New Missioners Experience Season of Beginnings

Meghan Meros Franciscan World

WASHINGTON — Even before fall officially arrived in September, a new season was well underway at Franciscan Mission Service’s formation — the three-month training program that FMS missioners complete prior to beginning a two-year period of ministry overseas — kicked off at the end of August with the arrival of three new missioners to Casa San Salvador, FMS’ community house and training facility in Washington, D.C. The new missioners joined seven new DC Service Corps volunteers, young adults who have committed to a year of service at DC-based nonprofits and at FMS headquarters.

Though the calls to overseas mission and local service are distinct, the values and stories of this year’s missioners and volunteers overlap. Common themes emerged as the community members have gotten to know each other.

New Missioners
Julia Pinto, a high school math teacher, and Matthew Fichter, an engineer, left their first jobs after college to serve with FMS as DC Service Corps volunteers at the United States Catholic Mission Association and the Fr. McKenna Center, respectively. Both volunteers wondered what a more ministry-focused professional life could look like.

FMS program manager Emily Norton with new FMS missioners Megan Hamilton, Anna Metzer, and Tom Lenihan. (Photo courtesy of FMS)

At the same time, Anna Metzger, a Spanish teacher who discerned a call to the Overseas Lay Mission program, also left her first job after college graduation to come to FMS. She is excited about the possibility of applying her background in Spanish in a new way.

Megan Hamilton and Tom Lenihan, both in their 60s, were grounded in decades of new beginnings before they arrived at the Casa as new missioners. Despite their years of experience, their move to the Casa for the start of the FMS Formation Program was no less significant and no less new than the move that five 2019 college grads also made to the Casa. Hannah Puvalowski, Kate Keely, Marina Jerry, Megan McCarthy, and Michael Brougton (a recent graduate of St. Bonaventure University) are serving at three places — the FMS office, Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, and the Fr. McKenna Center. Together with Megan and Tom, these volunteers are discovering what this new chapter of adult life could mean for their futures.

Involvement of HNP Friars
More than a byproduct of two program calendars overlapping by coincidence, the time that missioners and volunteers share at the Casa during the fall formation period is intentional and essential. By living in community with DC Service Corps volunteers and with the extra support of FMS staff members nearby, missioners learn how to cultivate community while overseas, where each missioner is responsible for structuring a balanced life of ministry, community, and prayer. Similarly, by living in community with missioners, DC Service Corps members learn how to structure shared time and divide household chores so that their community can flourish even when the missioners depart for their mission sites.

FMS volunteers in front of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo courtesy of FMS)

Community is further strengthened by the formation sessions that missioners and volunteers share each week, including many led by friars from Holy Name Province. For example, former FMS executive director Joe Nangle, OFM, leads three formation sessions and will celebrate the Commissioning Mass on Nov. 16. In addition, Ignatius Harding, OFM, shares his personal experience as a missioner in Bolivia for more than 40 years; Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, a member of the animation committee for the Order’s Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Office, will lead a session on “Laudato Si’ and Care for Creation,” and Greg Friedman, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province and the Holy Land Custody, will lead a session on “Francis and the Papacy.” John O’Connor, OFM, continues to play a crucial leadership role on the FMS Board of Directors. On Oct. 6, FMS welcomed a friend of the friars – theologian Sr. Ilia Delio, OSF– to share a presentation on the life and spirituality of St. Clare of Assisi.

With the arrival of program participants and the start of formation, fall is a full-time experience for FMS. At the end of the day, however, all sessions, celebrations, community meetings, and prayer experiences that make this time full point toward the fact that FMS values the cultivation of community just as St. Francis did: by living in solidarity with people experiencing poverty as well as with each other.

This is reflected in the lives of missioners and volunteers like Julia Pinto, who recently wrote, “I cannot imagine entering this journey without these amazing people to hold my hand, point my gaze back to Christ, and remind me that we will flourish together. An intentional faith community is the way to go. It’s countercultural and it’s gold.”

Franciscan Mission Service was established nearly 30 years go by Anselm Moons, OFM. Since 1990, FMS has supported approximately 230 lay missioners in 20 countries and currently supports missioners in Bolivia, Jamaica and the United States.

Meghan Meros is associate director of Franciscan Mission Service, whose office is in Washington, D.C.