NEW YORK — The quarter century of Franciscan presence on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was celebrated this month at Holy Name of Jesus Parish with Mass, a reception and words of gratitude.
Friars and laypeople gathered on Nov. 7 to commemorate the history and the ministries of this multicultural community. After a Mass celebrated by Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, more than 100 people representing three language groups — English, French and Spanish — gathered in the lower chapel of St. Mary of the Angels on West 96th Street for a reception that gave the friars a chance to say “thank you” for their 25 years of ministry at the parish.
Celebrating and Giving Thanks
On behalf of the Province, Kevin and Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, offered words of gratitude — Kevin in English and Lawrence in Spanish — and pastor Lawrence Ford, OFM, introduced each of the friars. “I thanked them for the work they do, in and out of the parish, and the wonderful fraternal life we enjoy,” he said. “I thanked the people for the faith they live, the generosity they share with so many in our parish and neighborhood, and we raised a toast of gratitude to the people.”
“Over wine and a variety of edibles and desserts, there were high spirits at the festive reception,” said Kevin Tortorelli, OFM, who has lived at the West 96th Street friary since 2014.
People expressed gratitude for the friars’ presence. Many of them knew every friar who has served at Holy Name Parish, said Kevin Tortorelli, adding that Mary Widhalm, a parishioner for more than 40 years, “expressed the community’s happiness with the Franciscan presence in remarks that were very generous and gracious.”
“For all of us,” she said, “I want to say thanks for your friendship, your ministries, your spirit and witness. I hope you stay at Holy Name for many generations to come.”
Jacqueline Espinal, a staff member since 1998, remarked that “the guests were glad to share the celebration with the friars.”
“I have learned so much from each and every friar who has been stationed here at Holy Name,” said Espinal. “All have such generosity and they’ve all been so welcoming. They worked with us as equals, always acting as if they wanted us to grow with them.”
Among the friars who participated in the celebration were Provincial Councilor Bill Beaudin, OFM, Matthew Pravetz, OFM, and Michael McDonnell, OFM, whose birthday commemoration “added to the joy and energy of the evening,” according to Kevin Tortorelli.
To recognize the milestone, messages from parish ministries and committees were included in the Nov. 8 parish bulletin. “Congratulations to our friars of Holy Name for providing 25 years of excellent leadership and a tranquil place for us to rest in the hands of the Lord,” said the Centering Prayer Group. The Adult Faith Formation Committee said it “happily joined our entire community in congratulating the friars on the 25th anniversary of their years of brilliant service at Holy Name of Jesus Church, now the brightest jewel on the Upper West Side.”
On the evening of the anniversary celebration, the churches of Manhattan’s Upper West Side hosted a benefit concert to raise money for Catholic Relief Services and the care of Middle Eastern refugees. “We took up a free-will offering at the reception and the friars matched the collection, creating a total of $2,500 as a gift from Holy Name Parish,” said Larry, who has been stationed at the parish since 2009. “The second collection at each Holy Name Mass that weekend was for the HNP Franciscan Missionary Union. It raised another $2,500 for the FMU’s activities around the world.”
Serving Urban Communities
The Province began staffing the parish, on the corner of 96th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, in the fall of 1990. The friars assumed leadership of the parish, then 122 years old, after the Provincial Administration decided to pursue additional ministries in urban areas.
The move was part of Holy Name Province “refounding” initiative through which the Province sought ways to broaden its reach through collaboration with laypeople and through new types of ministry.
“We decided we needed to do some things differently,” said Kenneth Himes, OFM, a member of the Council in the late 1980s who served as liaison to a committee formed to discuss and research places where the friars’ service could have the most impact.
“We had realized that the Province was good at urban ministry,” said Kenneth, now an instructor at Boston College. “Most of our parishes were in large suburban areas. We realized that we were recognized for serving those communities well.”
“The emphasis on new urban ministries flowed from the Provincial mission statement adopted in 1988,” said historian Dominic Monti, OFM. “It emphasizes reaching out to the alienated, the immigrant, and the poor. These populations are much more prominent in urban areas. Up to that point, many of our parishes had been in suburban areas, and were a little more homogeneous, middle class ‘family centered’ parishes. The new urban centers could reach out to business people, minister to the needs of the poor and marginalized, and reach out to alienated Catholics. Traditional sacramental ministry to a worshipping community was there, of course, but these urban centers could be doing a lot of other things to make the Reign of God more present and alive to a more diverse population.”
The Provincial Council established a committee to investigate suitable settings and the Upper West Side church was one of two parishes chosen that year. The other was St. Patrick- St. Anthony Parish in Hartford, which commemorated its anniversary in September.
