Student Friars Gather for Annual Formation Intersession

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

MARRIOTTSVILLE, Md. — In what one participant called a “grand get-together” that fulfilled its goals, the student friars of Holy Name Province gathered this month for their annual formation intersession program — three days of fraternity and education.

First-year postulant Casey Cole wrote on his Breaking in the Habit blog last week that the “yearly tradition of our Province” seemed to fulfill its goals: 1) To allow for fellowship and interaction between the men in formation; 2) To teach the men in formation something related to Franciscan theology beneficial for spiritual and communal growth; and 3) To inform new members of the happenings of the Province, both financially and statistically, in a sort of State of the Province address.”

The Jan. 5 to 8 event comprised 22 friars — 17 men in formation and five formation staff members. The men in formation included five postulants stationed in Wilmington, Del.; the Province’s two novices studying in Wisconsin; and eight simply-professed friars from Silver Spring, Md., including Br. Damian Park, OFM, and Br. Geoffrey Muga, OFM, who do not belong to HNP; interns Mario Gomez, OFM, from Boston, and Edgardo Zea, from Siena College. The five formators  were Ronald Pecci, OFM, and William Herbst, OFM, from Wilmington. Thomas Conway, OFM, and Tony LoGalbo, OFM, from Holy Name College, Silver Spring, and Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM, the Province’s secretary of formation and studies.

The most valuable aspect of this gathering “was the communal part,” said Mario, who is an intern at St. Anthony Shrine. “Getting to see my fellow brothers in formation helped me reconnect with them, as I have been away from Holy Name College for almost seven months. It is refreshing to know that not only do we have the support of the Province through our formators, but also the support we give one another.”

For the first time, the meeting was held at the Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Maryland, a venue the Province has used for other types of gatherings.

“We could not hold the intersession at Holy Name College this year due to the larger size of the group,” said Dominic, adding that hosting the gathering outside of HNC facilitated effective group dynamics.

Praying and Learning
The program began Thursday with evening prayer, a welcome greeting, introductions, dinner, and an evening social.

“On Friday, I presented our Franciscan theological/spiritual tradition — the Franciscan Experience of God — in both the morning and afternoon,” said Dominic. The men from Wilmington prepared the liturgies; Ron Pecci presided and preached at Eucharist. Friday evening was free for the men in formation to socialize informally in smaller groups.”

On Saturday morning, Tom Conway, a member of the Provincial Council, presented “some education on finances — being good stewards,” Dominic said, adding “he used some of the presentation from the Province’s 2011 guardians’ meeting.

Since friars from Holy Name prepared the liturgies, Tom also presided and preached at Mass.

“I used the afternoon time to present background information on who we are as a Province at this point of our history to set the stage for the evening session, at which I presented the ‘what’s happening in the Province’ segment,” Dominic said.

The participants expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to learn about both Franciscan themes and specifics about their Province.

Jeffery Jordan, OFM, a native of Georgia residing at HNC since 2009, liked Tom’s presentation. “It gave me a deeper insight into the financial relationship between the individual friaries and the Province.” The intersession gathering was Jeffery’s fifth.

“Collaboration and accountability are main elements of our future as a Province, not only in terms of survival, but also in terms of giving witness to the people we minister to, as well as to the men who look into joining our Franciscan way of life,” said Mario.

The open forum on “what is happening in the Province,” led by Dominic, “proved quite enlightening as we discussed ministries within the Province and where we are going as a Province in the future,” said Frank Critch, OFM.

The informational segments of the weekend were also interesting to Casey, who joined the HNP formation program just last summer.

In his blog, Casey wrote: “Much like the yearly State of the Union address given by the president of the United States, we were given two lectures on Saturday related to the financial and personnel situations our Province was facing. Obviously, these sections were a bit dry with information (and quite private to non-friars, so I’ll be vague), but they were also very helpful for looking at the future. It’s not a secret that the world is changing, and with it, religious life, as well. There are going to be different problems our generation will face than the ones before us did, and it’s great foresight of those in leadership today to prepare us for them as early as possible. There was nothing revealed in either lecture that was a complete surprise, nor was there anything that made me develop much anxiety about the future. Altogether, it was great to be left in the loop and to have the opportunity to ask questions and begin brainstorming with other future leaders.”

Building Bonds
“The atmosphere at Bon Secours offered an environment to relax, pray and connect with others in formation about our hopes and dreams for the Province,” Frank added. “Through the presentations, we were able to see where the Province is now in its financial outlook and its ministerial profile. The reality of dwindling numbers within the Province was evident, but there was an element of hope as the retention level for many in formation was quite high, especially in the past number of years.”

The attendees said they also appreciated spending time with other men in formation.

“The most valuable aspect of the gathering, for me, was the opportunity to get to know everyone at different levels of formation, for example, postulants speaking with the novices, novices speaking with the friars at Holy Name College,” said Jefffery. “Building bonds of fraternity at this stage in one’s friar life is important to the overall fraternity and to the future of the Province. It also allows the friars in formation to dialogue and to offer one’s perspective, even assuaging the fears of the unknown.”

Frank, a native of Canada, said: “The intersession is a time for those who are in formation to get to know each other better and at the same time deepen their call to the Franciscan family through presentations, reflection and prayer. Dominic talked on Franciscan spirituality with an emphasis on the Trinity in the writings of Francis and Bonaventure.”

intersession-r“These annual get-togethers enable all of us in formation to support each other in our discernment as we journey through the various stages of formation,” Frank added. “Through our presence to one another, we are able to develop connections within a supportive environment that hopefully will last throughout our ministry within the Province and with the greater Franciscan family.”

As Casey observed in his blog, the student friars are “the future of the Order.”

“Turn the calendar ahead 20 to 25 years and this group of men will be the very core of the Province, running ministries and dictating the vision for its future,” he said. “As a postulant, this can no doubt be an overwhelming responsibility to focus on right now. But at the same time, I think we all realize that it’s a reality in our future, and it’s comforting to know that we’ll have such a strong group of men along for the ride.”

Before departing on Sunday, a Mass, at which Dominic presided and preached, was celebrated for the feast of the Epiphany.

“I think everyone enjoyed their time together,” said Dominic.

The friars shown in the photo on the newsletter cover are, first row:  Frank Critch, OFM,  John Aherne, OFM,  George Camacho, OFM, Jeffrey Upshaw, OFM, Edgardo Zea Laura, OFM, Edgardo Jara Araya,  Mario Gomez-Tejerina, OFM, and Sergio Ferrisi; back row: Michael Reyes, OFM, Ross Chamberland, OFM, Jeffery Jordan, OFM, Gerald Hopek, Dennis Bennett, Geoffrey Muga, OFM, and Damian Park, OFM

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