Rodolfo Ramón Cabrera celebrates Mass in Spanish at St. Peter Claver Parish. (Photo courtesy of the friars)

Province Expands Ministry in Macon

Stephen Mangione Around the Province

MACON, Ga. – The Franciscan presence in central Georgia nearly doubled when Holy Name Province assigned Patrick Tuttle, OFM, and Steven Pavignano, OFM, to serve in ministry at Holy Spirit Parish. They joined an already existing friar fraternity six miles away at St. Peter Claver Parish – which includes Bill McIntyre, OFM, pastor, and newcomers Rodolfo Ramón Cabrera, OFM, and Casey Cole, OFM.

One of the reasons HNP withdrew from nine Fraternities-in-Mission last year as part of its Fraternal Ecology process was to strengthen and renew a core Franciscan component: fraternal communities of friars living and ministering together. The expansion in Macon achieves that goal by increasing from one parish to a two-house fraternal community of five friars.

As parishioners at Holy Spirit have warmly welcomed the Franciscan contingent to their parish – albeit mostly from a distance, through virtual meetings, due to continuing pandemic restrictions on large gatherings – the friars have wasted no time in rolling out a glimpse of the Franciscan model. They are talking about plans for greater outreach to families that are housing, financially and food-insecure, programs to address social injustices, collaboration with other Christian churches and religions, and building the congregations of both parishes.

Holy Spirit Church in Macon, Georgia. (Photo from the parish Facebook page)

Bill, who has been pastor of St. Peter Claver since September 2015, has made it abundantly clear to his parishioners – and Patrick, as the new pastor of Holy Spirit, has done the same – that both parishes will continue to operate independently of the other, but that the friars are looking forward to opportunities for ministerial collaboration between their congregations and within their own fraternal community.

There have been a number of shared events between the two parishes that have also reached into other churches and the entire community – from the Franciscan tradition of the blessing of animals for the feast of St. Francis, to a virtual Advent retreat series – which also included the nearby St. Francis Episcopal Church congregation – to a collaborative outdoor Halloween block party for children and their families, during which the music-loving Patrick introduced his disc-jockey skills by playing songs to help people dance away the blues.

This week, during the annual 2021 “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” – Jan. 18 to 25 – Steve said that Holy Spirit and St. Peter were scheduled to host other Christian churches in the area for an evening of prayer, hymns, scripture reading, intercessions, silent reflection, fellowship, and dialogue.

“Our parishes hope to joyfully share ministries and resources so we can do more things together, while still maintaining our separate identities,” said Bill.

Echoing these sentiments, Patrick added, “The biggest concern of Holy Spirit parishioners was that we were coming to close the parish or merge it with St. Peter. We assured them this isn’t the case. Both parishes have the common goal of becoming a greater presence in the community to attract new families from within traditional geographic parish boundaries, as well as from neighboring communities.”

Holy Spirit and St. Peter’s are considered destination parishes because they draw largely from outside communities. The friars said they want to get to know the people in the neighborhoods that are in proximity to the parishes – and, according to Bill and Patrick, bring them back to the Church if they have fallen away.

“We are very excited about what we can build here. I am always encouraged by the African-American community’s openness to our Franciscan ideals and values,” said Patrick. “We are inviting people and families to take a look at what we have to offer. We’d like to begin witness talks and testimonials to help get some of the un-Churched of the area to find their way back, or to join us for the first time.”

Fraternity with a 12-Minute Car Ride and Pasta Primavera
Although Patrick and Steve live at the Holy Spirit Friary, and Bill, Rodolfo and Casey reside at the St. Peter Claver Friary, both houses are separated by only a 12-minute car ride, which fosters elements of fraternal life living under the same roof.

Patrick Tuttle with some friends at a party last fall (Photo from Patrick)

“Being so close in distance allows us to pray and dine together as a fraternal community every evening. We rotate hosting and cooking,” said Patrick, whose specialty dish of pasta primavera – which he sometimes enhances with chicken, shrimp, or sausage – is already a friar favorite.

Steve says the group participates in theological reflection before evening prayer and dinner and also has house chapters – meetings where they plan events and programs and discuss ideas.

The friars agree that it’s a very eclectic fraternity, each bringing different talents and ministry styles to the table. Steve – the most senior-professed friar (he made his first profession in 1974 and was ordained to the priesthood four years later) – and Rodolfo, whose previous assignment was pastor of the heavily Hispanic-populated St. Paul Parish in Wilmington, Delaware, have spent many years in ministry with the Latino community.

Rodolfo will serve as a spiritual counselor to the area’s Secular Franciscans, and Steve will focus on social justice issues and ecumenical projects, as well as adult religious formation. Bill and Patrick have spent many years in parish ministry to the African-American community. In his previous assignment as pastor (from 2007 to 2020) of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville, South Carolina, Patrick also provided hospital and prison chaplaincy and helped build the parish elementary school into a state-of-the-art education facility in a predominantly Black community.

