ATHENS, Ga. — As snow blanketed many cities in the Northeast, more than 35 college students and six friars gathered at the vibrant Catholic Center at the University of Georgia for a discernment vocation retreat filled with warmth.
Coordinated by regional vocation director Thomas Vigliotta, OFM, and assistant regional vocation director John C. Coughlin, OFM, the Jan 26 retreat brought together men from Athens as well as from Greenville and Clemson, S.C., for the first regional retreat held by these ministries. Friars who attended were Robert Menard, OFM, of Clemson University, David Phan, OFM, and Patrick Tuttle, OFM, of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Greenville, and vocation director Basil Valente, OFM, also attended.
Finding Community While Discerning
The evening began with gathering prayer, followed by an Italian meal prepared by a local chef. After dinner, John, who is a campus minister at UGA, gave the keynote talk. One of the major points he highlighted was, “My vocation is to love God and to love others, and it’s the best thing in the world to do.”
“John told a captivating story of his journey to the friars,” said Thomas, director of the Catholic Center. “I noticed that the greatest characteristic of his words is that they held the attention of his listeners because his talk was so down to earth.”
After the talk, the attendees participated in group discussions, followed by a question and answer session with the friars.
For John, one of the most memorable moments of the evening came during a conversation he had with a student from Furman University, where Patrick is a campus minister.
“The student remarked how good it was to be among others who were also thinking about a vocation,” John said. “It was a reminder to me that discernment of a vocation to the priesthood and/or religious life can be a lonely experience. There is something so validating about young men with similar thoughts, feelings and questions being able to gather together.”
Exploring God’s Call
In a reflection, Tom noted that a common thread seemed to run through the friars and young men alike: overcoming a fear to answer God’s call.
“The fear of leaving behind the old era and moving toward a new one is always scary,” said Tom. “But once you get to the new one, the reign of God, you enter what we call a brotherhood of love and joy.
“It is funny that we as friars, and I suspect all people, do face fear, but we also come to be immersed in Christ’s joy,” Tom continued. “I thought that the presence of the friars and our more than 800 years of tradition helped us to share that joy among the young men.”
One of the men found solace and inspiration while speaking with others who were exploring their vocations.
“When the friars explained how it feels to be called and what the Franciscans are all about, I was in shock because that is exactly how I feel,” he said. “There was no other ‘yes’ needed, than this experience, to let me know that this is God’s plan for me. I am so excited and absolutely overjoyed to embark on this journey God is calling me to.”
Tom and John plan to offer one evening a week for men to join them for dinner and prayer. They are exploring the possibility of holding another joint-vocation evening for friars in the South next year.
We are thankful to Basil and his predecessor, Brian Smail, OFM, for their work in vocation,” Tom added. “They have been real brothers.”
Basil, who has assisted with organizing upcoming vocation events in Florida and Massachusetts, was impressed with and thankful for the friars’ commitment to vocation work.
“I’m delighted to see the important vocational outreach and ongoing initiatives from the friars in the South,” Basil said. “These friars have a wonderful way of inviting young men to consider our way of life by authentically opening their friaries, their ministries and their prayer lives to men in discernment.”
More information about becoming a Franciscan friar is included on the vocation office’s website.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator of Holy Name Province.