Provincial Chapter 2017 Focuses on ‘Living as Pilgrims’

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — Holy Name friars gathered this month for their triennial Provincial Chapter, a week that was filled with discussions, voting, music, and presentations.

From Sunday, June 4 through Friday, June 9, more than 200 people participated in the gathering on the Siena College campus that resulted in the election of new councilors, rich discussions about identity and culture, and a preference survey about the reconfiguration process of the U.S. provinces.

The theme “Pilgrims, Not Strangers” highlighted the Franciscans’ life as lesser brothers encouraging a move toward new fraternities-in-mission and into the peripheries of society, into which the Order’s 2015 General Chapter urged friars to go with the “joy of the Gospel.” The phrase was shown on banners around the meeting venue and discussed by presenters throughout the week.

Participants included 187 friars from Holy Name Province as well as Provincial staff members and a dozen friar-guests from other OFM provinces. Each day included a combination of business and fraternal time, rounded out with prayer.

Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, serving as Chapter president, opened the Chapter on Sunday evening and Siena College president F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, welcomed the attendees. Also that evening, the roll call was conducted by Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan, OFM, and the rules of procedure were officially approved.

Sr. Barbara Reid, OP, of the Catholic Theological Union, giving the keynote talk. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

Living as Pilgrims, Not Strangers
Chapter 2017 continued Monday morning with a presentation titled “Biblical Reflections on Pilgrimage.” It was given by Sr. Barbara Reid, OP, vice president, academic dean and professor of New Testament studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She described ways in which the theme of pilgrimage appears throughout history, citing examples from the Old and New Testaments, and emphasizing that Franciscan itinerancy shows the importance of pilgrimage. “Pilgrimage, or journeying, is always connected to mission,” said Sr. Barbara, who described the spirituality of a pilgrim as having five main behaviors: (1) willingness to go forth, to leave home and to be a stranger; (2) willingness to encounter and engage with the stranger, and being able to understand the perspectives of others; (3) willingness to be changed by “the other;” (4) desire to go beyond tolerance toward unity and peace with “the other;” and (5) willingness to advocate for the vulnerable stranger.

Monday afternoon’s session offered a discussion titled “Four Fellow Pilgrims’ Voices” that was facilitated by Kenneth Himes, OFM. Four guests with varied perspectives gave presentations and then answered questions from friars during an open forum. The speakers were David Bryant, an African-American who recently graduated from St. Bonaventure University; Teresa Gutierrez, who is originally from Mexico and who advocates for migrants’ rights; Nazir Harb, a Muslim who works at Georgetown University; and Sr. Mary Petrosky, FMM, who talked about women’s issues.

Kevin Mullen gives his “State of the Province” presentation. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

The State of the Province
Kevin Mullen gave a “State of the Province” presentation on Tuesday morning. This talk was in addition to a document containing statistical information that he provided before the Chapter. The Provincial Minister spoke of the significance of the theme “Pilgrims, Not Strangers,” emphasizing the value of reflecting on the friars’ mendicant roots. “We are on the road, on the move,” he said. “We are not locked into any one place or any fixed dwellings. Rather, we are pilgrims who travel in the midst of fellow pilgrims.” He spoke about the last three years in the life of Holy Name Province, sharing thoughts about “where the road might be leading us,” and breaking his remarks into three areas:

  1. What have I experienced as provincial minister?
  2. What have I learned during a year of visitation with the friars?
  3. What issues await us in the immediate future?

After describing the Provincial Council’s goals for the past three years, Kevin said the “overall mood and climate of the Province are good and, for the most part, the local fraternities are functioning and meaningful work is being done by the friars.” He shared specific observations, and concluded by highlighting the Chapter’s responsibility to reflect and vote on three proposals, and by describing the status of the Revitalization and Reconfiguration Process of the U.S. OFM provinces. The text of the State of the Province talk, along with Sr. Barbara’s PowerPoint presentation, will be made available to HNP friars electronically.

Friars shared comments and questions with Kevin before the day’s focus turned to the R&R Process. Friars were asked to discuss the eight core values described in the document titled “Making Fraternity Our Mission,” which was distributed to all OFM friars in the United States earlier this year.

Larry Anderson and Kevin Mackin take part in the table discussions. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, facilitated exercises through which participants completed, as table groups, forms on which they prioritized the values, considering the implications of each from several perspectives – for individual friars, for local fraternities, for the Province and for the national OFM fraternity. “All eight values are essential, but we need to start somewhere” in defining their importance, he said. The three that were voted as top priorities are 1) life of prayer, 2) fraternal relations and 3) sharing life with people, especially the poor.

