St. Bonaventure: Example of Compassionate Service to All

George Corrigan, OFM Features

For the feast of St. Bonaventure on July 15, a friar describes the 13th century Franciscan saint’s humble way of living and the importance for friars of being “brother.” This message is reprinted from the bulletin of Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla.

St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio – one of the great figures in Franciscan history — is a good model of what it means to be a Franciscan, while at the same time being a priest and a leader in a parish.  Bonaventure reminded the friars of his day that our first vocation is as “brother.” At the core of our charism, we are a fraternity in mission to the People of God striving to continue our Order’s 800-year-old mission: bringing the Gospel into the everyday experience of men and women through our life in fraternity and compassionate service to all.

Among our brother friars in Holy Name Province, we have medical doctors, nurses, university professors, world-renown artists, scholars, directors of nursing homes, youth ministers, teachers, butchers, bakers, cobblers, tailors, economists, HVAC mechanics; as well as men who serve as ordained ministers in parishes.

Bonaventure reminds us all that we are called to work; to live a common life in fraternity, and to give humble witness to those we serve. Bonaventure himself gave continual witness to that humble service.

In the years St. Francis was alive, the Franciscan Order experienced rapid growth – which only accelerated after St. Francis’ death and canonization – each friar and local fraternity trying to discern what it meant to follow Christ in the “tradition” of Francis of Assisi. They came to several differing conclusions and the opinions were not always offered “humbly.” Over simply, one group called for poverty to be the mainstay while another called for obedience.

A third group was in the middle just wanting everyone to get along because fraternity and minority were the hallmarks of Franciscan life. The Order was beginning to come apart at the core. It was in the midst of this dissension that Bonaventure was elected to lead the friars during one of the most fractious times in the Order’s history.

In the following 15 years of leadership, Bonaventure continually visited the brothers – walking from Assisi, to Padua, to Madrid, to Paris, and to all the friaries of Europe. His example of humble living coupled with his words reminded the friars that following Christ was the center of Francis’ vision, enabling the rifts in the fraternity to be healed.

His humble manner of living was on display when the pope elevated him to the role of cardinal. The papal couriers carrying the official proclamation and “red hat” found Bonaventure at one of the friaries in northern Italy. When the couriers arrived on the scene, Bonaventure, the Minister General of the Order, was occupied washing the dishes after a meal. The courier’s formal announcement was followed by the presentation of the red hat. Bonaventure thanked him, asked him to set the hat on the table, and said he would attend to those things as soon as he had finished washing the dishes.

The friars of Sacred Heart share this 12th anniversary of our Franciscan presence in Tampa with St. Bonaventure, and so it is perhaps best to remember the words of St. Francis that Bonaventure quoted to his brothers during his days of leadership: “Up to now we have done nothing. Let us again set out to do that which we have been given.”

May we all bring the Gospel into the everyday experience of men and women through our life as a community and in compassionate service to all.

— Fr. George is pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla. A former naval officer, George spent three years of service as a lay missionary in Kenya with Franciscan Mission Service before joining the Order. He was ordained a priest in 2007. 

Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, holy day or other seasonal theme – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at   Additional reflections about the feast of St. Bonaventure and other themes can be found on the Spiritual Resources page of the HNP website.

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