SPUFY Friars Gather to Share and Learn

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A half-dozen friars converged in Florida last month for the annual Province tradition of SPUFY – the acronym for “solemnly professed under five years” – in which friars early in their Franciscan life assemble in fraternity to bond and share experiences, ideas and concerns, and encourage one another in their journey.

The friars at this year’s SPUFY gathering: (l-r) Michael Duffy, John Aherne, Abraham Joseph, Edgardo Lalo Jara, Tito Serrano, George Camacho, Casey Cole, and Steve Patti. (Photo courtesy of Casey Cole)

The friars traveled from their ministries in five states for the Feb. 17 to 20 formation session, which was held at St. Anthony Friary, the Province residence in St. Petersburg that primarily houses retired HNP friars.

“Getting together as newly professed friars gave us the opportunity and space to share our joys and challenges, to deepen our connection with one another, and to support each other during the often tumultuous first few years of transitioning into full-time active ministry,” said John Aherne, OFM, who organized this year’s SPUFY gathering.

The friars spent four days in sessions discussing a variety of personal, professional and pastoral topics. They talked about experiencing the love and concern of the friars during difficult times and being open to new ministerial opportunities.

“We also talked about the ability to find happiness and fulfillment even during tough times, and about being part of a worldwide order. We shared thoughts about the freedom we feel when we put our lives into God’s hands and open ourselves up to wherever God leads us,” said John, who professed his final vows in 2016.

“The emphasis our Province places on higher studies can lead to exciting new ministerial possibilities,” added John, who is parochial vicar at St. Mary’s Parish in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey.

The friars discussed the importance of tending to their physical health and emotional well-being, specifically “how loneliness and a lack of connection to other people can be dangerous,” said John. “Taking care of our physical health is important and cannot be overlooked. We discussed the danger of becoming burnt out by all of the ministerial commitments and the need for self-care and time off.”

In addition to John, participants at this year’s SPUFY gathering included George Camacho, OFM, of Loudonville, New York, Casey Cole, OFM, who is stationed in Athens, Georgia, Edgardo Lalo Jara, OFM, who is stationed at St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Abraham Joseph, OFM, and Tito Serrano, OFM, both living in Chicago, Illinois.

Lalo celebrated the third anniversary of his ordination at SPUFY. (Photo courtesy of John Aherne)

Javier Del Angel De Los Santos, OFM, who professed his final vows last year, was not able to join the group because of the academic calendar of Boston College, where he is currently studying.

George, who is the director of the Damietta Cross-Cultural Center at Siena College, said the gathering was an opportunity for peers to have a genuine dialogue about friar life. He appreciated the mutual support and encouragement and said the prayer and community-building was the highlight of the gathering.

“It was good that we had no agenda,” he said.

Abraham agreed, saying, “Every time I’m with my brothers, it is valuable. Sharing fraternity is always rewarding. We find support in each other.”

“One of the great things about SPUFY is that it has no agenda, other than to be together and to share our lives with each other,” said John. “We encourage each other to be vulnerable and honest, trusting that what we share with each other remains with the group. We speak from a place of charity and love so that our time together isn’t a complaining session, but rather a setting where we can get support and encouragement from one another.”

Each morning and afternoon the friars participated in informal sharing sessions, while in the evenings they went out to dinner and took advantage of nearby entertainment attractions.

“Some of us went to a movie one night, and some went on an outing to Universal Studios in Orlando another day,” said John.

During the SPUFY gathering, the friars also celebrated Edgardo’s third anniversary as a priest.

Two seasoned friars – Michael Duffy, OFM, who is part of the team at the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen in Philadelphia, and Steven Patti, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, North Carolina, who professed their final vows in 1970 and 2000 respectively – served as mentors to the SPUFY group.

“We value the mentors as being a resource for us,” said John. “They jumped into our discussions with their wisdom and pulled us aside during the week to offer their encouragement and support, and to serve as a sounding board for any questions or concerns that we had.”

Michael said, “The friars are doing well. They are experiencing life’s ups and downs. All of the participants said that they enjoy these SPUFY sessions. These new friars are carrying on the legacy of St. Francis. They’re our hope for the future.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is the director of communication for Holy Name Province.