NEW YORK — The Province’s new vocation office staff has wasted no time in “casting a wide net” as it invites men to consider the Franciscan way of life.
After the Provincial Chapter in June, Basil Valente, OFM, was appointed director of the vocation office and Gonzalo de Jesus Torres-Acosta, OFM, was appointed associate director. Together, they have brought dynamism to the office in the two months they have been part of the vocation team. Since the beginning of September, the office has launched a Province-wide advertising campaign, held multiple vocation events and fielded many inquiries from men interested in the friars.
Basil, who succeeds Brian Smail, OFM, as director of the New York City-based office, met the friars at Siena College, where he earned a degree in English with a concentration in marketing and management. He professed first vows in 1987 and solemn vows in 1991. In addition to his vocation work, Basil is also a member of the Province’s formation and studies directorate.
Prior to coming to the Big Apple as vocation director, Basil served for 24 years at St. Bonaventure University, most recently as director of the integrated marketing communications graduate program that he founded. While at SBU, he also served as director of regional vocations. He led the Francis E. Kelley Oxford Program and served as associate director of public relations, as well as admissions coordinator and graphic designer, and marketing communications research coordinator. He also worked as a faculty member and a university minister.
Basil is currently seeking an administrative assistant to fill a vacancy left by Carolyn Croke. She has been appointed executive secretary of the Provincial Office following the retirement in June of longtime staff member Theresa Bartha.
Gonzalo will continue to be based at St. Mary’s Parish in Pompton Lakes, N.J., where he has served as parochial vicar since 2011. A native of Bogota, Colombia, he earned a degree in petroleum engineering from Universidad de America and worked as an engineer in the Amazon jungle before owning a chain of natural products stores. He came to New York City to study English and his school was located across from the Province’s St. Francis Church on West 31st Street.
He attended Mass there, where he met the friars, who spoke to him about the urgent need for Hispanic ministers in the United States. Their words helped him decide to join religious life in the United States. He professed first vows in 2002, made his solemn profession in 2006 and was ordained in 2008. From 2008 to 2011, he served as parochial vicar and spiritual assistant at Holy Name Parish in New York City. That year, he moved to New Jersey, beginning his current role at St. Mary’s.
Gonzalo is active with the Hispanic community at St. Mary’s and is a member of the Province’s Hispanic Ministry Committee. He is also a board member of Create, Inc., the non-profit, multi-service agency founded by Benedict Taylor, OFM, which offers treatment, education, rehabilitation and vocational efforts from its location in Harlem, N.Y.
Current and Upcoming Initiatives
Both friars are approaching their new roles with great enthusiasm.
“One of my goals is to cast the net as widely as we can and see who is out there, and who it is that God is calling to consider this way of life,” Basil noted. “Gonzalo and I have already been collaborating to see what we can do to create as many vocational opportunities as possible.”
Those opportunities included a daylong retreat on Oct. 8 at Siena College, at which 10 friars and 13 interested students participated. Coordinated by regional vocation directors Daniel Dwyer, OFM, and Sean O’Brien, OFM, the event ended with several students requesting an opportunity to move forward with the Franciscan application process.
“William Beaudin, OFM, made a thought-provoking point to the students who were asking all sorts of vocation-related questions,” Basil said. “Bill said, ‘When you’re ready to make the move, the bottom line is… eventually, anyone who comes into our community uses the gifts and the talents that they have, and that they’ve developed, either within the Order or outside the Order. They use those gifts for the good of their brothers in community and for the people of God.”
The vocation office also held a mini-retreat on Oct. 3 before the prayer service celebrating the Transitus at St. Francis Church on West 31st Street. Both events were hugely successful, according to Basil. Photos and video can be found on the Be A Franciscan Facebook page.
In September, the Hispanic Ministry Committee held a well-attended vocation retreat for Latinos. Of the 17 attendees, Gonzalo estimated that three or four are ready to start the application process to join the Order.
