Nine Profess First Vows

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – A group of members of the six U.S. OFM provinces participating in the restructuring process made their simple profession earlier this month at the Interprovincial Novitiate at Old Mission Santa Barbara here, where they spent the past 12 months as novices.

Among the nine men professing their first vows on July 2 before Provincial Minister David Gaa, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, were Holy Name Province members Edgar Alberto Estrada, OFMMichael Specht, OFM, and Carlos Wagner Garcia, OFM.

Although the ceremony had fewer attendees this year than in years past because of restrictions on large gatherings related to the coronavirus pandemic, it was nonetheless filled with deep meaning and emotion.

“In his reflection, David spoke about the mission of the friars to heal the sick and bring back those who have lost their way – saying that this mission is needed more than ever at this moment in our history,” said Michael Blastic, OFM, a Holy Name Province member who serves as one of the novitiate team leaders.

“David reminded the group that they were received as novices by 400 friars in Denver last year and that they would likely be the first friars to profess solemn vows in the new unified province,” Michael added.

The newly professed friars with David Gaa (third from left), the provincial minister of the St. Barbara Province. (Photo courtesy of Michael Blastic)

In addition to the three HNP members, professing their first vows were Zachary Zeman, OFM, of Assumption BVM Province; Jose Maria de Jesus Osornio Rodriguez, OFM, of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province; Neil Pavao, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province; Adolfo Mercado, OFM, and Nathaniel Bruce Tran, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, and Joshua Richter, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province.

The liturgy included traditional components – a blessing, scripture reading (Luke 9:1-7), and a piece from the Franciscan original source “The Legend of the Three Companions.” Water was blessed and then sprinkled by the novices on the small congregation, comprising of friars from Old Mission Santa Barbara and the novitiate team members.

The program for the profession ceremony with one of the knotted cords. (Photo courtesy of Michael Blastic)

Jeff Macnab, OFM, the novice master, presented the nine candidates – who, after professing their first vows, each signed their provincial register. The friars were presented with the knotted cords by their mentors – Jeff, Michael, and Freddy Rodriguez, OFM, a member of St. Barbara Province who is also a team leader. The novices had received their Franciscan habits, albeit with knotless cords, last October at the traditional rite of investiture.

The solemn blessing concluded the service, which was held in the friars’ lounge, rather than in the chapel, to provide enough space for social distancing. For the sake of safety, the tradition of fraternal embrace – the portion of the ceremony when all friars present individually embrace each of the men who professed their first vows — was skipped. A celebratory meal followed the event.

The HNP friars reflected on the meaning of their first profession as Franciscans.

Edgar Alberto, a native of El Salvador, said, “During the ceremony, I had many emotions in my heart. They were a mix of feelings. I felt happy and supported by the formators and professed friars. I am letting go of many things because now I belong to something bigger than myself – but at the same time, I am embracing many more things.”

Edgar Alberto professes first vows before David Gaa. (Photo courtesy of Michael Blastic)

He added, “I also appreciate Franciscan friars, family, and friends who weren’t with us in body, but were there in spirit. With faith and hope, I am so excited about my next step as a simply professed Franciscan friar. Everything is possible for those who have faith, hope, and dreams.”

Michael Specht, who grew up in Western New York, shared his thoughts, saying, “As I knelt before David, I gave thanks for all those who helped guide me to this moment. For my parents, who brought me up to understand and appreciate the faith. For all the friars, living and deceased, who I know and who’ve inspired me in their own ways. For the grace of the Holy Spirit for leading me through the challenges of religious life.”

He continued, “It was a sacred moment, one that I am still processing. As I go forward in simple vows and head off to studies, I will remind myself time and again of the grace bestowed on me on that special day. It is exciting to be part of the Franciscans in this day and age when the U.S. provinces are joining together.”

Carlos Wagner, who is originally from Cali, Colombia, said, “The vows help me to be transparent. Now I am able to show my true self to my community, not pretending to be anyone else, with my flaws and virtues. It is very liberating and allows me to learn from my brothers. They give me the opportunity to be free and live in the truth, and they enrich me as a person and help me grow in love to my community.”

The newly professed HNP friars with Erick Lopez (left). They are (l-r) Edgar Alberto, Carlos Wagner, and Michael Specht. (Photo courtesy of Michael Blastic)

He added, “One of the advantages of being a Franciscan is that I can perform good and satisfying ministries, for I am fully supported by the Order. Every day I feel more committed to others, following in the footsteps of the poor, humble, crucified Christ, who gathered the disciples around him and washed their feet, living in fraternity. The whole fraternity becomes the privileged place of encounter with God.”

Next month, the newly professed friars will take up residence in Chicago at St. Joseph Friary, the interprovincial post-novitiate formation house in the Hyde Park neighborhood, where they will begin their studies at nearby colleges.

On July 15, a new group of men who recently completed their 12 months of postulancy is scheduled to begin their year as novices at Old Mission Santa Barbara, which has been used as the interprovincial novitiate since 2017. The novitiate team leaders for 2020-21 will be Jeff, Michael, Freddy, and Erick Lopez, OFM, who moved to Santa Barbara from Maryland in January.

Jocelyn Thomas is the director of communications for Holy Name Province.