Province’s Lay Advisory Board Members Offer Insights, Concern

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

NEW YORK — More than 20 people representing ministries from New England to the Carolinas gathered last month with the Provincial Council to share their insights, gain knowledge to take back to their local communities, and to try to put themselves “in the shoes” of the HNP administration.

This second meeting of the HNP Lay Advisory Board was positive and productive, according to the Provincial Administration. The June 18 meeting at San Damiano Hall displayed to both sets of participants — the lay advisors and the Council members — the respect, interest, and concern that the Province’s partners-in-ministry have for the friars and their ministries.

Through presentations and discussions, the participants — individuals identified by the friars in the Province’s assorted ministries as lay leaders — learned about the challenges faced by the Province. They reviewed the Province’s goals and received statistical information to get a sense of the resources with which the Province works. They also learned about the Province’s membership and the fact that its aging population makes impossible the staffing of the number of ministries as in the past.

The idea of establishing a lay advisory board came from Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM.

“It flowed from a desire, voiced by the Provincial Council and the friars — as reflected in Where We Stand Now —to continue our partnering with laity in our life and mission as a priority for us as a Province,” said Provincial Councilor Lawrence Hayes, OFM, shown in photo. “More particularly, as we face the need to respond concretely to declining numbers of friars, we considered it vital to include our ‘partners’ in our discussions of future directions, including withdrawals from current ministries. The first two meetings have been both cordial and productive.”

“I shared with the Provincial Council last year that I was concerned that although we as an administration had done some very good planning, including the strategic plan and our regional fraternal days, we had not up until that point included the laity in any meaningful way,” John said. “I suggested that the time had come to do that and the Council agreed. At the first meeting last year, we shared with the Lay Advisory Board the HNP Strategic Plan and briefed them on what we had been doing in the regional days.”

This year’s meeting, organized by Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan, OFM, began with a showing of the video “Vatican II – An Unfinished Building Site,” a presentation by Dr. Richard Gaillardettz, a theologian from Boston College, that was shown to friars at their spring 2013 fraternal gatherings. The board members discussed their reactions to the video and, after breaking for lunch, reviewed the content of the Provincial documents.

“We gave the Lay Advisory Board the planning documents that we had developed since our last meeting with them — the Where We Stand report and the Set of Criteria for where we believe we should be ministering,” John said.

After discussing these documents, the lay advisors spent much of the afternoon participating in an exercise meant to enlighten the board members as well as to elicit their ideas.

They reviewed two sample “scenarios” – descriptions of the types of ministries from which the Province might consider withdrawing. Larry led the discussion of the board members’ ideas, encouraging the laypeople to offer ways that they suggest the Province could (1) prepare ministries for changes and (2) help both friars and ministry members cope with the impact of withdrawal announcements. The discussion was meant to generate thinking and conversation about how the Province would determine which parishes to leave when the personnel resources warranted such action.

Sobering and Productive Experience
“We created scenarios for having to make a decision on withdrawing from a ministry and asked the board members to put themselves in our shoes as the administration of Holy Name Province. We asked them, in view of each scenario, to think about what would they decide and how they would communicate the decision,” said John. “It was again for them, as they described, a difficult exercise, but one that helped them to better understand the challenges we face as provincial and Council.”

Over the past six years, Holy Name Province has announced its departure from ministries in five locations: in Providence, R.I., in two northern New Jersey towns, and in the Bronx and New York City.

“As we move forward and have to make tough decisions, in both this administration and the next, we feel it’s critical that our partners-in-ministry journey with us in the decision-making process,” said the Provincial Minister. The advisory board includes representatives of roughly 30 ministries; in addition to parishes, they are from two colleges, two retreat centers, Boston’s St. Anthony Shrine and St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia.

“Our partners shared a host of helpful insights as to how best to withdraw,” said Larry. “Among the ideas were the need for an individualized process in each site, the need for transparency, many ideas about the types, timing and sequencing of information, the need for healthy grieving, and the desirability of moving into an unknown future with a clear articulation and ownership of the priorities and mission of a given ministry site.”

“It was, as they told us, a very sobering experience, hearing how we had fewer friars and how the average age of the friars is 67,” said John. “The feedback from the meeting this year, as it was last year, was very positive. We all agreed that more meetings will be scheduled in the months to come.”

Better Understanding 
Several lay board members expressed their pleasure with being part of the group that advises the Province.

Barbara Salapek, of St. Francis Inn soup kitchen, said she appreciates “how candid the friars are about their situation. They are being very open. They’re willing to listen. I feel that the friars are very supportive.”

“It is valuable for laypeople to both be aware of what friars do and what they are facing and also to be involved and to offer ideas,” said Salapak, who has worked with the friars for 23 years.

June Mader, a volunteer from Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, said she has enjoyed the “instant fellowship among the advisory board members that comes from the shared experience of being part of an HNP community.

“I have particularly enjoyed learning about the history and the core principles that shape HNP’s Franciscan identity,” Mader continued. “Although I have seen these principles in action in working with the friars over the years, it’s great to have a better understanding of the spirit that directs and nurtures their journey.

She added, “At Immaculate Conception Parish, our vision statement begins with ‘From our worship to our world in the spirit of St. Francis.’ We have referenced this vision in developing strategy, prioritizing projects, and in communications to the parish. Now that I have a better understanding of the Province, I can be more effective in articulating the ‘spirit of St. Francis’ to fellow parishioners. Knowing how HNP’s Franciscan identity informs its decision making, I am in a better position to support change in our increasingly dynamic and complex parish.”

In the two meetings with the lay advisors, Larry said that he has “been touched by the wisdom and generosity of these talented partners. Their willingness to help the friars with their many skills as we move forward with inevitable downsizing is impressive. Their love of the friars is humbling. Their acceptance that change is inevitable is gratifying. Their courage in speaking the truth is refreshing. And their concern for the friars along with the laity in this transition process is consoling.”

The Provincial Council is discussing dates for future meetings of the HNP Lay Advisory Board.

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