Postulants Begin Year with Workshops, Visits and Fraternity

Johann Cuervo Friar News

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With General Minister Michael Perry — shown  in center of back row — are, from left to right: Walter Liss and Charles Miller, with postulants James La Grutta, Jason Damon, Domingo Martinez, Michael Perry, Luis Manuel Rosado, Joseph Annibale, Troy Hillman, Gilbert Galindo and Michael Cerretti. (Photo courtesy of the postulants.)

SILVER SPRING, Md. — It has been a flourishing and active few months for eight men inspired by the Holy Spirit to begin their vocational journey with the Franciscans.  Since moving to Holy Name College in August, Joseph Annibale, Michael Cerretti, Jason Damon, Gilbert Galindo, Troy Hillman, James La Grutta, Domingo Martinez, and Luis Manuel Rosado – the Province’s 2016-17 postulants have participated in a variety of workshops, trips and fraternal celebrations intended to help them explore their vocations while continuing their integration into the Franciscan family.

“After the postulants settled in at Holy Name College, they became involved with a variety of activities – ministry, classes, workshops, and travel. They all work three days a week at a ministry site. On the other two days, they attend classes at Holy Name College,” Walter Liss, OFM, director of postulants, said. “Classes are taught by Charles Miller, OFM, assistant postulancy director, and me. Some of the guest lecturers this year have included Vincent Cushing, OFM, and Fr. Michael Cusato, OFM.”

This year’s postulants are working at St Francis International School, Langley Park, St. Camillus Parish and Shepherds Table in downtown Silver Spring, as well as at the Jeanne Jugan Residence along with the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington. Since joining the program, the men have visited St. Francis Inn and soup kitchen in Philadelphia, St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in Hartford, Conn., as well as friaries in Ringwood and Long Beach Island, N.J., and Triangle, Va. In November, the postulants attended the annual Inter-Franciscan Formation Conference at Graymoor Retreat Center in Garrison, N.Y. , and celebrated Thanksgiving together at their residence located right outside of Washington, D.C.

In Their Own Words
To better understand the experiences and challenges of religious life, the 2016-17 postulants were invited to share their observations. They provide a look at what this stage of the Province’s training program is like, how the Franciscan message has inspired them, and what they are looking most forward to as the year progresses. 

You’ve been part of the HNP postulant program for roughly four months. Could you describe what this phase of your life has been like? 

Domingo: “Postulancy has provided me the space and time to consider seriously the movement of the Spirit in my life. The gradual transition to Franciscan life has introduced me to the life of the Friars Minor with study, prayer and ministry. The program has at times been busy and slow—a happy balance with meaning and intentionality.”

James: “These past four months have proven to be very rewarding. I am blessed to be working with kids at the pre-school, elementary and middle school levels, where I have grown both as a person and in my relationship with God.”

Jason: “When I think about my time as a postulant, the first thing that strikes me is how grateful I am for this opportunity. As friars know well, discerning a vocation to religious life, while at times is nothing less than a thrilling ride, can be fraught with tension and frustration. From the moment I moved into Holy Name College, I have felt received and welcomed not as a stranger, not as someone on the outside looking in, not as a ‘freshman’ or ‘rookie,’ but with genuine fraternal love and support. I feel that I can genuinely be myself – and be loved and appreciated as such.”

Joseph: “Intense and wonderful. I’ve learned a lot, but I’ve also grown as a person. This experience has been life changing, and completely worth it.”

Luis: “It has been a change in the rhythm of my life as I am used to working. The program is helping me to discover the vocation for which I am called. We follow Christ in this charisma, which means focusing on the poor and the most marginalized of our society. My heart is being shaped with spirituality.”

Michael: “It has really been a period of growth and maturity. I am quite confident I will look back on this time and be grateful.”

Troy: “I feel I am growing into a fraternal relationship, and not a title. This has been incredibly moving and incredibly powerful for my discernment. The early months of postulancy can and do take a gradual process of transition and entering deeper and deeper, but as a result of fraternal growth and being open to the experience, I am finding my footing, and I feel very blessed for all that we have done together, all that we share, all that we are and all that we can be.”

What had you been doing before beginning the postulant program and what motivated you to apply?

Domingo: “Prior to joining the program, I worked with the labor movement on political campaigns at the AFL-CIO in Washington. I left work to spend the summer with my family before moving into Holy Name College. I applied for postulancy because if I didn’t, I would always wonder whether I should. There is no way to know other than trying.”

Luis: “I was both working and volunteering, exercising my profession as a paramedic for 23 years. I was also an active member of the NGO Alliance Medical Rescue. In my parish, I had volunteered in the area of maintenance and also as a sacristan. My motivation was first of all to follow Christ as Franciscan friars do. The ministries are always taking as an option the poor and those who society has already ruled out any option for them, and you care and use all their strength and skills and always out of love and with love, it makes the differences of a smile that comes from the heart. That’s my motivation among the most poor.”

Michael: “Prior to beginning the postulant program, I was working in a senior living community. I was motivated to apply primarily because I was invited and I wanted an answer to whether life as a Franciscan friar was for me or not.”

James: “I had lived in service with two different volunteer organizations for three years. My service included two years as a Franciscan Volunteer Minister at St. Anthony of Padua Church and School in Camden, N.J. I had served as a Cap Corps Volunteer with Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries in Garrison, N.Y. After discerning with three different Franciscan orders, I was finally encouraged to apply to join Holy Name Province.”

