NYC Retreat Offers Insights to Men Interested in Franciscan Life

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

One of the highlights of the discernment weekend was a reflection on the vows, as portrayed by artist Michael Reyes.

NEW YORK – The weekend after the feast of St. Francis was one of inspiration for a group of friars and guests at St. Francis of Assisi Friary.

The friars on West 31st Street hosted a group of young men who are considering life as Franciscan friars. Timothy Shreenan, OFM, vicar, and HNP vocation director Basil Valente, OFM, welcomed the guests on Oct. 5 for three days of discussions, presentations, meals, prayer services, liturgies, and visits to ministries.

During the weekend, titled “Called by God: Invited by Francis – Celebrating Franciscan Vocations and Discernment,” Basil and several regional vocation directors – John Aherne, OFM, of Pompton Lakes, N.J., Octavio Duran, OFM, of Butler, N.J., and Barry Langley, OFM, of New York City – provided personal reflections. John focused on the importance of ensuring that Jesus remains at the center of one’s vocational discernment journey and Octavio explained his vocational journey, highlighting his time with St. Oscar Romero, during which he served as the official photographer for the archbishop. Barry described his conversion to the Catholic Church and his many ministerial opportunities over the years, and Basil led the group in a discussion of the three Franciscan vows — poverty, chastity and obedience — focusing on the paintings by Michael Reyes, OFM, that depict his own consideration of the vows.

Sharing Franciscan Ministries
On Saturday, the friars gave visitors an overview of the Franciscan programs and ministries in the city, some of which have been in operation for decades.

Julian Jagudilla, OFM, led tours of the historic St. Francis of Assisi Church – which is marking its 175th anniversary in 2019 – and showcased the value of the five-year-old Migrant Center. “I introduced our guests to some volunteers who gave a brief explanation of their work,” said Julian. “Then, I took the guests to the main church and showed them the sanctuary. While there, I pointed out the panorama of Franciscan saints.”

Bill Beaudin, OFM, Stephen Mimnaugh, OFM, and Andrew Reitz, OFM, pastor, shared information about the Franciscan ministries in New York City, including the more than 80-year-old St. Francis Breadline. Stephen spoke about the St. Francis Friends of the Poor residences and Bill gave an overview of the parish’s adult education program.

Later, the group enjoyed a walk through New York City that concluded at Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great Church on the Upper West Side, where the Franciscans have served since 1990.

The discerners also visited Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great Parish on 96th Street, where they were welcomed by Barry Langley, John Heffernan, John Aherne and other friars.

The guests joined the friars for Mass and dinner at the friary. Afterward, the candidates enjoyed Evening Prayer, led by John Heffernan, OFM. During dinner, the visitors listened to several friars describe their ministries as priests with specialized professional backgrounds and work. John talked about his dentistry work, Barry about his legal background, and Matthew Pravetz, OFM, about his role as a medical doctor and educator.

“The candidates seemed highly impacted by the depth of presentations from the friars, the quality of our community prayer services, the discussion of ministries, and the opportunities to meet and speak with friars about their vocation,” said Basil, who has led the Province’s vocation efforts since summer 2014. “The men left the weekend highly energized and better equipped to continue discerning their vocation to the Franciscans.”

Recently, one of the candidates sent a note to the vocational ministry staff that highlighted the value of the weekend.

“I want to thank the vocations team and all the friars involved for a prayerful and powerful retreat,” he wrote. “I was welcomed with open arms by everyone in the community, and I felt encouraged to ask questions and explore the possibility of a vocation with the Franciscans. Your hospitality and honest discussions with us affirmed in many ways my continued discernment and application to Holy Name Province. The lives and stories of all the friars inspire me to be a better person each day. Thank you for all that you do for me and for the world. You will all be in my prayers.”

Appreciating Impact
The friars said they, too, felt the impact of the discussions. As they shared their backgrounds with the candidates, they realized how full their lives are and how fulfilling their work is, and they recalled what the discernment process involves.

“One of the most enjoyable parts of assisting the vocation ministry as a regional contact person is when we’re able to host events like the Vocation Retreat Weekend,” said Barry, a native of New Jersey who marked his 25th anniversary as a friar in 2013. “It’s a great opportunity to meet a candidate in person over a couple days. There’s only so much that can be learned by them or us through correspondence or the phone conversations. It helps reinforce what I feel and love about my life as a member of the fraternity, and I want to share that with men who are thinking about our life.

“It was good for the candidates to meet numerous friars with very diverse educational and ministerial experiences and hear from them firsthand why they love being friars and what makes them joyful,” Barry added. “It’s a great opportunity for us to reflect on our journeys and then see how these candidates’ journeys are beginning and how they mirror our own of years ago.”

“Needing to prepare for the talk that I gave on the opening night of the retreat was a real gift in that it invited me to look back on my own vocation journey, especially those first couple of months of active discernment,” said John Aherne, who professed his first vows in 2012 and was ordained to the priesthood this summer. “I remembered with fondness and gratitude some of the advice I received from those friars: Brian Smail, OFM, saying that I would never know for sure what life as a friar would be like ‘until I gave it a try,’ Anthony Carrozzo, OFM, alleviating my fears about community life by reminding me that ‘every bedroom has a door,’ and the encouragement offered by John Maganzini, OFM, who reminded me that God would be with me every step of the way.

“Participating in the weekend also reminded me that every friar is called to be a vocation director,” he added. “We are all asked to do whatever we can to ensure the future of our Province and the Order and to let men know how wonderful life as a friar can be.”

Basil Valente, Stephen Mimnaugh, Octavio Duran, Bill Beaudin and John Aherne welcomed several discerners to New York City for a vocation weekend earlier this month.

“Being on the retreat also reminded me how blessed Holy Name Province in its diversity,” said John. “Over the course of the weekend, as the guests heard from friars who shared their lives and ministries with us, I was struck anew by how when you’ve met one Franciscan, you’ve met just one Franciscan: each one of us follows Christ in his own unique way. And the men on the discernment retreat each have their own talents and gifts to add the Province, too.”

The HNP Vocation Ministry is holding similar retreats this fall in Florida and Massachusetts. Through the years, Basil has found that that more and more friars continue to be engaged with the vocational discernment of the Province’s candidates, participating by sharing their prayer lives, their ministerial lives, their lives in community and even their personal struggles. “It’s very real and it’s very God-centered,” said Basil. “Our discerners appreciate the friars’ honesty, especially in these troubled times.”

Pope Francis, in his message for the 2018 World Day of Vocations, emphasized that it is at the loving initiative of God, and by His personal encounter with each of us, that one is called. “Even amid these troubled times, the mystery of the Incarnation reminds us that God continually comes to encounter us. He is God-with-us, who walks along the often dusty paths of our lives.”

Basil remains grateful to God for bringing so many discerners to the Order of Friars Minor and he’s particularly thankful to his friar brothers for their ongoing support and involvement in HNP’s vocational ministry.

Photos as well as videos of the Oct. 5 weekend’s activities were posted on the Be a Franciscan Facebook page. Information about the Province’s vocation process and its formation program can be found

Jocelyn Thomas is communications director for Holy Name Province.

Editor’s note: Information about promoting religious vocations during National Vocation Awareness Week – which this year is Nov. 4 to 10 – can be found on the National Vocation Conference website and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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