Casey – who was ordained to the priesthood in June 2019 and is the youngest in the group – has a background in campus ministry and a significant ministerial footprint on social media. He set up a production studio in the basement of the Daughters of Charity convent next to St. Peter’s, where he produces “Breaking in the Habit” – his video series, and blog, that promotes Franciscan life – and the entertaining and popular weekly YouTube broadcast, “Upon Friar Review,” a collaboration by Patrick and Casey.

The younger friar is the new chaplain for middle and high school students at the nearby Mount de Sales Academy and a local homeless day shelter. He will also be working in campus ministry with the local community and state colleges that historically have not had a Roman Catholic presence.

“Casey’s technology and social media skills have improved our online presence during the pandemic, especially with streaming Masses and daily reflections,” said Bill, noting that because St. Peter Claver has a large senior population, instead of 700 worshippers at Sunday Masses, only 100 or so have been attending in person. “Most people are still watching our live-streamed Masses because they feel safer that way. We still have a limit on capacity,” added Bill, who praised the congregants of both parishes for their generosity and willingness to contribute to community outreach efforts.

Virtual Meetings to Get Acquainted
For Patrick and Steve, it has been a slow process meeting the Holy Spirit congregation because of continued COVID restrictions and protocols. When they arrived, the pastor and the parochial vicar needed to get creative – hosting three virtual town hall-style meetings to introduce themselves to parishioners and learn about their new parish.

“Although these meetings went very well, we still have a lot of learning and listening to do. Some of the more-involved parishioners attended and provided a perspective of what the congregation is looking for. They were generally happy to have the Franciscans and two friars assigned to their parish,” Patrick said.

“This little church has taken quite a few hits, not much different than this poor-to-middle-class community that got left behind by promised development that never happened. Young families left the parish before the pandemic, then along came the challenges of COVID, and more people have fallen away from the Church,” Patrick continued.

The friars serving in central Georgia. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Tuttle)

“Despite the challenges and hardships, it is a very tight-knit community. Our parishioners have deep pride in their parish. There is a great love and a rich tradition of social gatherings. They play their part in charitable outreach,” he added, noting that some minor changes and programs implemented in the first couple of months have provided reassurance to the congregation that Holy Spirit is here to stay.

One of the ministries that Patrick and Steve want to develop is ecumenical and interfaith outreach – and, apparently, the area is fertile ground.

“I have never seen a town with so many churches. In just a three-quarter-mile radius, there are more than 30 Christian churches and a mosque,” said Steve, who prior to his move to Macon served as guardian of San Damiano Friary in Orlando, Florida, for three years.

Since he has been involved in interfaith initiatives wherever he has served in ministry, Steve said he would like to develop a partnership with the other Christian churches and with other faiths – including the Muslim and Jewish communities – to address the economic, housing, and education needs of local families.

Serving the Broader Community
“There is a lot of poverty in the area. About a mile away, there’s a two-level shopping mall that is pretty much vacant, with the exception of three or four retail stores. Most of the shopping plazas in the area have only a few active stores. Some of the housing is dilapidated,” said Steve, who has spent three decades in parish ministry in several states– Florida, Georgia, New York, and South Carolina – and nine years in campus ministry at the University of Georgia in Athens.

“It is important that we learn about the community, and that the community learns about the Franciscan identity – that this is who the friars are, how we live, and what we do,” said Steve, who is planning to meet with elected officials, the board of education, chamber of commerce, and other public and private organizations to forge a partnership to better serve the broader community.

HNP’s expanded presence when the friars arrived in Georgia’s fourth-largest city at Holy Spirit Parish came almost five years to the day that the Province returned to the Diocese of Savannah in 2015. Province friars originally arrived in the diocese in the early 1940s, departed for a period of time, and hadn’t returned until six years ago when then-Bishop Gregory John Hartmayer, OFM Conv, asked HNP to assume pastoral and administrative care of St. Peter Claver.

Expanding ministry in Macon, says Provincial Vicar Larry Hayes, OFM, checks off two boxes of HNP and Franciscan foundational values – ministering in a strong fraternal community and serving the marginalized.

“Expanding our Franciscan presence in Macon allows the Province to maintain its commitment to live among and serve the poor. Equally important, it enables us to keep our commitment to creating and maintaining ministerial environments with a sufficient number of friars to allow for healthy fraternal life and diversity of works,” said Larry, guardian at St. Camillus Parish Friary in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.

Editor’s note: Updates about both of the Province’s parishes in Macon – Holy Spirit and St. Peter Claver – can be found on their Facebook pages.