Both friars expect upcoming events — an Asian-American vocation retreat, coordinated by Julian Jagudilla, OFM, and Stephen Mimnaugh, OFM, on Oct. 25 at St. Francis Church in New York City and a Come and See Weekend from Dec. 5 to 7 at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston — to be well attended. Information about those events is included in a Sept. 24 HNP Today article. Future events for the office include “An Evening of Vocations” on Jan. 12 for college students in the South, planned by regional vocation directors Thomas Vigliotta, OFM, and John Coughlin, OFM, in Athens, Ga. Ross Chamberland, OFM, regional vocation director at St. Bonaventure University, is planning a variety of vocation gatherings in Western New York as well.
The vocation office has received many inquiries this fall. Several have come from the new bulletin advertisement campaign launched last month across the Province. Each parish was sent eight ads — four in English and four in Spanish — to be included in bulletins. Each ad contains a QR code that, when scanned with a smartphone, links to the vocation office’s website, BeAFranciscan.org.
During a trial run conducted at St. Francis Church in New York City, Basil received multiple inquiries in less than one week.
“We created those bulletin ads so they’re tailored for each parish,” said Basil, who has decades of experience in marketing, communications and advertising. “Whether the ad is in Spanish or in English, whoever the contact might be, the idea is we’re drawing everyone back to our website.”
“The response we have seen from these advertisements so far has been very heartening,” he added.
In the future, the office hopes to add or expand vocation programs in the South, particularly in Georgia and Florida, and to hold more events for Spanish-speaking persons. During a recent national gathering of OFM friars in Hispanic ministry, Gonzalo and other friars discussed what the Franciscans could do to assist undocumented men with a vocation in their discernment process. Options discussed included increased collaboration with provinces in Central America and having a house of formation based outside the country.
“We have many candidates all over the country who are interested in Franciscan life,” he said. “They are great candidates who are very involved with the Church. Unfortunately, because they are not documented in this country, we cannot take them. It makes it very difficult for us. We are trying to discuss this at the national level so we can find out how we can accompany these men in their discernment process.”
“The reality in the United States is that there is an increasing number of Hispanic people in and outside of the Church,” said Gonzalo after last year’s meeting. “Multiculturalism in the United States has had a unique and powerful impact on the ministry of the Church, especially Hispanic ministry, yet only three percent of priests are Hispanic. There is a lack of resources and an inadequate response from our Church. Faithfulness to our Franciscan values and charisma calls us to respond to this urgent need.”
The Appeal of Franciscan Life
In today’s fast-paced world, both Basil and Gonzalo argue that the friars’ simplicity, honesty and sincere outreach continue to attract men to the Franciscan way of life.
“We Franciscans are a very authentic and simple people,” Gonzalo said. “We are very down to earth and I think that is very important. We are close to people and they recognize that.”
Basil agreed, adding that he has great hope for the future of the more than 800-year-old Order of Friars Minor.
“What attracts people to this way of life today is the fact that friars have an authentic, honest and personal sense of outreach to so many different people in so many different ministries,” he noted. “And, that authentic outreach comes from the friars’ attention to daily prayer, Gospel rootedness and community living. We live in a wounded world with many wounded people who need an immediate response and pastoral care. One of the joys of Francis’s life was being able to underscore one’s goodness and, at the same time, lift a person up from whatever binding circumstance he or she was in. People today are attracted to an Order with that same sense of outreach and love. The friars take the time to get involved in others’ lives, whilst always underscoring dignity and goodness of the individual. That’s why our Order will survive.”
Both men encourage their brother friars to be present to people and to extend an invitation to those who might be interested in exploring Franciscan life.
“After the Eucharist, the friars are out in the church greeting people. It’s very important to be present so that people can talk to us,” Gonzalo said. “If every friar can identify those young men who might be interested in our way of life and engage them, by inviting them to share meals, prayers or Mass, that would be great.”
Basil asked for prayerful support as the office moves forward.
“I am inviting people’s prayers and openness and recommendations, any suggestions they might have,” said Basil. “We are all in this Church together. As men and women of God, how do we support one another and hold each other up? That’s got to be something we focus on every day, and if we are focused on that goal, vocation work will help it.”
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.