SILVER SPRING, Md. – Friars of varied locations and backgrounds collaborated with two Provincial entities to organize a successful vocation weekend for black Catholic men last month that gave visitors the opportunity to meet with and learn from friars and their partners-in-ministry.
“The Way of St. Francis: A Weekend for Black Catholic Men Open to Religious Life” began with evening prayer on Friday, Feb. 10 at Holy Name College and concluded with a multi-cultural Mass on Sunday, Feb. 12 at the adjacent St. Camillus Church. The three days included presentations by six people with varied experiences and connections to the Franciscans. Donna Grimes of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke on “Black Catholics – Their Rightful Place in the Church,” Abraham Joseph, OFM, discussed “My Experience as a Student Friar,” Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, guardian of St. Camillus Friary, talked about outreach and ministry at St. Camillus Church, Basil Valente, OFM, presented “Discerning a Call to Be a Franciscan” and Paul Williams, OFM, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Wilmington Del., discussed “Men of Color in Ministry.”
“This year, as last year, we had four young, very promising men attend,” said David Hyman, OFM, chair of the African Ancestry Committee. “One was from New Jersey, who found us on the Vocation Office website, one was from North Carolina, and two were from St. Camillus Parish.”
The retreat’s organizers expressed satisfaction at the spirit of the weekend, commenting on many aspects of the event.
“I am impressed with the level of involvement and engagement from our four discerners throughout the event-packed weekend,” said Basil Valente, OFM, the Province’s vocation director. “It’s inspiring to see the deep level of spiritual commitment from these young aspirants and I’m grateful to the many members of the African Ancestry Committee for organizing such a prayerful and engaging weekend.
“I was blessed to witness — and participate in — the faith-filled sharing from the discerners, the postulants, the friars, and the members of the committee,” he continued. “It’s gratifying to see the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of these young men, especially at a time when the spiritual journey to religious life is highly counter-cultural.”
David said he was pleased with the “superb presentations of the weekend, beginning with Donna Grimes of the USCCB’s Office of Black Catholics. Jacek in the afternoon, with a panel of five parishioners from St. Camillus, overwhelmed us as they shared all of the outreach going on in St. Camillus Parish.”
“The homily given by Paul at Sunday’s Mass was “extraordinary,” said David.
The annual vocation weekend provides a setting for friars and others to share their faith and knowledge to meet with young black men who are curious about Franciscan life.
“Our program reaches out to, in a general way, without formality, those who have thought of and not closed the door on the idea of religious life or priesthood,” said David. “I see the weekend as laying out the possibility of becoming a friar. Thereafter, one lets the Holy Spirit work in a positive way with the men.”
David and Basil were grateful for the warm hospitality offered by the men who live at Holy Name College. “Walter Liss, OFM, and the postulants at Holy Name College were great hosts,” said David.
Kirk Gaddy, a member of the Province’s African Ancestry Committee, said the event was successful because of its focus on black Catholicism.
“It is spiritually and theologically sound for Holy Name Province to hold retreats like this for men of African background in order for them to give serious consideration to becoming Franciscan friars,” he said.
Gaddy, a staff member at St. Francis International School on the campus of Holy Name College, recommends that the committee continue offering events like this.
“It is good to hold gatherings for men of specific cultural groups but it is also important to bring cultural groups together,” said Gaddy, adding that he is “amazed with the vitality” of David and of committee member Neil O’Connell, OFM, who were “involved with the civil rights movement” and who “work with us, not for us.”
Abraham, a native of Haiti, agrees that the retreat was beneficial. “It is an effort to promote a more positive attitude that all who are baptized can fully participate in the mission of the Church no matter their social location,” he said.
“The young men at the retreat were all children of immigrant parents from the African continent or the Caribbean, and they were very happy to learn more about the history of black Catholics,” he added. “They were also curious to learn more about the components of the friars’ way of life: history and foundation, study, ministry, meaning of the habit, the vows, different branches of Franciscans, and the day-to-day life of the friars.
“In general, people are surprised to discover that people of African descent have been members of the Catholic Church of the United States for centuries. And the history of their contribution to the movement to end racial discrimination in this country is not well recorded. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church and religious congregations obeyed the segregation laws that existed in the United States for many years. It makes us wonder: How many young men and women felt call to serve the Church but were excluded?”
Basil thinks back with satisfaction about the people who participated in the event and is grateful to friars for participating in vocation work.
“My blessings and my prayers are with each man, particularly as he continues his discernment with the friars of Holy Name Province,” said Basil. “The brothers, aware of the appeal that St. Francis has, should make it clear that his way of life and his values are an essential element of our calling. The brothers should live according to St. Francis’ values with such carefulness, genuineness and joy that other might choose this way of life and share in it. (Constitutions, 145a). Clearly, the weekend in Silver Spring was certainly filled with ‘genuineness and joy,’ allowing others to choose our way of life and share in it.”
The Province – as well as other Franciscan groups around the country – has held an assortment of events for specific cultural groups. They include an Asian American Day of Recollection and gatherings for Hispanic friars and those involved with Hispanic ministry.
Last year, the Province held a similar retreat for black Catholics in Wilmington, Del.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
Editor’s note: Information about upcoming events sponsored by the HNP Vocation Ministry can be found on BeAFranciscan.org.
- “Black History Month Celebrations around the Province” – March 1, 2017, HNP Today
- “’Brokenness’ Celebrated at Florida Vocation Retreat” – Feb. 1, 2017, HNP Today
- “National Gathering for Friars in Hispanic Ministry Set for October” – June 14, 2016, HNP Today