Province Prepares for Structural Change

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

NEW YORK – After two years of studying and evaluating the sustainability of Holy Name Province’s 30 Fraternities in Mission (FIMs)—the friar communities that live and work at parishes, elementary schools, colleges, soup kitchens, and other sites—the Provincial Administration will announce in January those FIMs where HNP friars will continue to live and work, and those FIMs from which friars will be withdrawn.

Although the final decision will be announced on Jan. 3, the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, the actual withdrawal from fraternities will take place after HNP’s June 2020 Chapter.

The announcement will be the culmination of the Province’s Fraternal Ecology initiative, a process designed to revitalize the life and ministry of HNP friars by determining the number of FIMs that can realistically and healthily be sustained moving forward, given the declining numbers of friars. The goal of the Fraternal Ecology initiative is to enhance the quality of fraternal life for friars in fraternities where the Province can engage in work that advances the priorities of the Order of Friars Minor.

Since the time of St. Francis, living in community and engaging in work that flows from fraternity have been foundational characteristics of the Order. Because of this, strong fraternal life and the opportunity for a variety of works by friars that build the Kingdom of God have been key factors in the Fraternal Ecology process and will weigh decisively in the decisions whether to sustain or withdraw from current FIMs.

As part of the Fraternal Ecology initiative that began in 2017, each of the FIMs was asked to complete a thorough and detailed self-study. A site visitation at each of the 30 FIMs followed, during which members of the HNP Fraternal Life and Mission Directorate met with FIM representatives including friars, those in leadership positions, and other partners-in-ministry. Each FIM then worked with the Directorate in developing a final report that was shared with their partners-in-ministry, local dioceses, and all Province friars. The final report detailed the history, structures, demographics, finances, impact on the recipients of the services, and other elements of each FIM.

Importance of Fraternal Life and Inclusion
In an Oct. 28 update to HNP friars on the status of the Fraternal Ecology initiative, Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, wrote, “This process was designed to involve as many people as possible in honest dialogue, as we, friars, have asked: how, where, and for how long should we live and work in a given place?”

He added, “The visitations conducted over the past year have certainly shown that we friars are loved and that the possibility of our moving on from any of our current faith communities will be painful. Yet, our partners-in-ministry in each of our locations, and so many of those that we serve there, seem to understand the dilemma of the challenges we face.”

Friars from Holy Name Province gathered for this photo during the 2018 Provincial Chapter at Siena College. (Photo courtesy of HNP)

In the letter, Kevin continued, “From the beginning of the Fraternal Ecology process, we have stressed the priority of our fraternal life and the necessity of providing strong communal settings from which our ministry might flow. As we look to the future, we take seriously the demographics of Holy Name Province—realities requiring that we reduce the number of our Fraternities in Mission so as to ensure that each brother has the opportunity to live his Franciscan life in a healthy fraternal context. The next two months for the Council will be a time of continued input, prayer, reflection and discussion.”

The Provincial Minister also provided a report summarizing the Fraternal Ecology initiative of Holy Name Province that he asked friars to share with their congregations and communities in their bulletins, newsletters, and websites.

The report says that the Fraternal Ecology initiative is inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, in which he urges an integral ecology that responds to the cry of the earth (natural ecology) and to the cry of the poor (human ecology).

“We friars recognize our responsibility to be attentive to the welfare of our brother friars (fraternal ecology),” the report says. “We know we must realistically plan for the future in light of our diminishing numbers and the ever-increasing challenges of our ministries. We hope to right-size our commitments, to reorganize and imagine them that we might reestablish fraternities-in-mission that assure a quality of fraternal life for the brothers and thus empower them to better serve the Church.”

Comprehensive Research
The Fraternal Ecology initiative began in June 2017 after the Provincial Chapter that year mandated that friars evaluate and make decisions by the Provincial Chapter of 2020 concerning the quality and sustainability of existing Fraternities in Mission, the report explains.

A set of criteria established by Provincial Chapters over the past decade was used to study, evaluate and compile reports for each of the 30 FIMs—criteria that include fraternal life, JPIC initiatives, strong Franciscan witness, collaboration with the laity, diversity of cultural and economic groups, financial self-sufficiency of the FIM, ministry to young adults, the potential to attract vocations to the Order, a supportive bishop, and the ability to attract friars to the FIM.

At the Province’s annual meeting of guardians and pastors that is taking place Nov. 18 to 20, discussions will be held regarding which FIMs should be sustained or discontinued. Leaders from all 30 current FIMs will review the final reports and offer recommendations to the Administration as it prepares to make the final decisions.

“This meeting will be an opportunity for Provincial leaders to discuss, in person, ideas that they have about the conclusions of the reports that have been produced,” said Dan Kenna, OFM, who has shepherded the Fraternal Ecology initiative. “Our Directorate members have been very thorough in their research and we know that those reviewing our reports have aimed to be as comprehensive and as fair as possible. The Provincial Administration has tried to include a cross-section of voices in its evaluations.”

“We are nearing the conclusion of a thorough process that will help us friars choose our preferred future,” added Dan, a member of the HNP Fraternal Life in Ministry Directorate.

The Provincial Minister and Council will use the wisdom gained over the last two and a half years prayerfully to make their final decision. In January 2020, their decisions will be announced to the friars, their partners-in-ministry and the local bishops.

The changes in FIMs will take effect in summer 2020, after the friars of HNP gather the week of May 31 for their triennial chapter, whose theme is “Prophets of Hope: Listening, Discerning and Going Forth.”

 – Jocelyn Thomas is director of communication for Holy Name Province.