscan charism.

“With a large friar presence and many ministerial opportunities, the Shrine is ideal for a vocation program,” said Hugh, citing the food pantry program, spiritual direction, and the LGBTQ ministry as some of the most popular programs.

Friar candidates usually range in age from mid-20s to late-30s, and typically have an interest in community life and working with the poor, according to Hugh, who professed his first vows in 1954.

St. Anthony Shrine’s friars held the Province’s last vocation retreat of the season this spring, with five candidates participating in a “Come and See Discernment” that included reflections by friars and prayer and meals with Shrine residents.

Encountering Welcome and Wisdom
“Having worked with the Provincial formation program, I know the importance of sound and empathetic guidance to those pursuing a religious vocation,” said Tony, who professed his first vows in 1967 and has been stationed at the Shrine since 2017.

Regional vocation is important work. We need friars who are willing to share their experience and enthusiasm for the life they have committed,” he said.

In Florida, friars host guests in two communities – St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg and Sacred Heart Parish in nearby Tampa. Regional vocation directors Zachary Elliott, OFM, and Kevin Tortorelli, OFM, introduce them to the many roles and personalities – which they say is more important than in years past when candidates tended to know friars from their parishes, schools, and communities.

“Nearly every candidate discerning a vocation comes to us alone, in the sense that he has been in contact with only the Province’s vocation office,” said Kevin, a friar since 1966. “When an inquirer comes to the friary in St. Petersburg, he meets other guys discerning a Franciscan vocation, and he is introduced to the larger friar community, which gives discernment a very practical turn.”

Kevin added, “Although we are technically a retirement house, we have the advantage of having under one roof friars who were guardians, pastors, chaplains, missionaries, teachers, presidents and rectors in higher education, even a former provincial – all who warmly receive and encourage the candidates.”

The program from a Come-and-See weekend. (Photo courtesy of the HNP Vocation Ministry)

A balance is struck when they visit the Tampa parish, where they are introduced to a younger and smaller friary attached to a thriving urban ministry, according to Kevin. “These weekends are full and focused and there is good interaction between the candidates and the friars, often resulting in lifelong friendships,” he said.

At the University of Georgia in Athens, the staff at the Catholic Center focuses on the ministry of presence.

“UGA has a vibrant faith-based program that is open and available to students who want to feel comfortable in the midst of this large university,” said Frank Critch, OFM, director of campus ministry. “I spend more time one-on-one than in groups. This has been the focus of our ministry.

“The students we meet here, especially those involved in the center, come from traditional backgrounds and have a very pious approach to their faith,” added Frank, a restaurant owner before joining the Order, who uses dinner events at the friary and center as an invitation to discernment and dialogue. “It takes time and patience. We don’t push anyone into discernment, but invite them to a deepening of faith.

“Food has always been a great way to invite others in to talk,”  Frank said.

Juan Turcios, OFM, of Chicago, agrees that casual conversations, collaboration, and comfortable settings are important.

“The regional vocation directors in connection with the Franciscan fraternity of St. Joseph Friary in Chicago – including in-formation and solemnly professed friars – invite candidates into our ministries and Franciscan life, something as simple as making them part of our Sunday dinner,” said Juan, who professed his simple vows in 2004.

“Our traditional preprandium after evening prayer is a nice setting for conversation, and then dinner,” he said.

In Greenville, S.C, the friars encounter people and share the Franciscan message and charism through pastoral work at their parish and at nearby schools.

“We have a Catholic Schools Week fair in which the friars and sisters are highlighted,” said Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville. “We also have a vocation Sunday at the school and church, as well as a regular presence at two local universities – which has produced five vocations and an additional three at the serious stage.”

A vocation event at the St. Bonaventure University friary. (Photo courtesy of the Be a Franciscan Facebook page)

The parish also runs summer internships for college students. This spring, Roberto Serrano, OFM, renewed his vows in front of the entire school, which Patrick said had a strong impact. The parish also promotes vocation events and Franciscan life, with friars giving testimonials after Communion at Sunday Mass, according to Patrick, who marked his 25th anniversary as a friar in 2016.

Hugh observes, “They come, not in great numbers, but filled with great zeal to serve the Vatican II community under the guidance of Pope Francis, who called for a poor Church to serve the poor – a Church of mercy and conversion, areas that are close to the heart of the saint of Assisi.”

Added Michael, “One cannot discern his vocation alone. God needs to be in the middle of that, but attending come-and-see weekends, having personal connections with the religious community, talking to a good resource person – these are also important factors that one should include in his discernment process.”

Although the academic year finished and the formal programs of the Province’s Vocation Ministry have concluded, the regional work will continue. Its informal nature and the interest of friars around the Province will attract visits to ministry sites.

“I am very grateful for the support that the friars and staff members give to vocations,” said Basil. “The reason that the Order is doing so well in attracting men to religious life is because of the spirit that is shown and the hospitality that is extended.”

Over the last five years, staff member Ben Simpson – who will be leaving the vocation office this summer – has provided invaluable service, according to Basil, who said that “Ben was thorough and passionate about his work, always helping inquirers get to know the Province and connecting them with friars who could assist them in their discernment.”

Grateful for the opportunity, Ben said, “It has been a privilege to work with some of the most thoughtful, compassionate men around – both as candidates and as friars. Entering religious life is a serious commitment, and to play a role in a person’s decision to dedicate his life to service is truly an honor.”

   Jocelyn Thomas is director of communication for Holy Name Province.

Editor’s note: Information about the Province’s vocation program can be found on the Be A Franciscan website and photos taken at events are located on the Be a Franciscan Facebook page

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