Directorate Reports, Proposals, and Eldercare
Wednesday began with a celebration of the Eucharist by Howard Hubbard, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Albany, whose homily generated considerable praise. The Mass was followed by the taking of a traditional group friar photo on the steps of Siena Hall, an activity that generated laughter as well as gratitude for a sunny morning.

That morning, the floor was opened for clarification about the reports given by three of the Province’s directorates – Formation and Studies, Fraternal Life in Mission, and Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. Representatives of the three groups answered questions from friars.

The bulk of Wednesday afternoon was devoted to eldercare. After reminding attendees that “the care of senior friars is one of the main topics of this Chapter,” Kevin Mullen emphasized that “our discussion here it not about money; it’s about care.” A guest speaker – Br. Robert Valentine, OFM, director of eldercare for St. Barbara Province – described how his province modified its system, closing its healthcare facility and focusing on enabling friars to remain in their friaries, and forming a group called the friar healthcare team. “Our scope expanded, causing a paradigm shift,” he said. His presentation was followed by discussions about the document titled “When Any Brother Falls Ill: The Fraternal Care of Elderly and Infirm Friars in Holy Name Province.”

Friars pay close attention during one of the presentations. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

Discussions and votes on Chapter proposals were held throughout the week. After some rewording of the text, two proposals about the following were passed:

  1. Sanctuary: Each house will discern how it can best provide support and assistance to the undocumented immigrants in their midst.
  2. Elder friars: The chapter mandates that HNP adopt a new paradigm of eldercare and health care that includes (1) a model of retirement that allows for retiring friars to choose to either join communities such as those in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Butler, N.J., or to choose to remain in their currently assigned friary, providing that there is room and that they have the support of the local fraternity, and (2) encouraging and enabling all senior friars to continue to live independently and interdependently as long as possible in the friaries to which they are assigned.

A third proposal, about intercultural competency, was withdrawn by the sponsoring bodies to be forwarded to the new Provincial Administration for further work.

The following day, friars listened to updates from Provincial offices: Communications, Development, Finance and Vocation offices.

Votes for Councilors and for Restructuring
On the final two days of the Chapter, the friars voted on issues affecting the future of Holy Name – on both the Provincial and national levels.

Six friars were elected on Thursday to a three-year term as Provincial Council members. They are, in order of seniority by years professed: David Convertino, OFM, Robert Frazzetta, OFM, Thomas Gallagher, OFM, Walter Liss, OFM, Fred Dilger, OFM, and Erick López, OFM. After the Provincial Minister announced the election results, the new councilors took a formal oath.

The new Provincial Administration members (sans Erick López) listen to a question asked by a friar during an open forum. (Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Thomas)

After discussing ideas and concerns regarding the Reconfiguration and Revitalization Process of the U.S. provinces, the Chapter attendees indicated their preference at this time regarding possible models for reconfigured OFM provinces. The friars voted, by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, to push forward the one-province model.

As Kevin emphasized, this was not a definitive vote. It was meant to take the “temperature” of Holy Name Province’s perspective on the model options.

After the R&R discussion, Larry Hayes and the new councilors gathered with Kevin in front of the meeting room to provide a forum for discussion. During this session, Kevin updated the friars about several upcoming events, including the Extraordinary Chapter taking place in May 2018 on Siena’s campus.

Michael Calabria gives a presentation titled “Islam: What ISIS Doesn’t Want You to Know” on Monday evening. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

Evening Programs
Two evenings included programs that focused on cultural awareness. On Monday, Michael Calabria, OFM, director of St. Bonaventure University’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, gave a presentation titled “Islam: What ISIS Doesn’t Want You to Know.” He used the five pillars of Islam to describe traditions and historical perspectives, showing images that reflect an historical intertwining of cultures and religions as well as art and architecture. The event, though optional, attracted more than 100 attendees on a rainy evening.

Tuesday concluded with a celebration of the Eucharist – a memorial for deceased friars – at St. Mary of the Angels Chapel. Former Siena president William McConville, OFM, who is marking 50 years as a friar, presided. After dinner, many attended the showing of a documentary film, sponsored by the African Ancestry Committee, titled “I Am Not Your Negro” that was followed by a discussion. Wednesday evening concluded with a festive outdoor dinner at Serra Manor, at the edge of Siena’s campus, and a reconciliation service with a homily given by Paul Williams, OFM.

Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan with Aaron Richardson, Abraham Joseph and Jay Woods, who served as “runners” during the Chapter. (Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Thomas)

Gratitude for Organizers
The logistics of the Chapter were arranged by a variety of people. Michael Harlan served as secretary of the event, working closely with Linh Hoang, OFM, and Christopher VanHaight, OFM, who served as the Chapter chairmen. Others with key roles were John J. Coughlin, OFM, who served as parliamentarian/canonist, and the steering committee, which comprised, Kevin, Michael, Linh, Christopher, and Larry.

Serving as tellers for the week were John Aherne, OFM, Ross Chamberland, OFM, Stephen DeWitt, OFM, Mario Gómez, OFM, Edgardo Jara, OFM, and Michael Reyes, OFM. Prayer and liturgy were planned by James Sabak, OFM, and Timothy Shreenan, OFM, and transportation was supervised by Dennis Bennett, OFM, and George Camacho, OFM. Photos were taken by Octavio Duran, OFM, and Fred Dilger, OFM, coordinated the environment. Music was provided by Timothy, Kevin McGoff, OFM, Peter Chepaitis, OFM, and Kate Burns, director of liturgical arts for Siena’s chapel.

The Chapter finished Friday morning with the Provincial Minister officially concluding the gathering at 10:30 a.m. Kevin then presided at a celebration of the Eucharist at which he emphasized the importance of relationships – with God, with the people we serve and with each other. “Let us go forth, filled with hope, ready to begin again,” he said. “We are privileged to walk in the footsteps of Francis and Clare.”

Friars at prayer in St. Mary of the Angels Chapel. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

Perspectives of Participants
After returning to their homes, several friars commented on their time at Chapter.

“It was a great place to be,” said William DeBiase, OFM, of Philadelphia. “The Chapter of 2017 was energized, focused, joyful, prayerful, productive, and hopeful.”

Cidouane Joseph, OFM, of Hartford, Conn., said, “Chapter time is always a great time for me to re-connect with the friars I haven’t seen in a while. It’s good to hear what other friars are thinking on certain issues and I get a pretty good idea of where we’re heading. It is an opportunity to strengthen fraternal bonds and gives me encouragement in the life I’ve chosen. This Chapter was especially significant since one of my classmates, Erick López, was elected to the Provincial Council. This was my third Chapter and I enjoyed it a lot.”

“It was an honor for me to both serve on the Chapter Planning Committee and to be one of the co-chairs of the Chapter,” said Chris VanHaight, OFM, of Durham, N.C. “From that vantage point I was able to see the hard work that so many friars put in to make the Chapter such a success. For me, the most moving experience was the reconciliation service. We came together in faith to experience and share God’s mercy. It was inspiring to see brothers reaching out to one another in such a profound way. I hope that will be a part of future chapters.”

Javier Del Angel De Los Santos leads a group of friars in a sing-along after the last dinner of the Chapter. (Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Thomas)

Kevin Cronin, OFM, of Butler, N.J., said, “My most powerful memory was the participation of the simply professed friars. Their intervention concerning ‘white male privilege’ was a real eye-opener for me, and has me, and all of us, thinking as our province evolves. The video created by Casey Cole, OFM, also gave me much hope in the use of media in proclaiming the Word, and recruiting for vocations. It was great having our younger brothers with us and participating in these positive and challenging ways.” 

“Chapter 2017 was a blend of fraternity and substantial work,” said John Rudy, OFM, of Rhode Island. “Important questions concerning our future were discussed in a spirit of trust and optimism. I particularly enjoyed the panel discussion on diversity and inclusion. Preprandium and delicious dinners rounded out the days.”

“The recent Provincial Chapter was the latest I’ve attended since the Extraordinary Chapter of 1968,” said Joseph Nangle, OFM. “It would be interesting to trace the history of those triennial gatherings and marvel at the sea of change that has occurred in Holy Name Province over this half century. For me, the outstanding aspect of Chapter 2017 clearly lies in the decision to place ourselves publicly at the service of countless immigrant sisters and brothers among us who are threatened with arrest and deportation. That Chapter determination, I believe, defines us like no other as we continue to grapple with what it means to be followers of St. Francis in 21st century America.”

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

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