As the Province committee was researching appropriate settings, an opportunity arose through a program being offered by then-Provincial Vicar Flavian Walsh, OFM, called “Come Home.” Several attendees contacted the friars, which resulted in the Province taking on both the Upper West Side and the Hartford parishes.
“It was decided that Flavian would offer programs for pastors and laity in approaches to inviting people to return to the Church,” said Anthony. “It was through these programs that the parishes in both Hartford and New York City’s Upper West Side came onto our radar. The pastor of St. Patrick-St. Anthony and Fr. Kenneth Smith, the pastor of Holy Name on 96th Street, both attended these workshops. Afterward, each suggested we should take over those parishes. We discussed these possibilities at Council meetings and decided to pursue these options.” Anthony contacted the bishops and HNP took responsibility for the two parishes in 1990.
“Both cases were attractive because they offered us new opportunities not only to ‘begin again’ but also because we could develop urban centers alongside parish life,” said Anthony, who now lives in Florida. “Equally important, though, was appropriate personnel who were open to working with our laypeople as partners. James Hynes and Jerome Massimino, OFM, accepted the challenge. They proved to be the perfect choices for these new ventures, so much so that when their terms ended they switched locations.”
Cardinal John O’Connor, archbishop of New York, asked the friars to assume the pastoral care of “what had once been one of its plum parishes,” according to Peace and Good in America by Joseph White. “The majestic, cathedral-sized Gothic church and large plant testified to the previous prosperity of this largely Irish Catholic parish. After World War II, the neighborhood became largely Puerto Rican and during the 1980s increasingly polyglot with an influx of new immigrants ad young urban professionals.”
The friars have brought a rich spirituality and vitality to this mission, beginning with the renaissance of the Franciscan Community Center, according to the parish website.
The friars took up residence at the parish in August 1990 with Jim Hynes as pastor and several other friars comprising the first Holy Name Province team. Once they settled into the large, old-fashioned rectory on 96th street, the friars found themselves caught up in the whirlwind routine of a busy city parish, according to the 1991 edition of The Provincial Annals.
Through the years, ministries have been added and have flourished at Holy Name Parish.
In 1991, the friars established the Franciscan Community Center to offer outreach programs of varied types. Among its many services, the FCC offers a food pantry, distributing hundreds of bags of food each week, and a sandwich line in collaboration with other local churches, and individual and family counseling services. The Thrift Shop provides clothing and other items to the homeless. New York magazine named it the best Thrift Shop on the West Side four years ago, according to Larry. Over the years, the FCC has also provided tutorial instruction for local students, as well as senior and theatre arts programs and other activities.
In addition, the parish participates in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. March for Peace that happens in collaboration with many area houses of worship, and also offers adult education classes. During the last quarter century, Holy Name Parish has also established a Secular Franciscan Chapter — which meets weekly for prayer and hosts two food drives annually — and has served as a place of ministry for a generation of affiliates (now called postulants) when the Province’s affiliate program was at Holy Cross Parish in the Bronx, the pastor said.
The parish has seen growth in the diversity of ministry as well as by the diversity of its people by language, backgrounds, experiences, relationships and orientations, said the pastor, a native of Western New York.
“Many people talk about the community as a place of second chances: where they were able to give the Church a second chance after being away for some period of time, or where they feel a second chance as they recreate life after hard experiences. It’s a place where people feel accepted and offer acceptance to each other,” said Larry. “Some say they feel a much greater sense of shared ministry — liturgical and outreach with lay participation. Certainly, the quality of liturgy is greatly enhanced by the different choirs coordinated by Peter Adamczyk and the fact that the parish puts a great emphasis on, and has success with, its RCIA program.”
“It is a complex community of people who expect and hope to be supported in their faith, challenged by it and to live it well,” the pastor continued. “The parishioners are happy to support and challenge us in our leadership and in our ministry together.”
“Because the friars, as well as the sisters — the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary — are so welcoming, warm and friendly, because of their inclusive ways of ministering and because they so consistently care about parishioners as well as newcomers and strangers, Holy Name of Jesus Parish has thrived,” said Widhalm.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- “Franciscan Influences: Growing Spirituality, Parish Role” A Reflection by Holy Name Parishioner Mary Widhalm — March 23, 2013, HNP Today
- “Diversity the Tempo of NYC Parish” — Aug. 24, 2011, HNP Today
- “Franciscan Center Holds Second Bazaar” — Aug. 22, 2009, HNP Today
- “Holy Name Parish Enjoys Enhancements, Events” — Oct. 8. 2008, HNP Today