Jason: “Prior to joining the postulancy program, I was a student at St. Bonaventure University. Early on in my time as a student, I remember being gripped by the Franciscans and the way they interacted with the students and each other. As a freshman, there was a part of me that felt pulled to consider life as a friar, but I decided that such a desire was counter-cultural and scary and so I spent the better part of four years trying my best to run away from it. But something always drew me back.”

Joseph: “I graduated from Furman University with a degree in philosophy and worked a little. I had already been discerning, and out of respect to my mentor – a friar – I said that I would check it out. I went to a couple of events, and was amazed at the amount of fun I had, and how at home I felt. Love and laughter filled the air. I kept going back, and when the time came, I just took the next step, not knowing where it would lead, but knowing that I had loved it so far.”

Troy: “Prior to entering the postulant program, I had earned my associate’s degree in English from Jamestown Community College and my bachelor’s degree in theology from St. Bonaventure University. This past year, I served as a Franciscan Volunteer Minister (FVM) at our parish in Camden, NJ, with my fellow postulant James La Grutta. A number of things motivated me to apply for the postulancy, but the three most influential were the Franciscans at St. Bonaventure, my time discerning with the Secular Franciscans, and finally, my time as an FVM. Seeing the Franciscan message come to life before my eyes drew me in, grabbed my heart and refuses to let go. I joined the program to continue my discernment with the Franciscans, and I am glad I did.”

What aspects of the Franciscan message have you found most inspiring and/or thought provoking?

Domingo: “My concepts of God and Jesus continue to evolve as I learn more about the Franciscan message. Friars embody an ever-growing understanding of the divine through diversity. Inter-cultural religious services and varied ministries exhibit the universality of Catholicism.”

James: “I find that the Franciscans’ commitment to social justice and solidarity with our fellow man most inspiring. Additionally, their emphasis on fraternity, compassion, and hospitality toward one another has been pivotal in my discernment.”

Jason: “The friars themselves and their approachability initially sparked my interest in life as a friar. Spending time around them and seeing how they minister to others and one another is what excites me about Franciscan life and growing in fraternal relationship with them is what has kept me rooted.”

Joseph: The idea of being ‘minor brothers,’ and identifying with the poor and marginalized, it’s simply extraordinary. Francis saw in all creation a great sacred fraternity – as Pocahontas sings, ‘the rainstorm and the river are my brothers.’ The friars take everything and everyone and see Christ in them. Whether it be the beauty of nature, or the sufferings of a leper, we seek to identify and empathize, to recognize the dignity in every person, and constantly work so as to ensure that they are treated with that same dignity they were born with.”

Luis: “For me, the meaning of being a Franciscan is living for the poor, for the outcasts of today who have no voice. Franciscans are their voice.”

Michael: “I find the emphasis placed on being a ‘bridge-builder’ and ‘instrument of peace’ to be the most attractive.”

Troy: “Part of what strikes me the most, not only about Francis and Clare, but those who carry on their message, is that of radical love. This is the very heart of the Gospel, and this radical love extends into community, ministry, works of social justice, and all that they do.”

What parts of the postulant program have you found most interesting and rewarding?

Domingo: “I enjoyed the inter-Franciscan workshop the most. Joining men and women in formation from every branch of the Franciscan family tree showed me ways we can all live out the Gospel and Franciscan life.”

James: “The many workshops such as the integration seminars and Myers Briggs indicators that have helped me discover qualities about myself and community members on a deeper level. Our past and future visits to friaries, where I have and will continue to encounter relationships with new friars, has been and will continue to be a very important part in my discernment.”

Jason: “I’ve already, in three months, grown tremendously as a Franciscan and as an individual. A lot of it can be attributed to the friars and their willingness to welcome me as I am, and this spirit is alive in places that the friars minister. There is something refreshing and enrapturing about that spirit, and I think a lot of people see that and feel that as a call to living the Gospel life.”

Joseph: “Definitely the workshops. They’ve not only increased my knowledge and understanding of the Catholic faith and the Franciscan Order, but also have given me a context in which to grow as a human being. They’ve opened my eyes to new and wonderful things.”

Luis: “Visiting ministries has been important because one can feel the true heart of the Province and the work the friars do in silence with those nobody wants anything to do with. The time with the friars is also valuable time because they are a living testimony of a true Franciscan.”

Michael: “I think the most enjoyable part of my current ministry assignment is something called ‘Café Social,’ which is typically held in the afternoons at the Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home.  During this time, we pour coffee, scoop ice cream and offer snacks. It is really a great time to talk and get to know the residents better.”

Troy: “I have enjoyed a great deal of aspects of postulancy, from listening to friars’ vocation stories and getting to know each of them better; as well as our workshops, retreats and seminars that help us grow individually and communally.”

“The postulants and I are blessed to have 13 friars in the Holy Name College and St. Camillus community here to support them and introduce them to Franciscan life and ministry,” Walter said. “Accompanying the postulants has been a wonderful experience. The men are open to learning about our life, charisma and are actively discerning if God is calling them to our way of life.”

Information about the Province’s formation program can be found on the Be A Franciscan website.

— Johann Cuervo is the communications assistant for Holy Name Province. Research was provided by Jocelyn Thomas.

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