SILVER SPRING, Md. — Four friars in initial formation have returned to Holy Name College, after spending their summer at ministries around the Province and outside of the country. From June to August, the four friars served at a location of their choosing in Florida, New Jersey, New York and Guatemala.
Experiencing Parish Life in Florida
John Aherne, OFM, deepened his connection with the South during his time at Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla. Prior to beginning his assignment, he drove from Silver Spring to Tampa so he could visit the Province’s southern missions.
“Spending downtime with my brothers was easily the highlight of the summer,” said John. “Whether I was visiting the home of Flannery O’Connor,with David Hyman, OFM, hitting up a Waffle House with Patrick Tuttle, OFM, or Robert Menard, OFM, touring local sites with Mark Reamer, OFM, or Louis Canino, OFM, celebrating liturgy with the friars in Anderson, running with Sean O’Brien, OFM, or having dinner with George Corrigan, OFM, Zachary Elliot, OFM, Frank Critch, OFM, Daniel Kenna, OFM, and Paul Santoro, OFM.”
John said his goal for the summer was to “immerse myself in the day-to-day workings of a Franciscan parish as much as possible.” After working in a diocesan parish during high school and college, and attending a Franciscan parish, he was looking forward to learning about Franciscan parish life “from the inside.”
To reach that goal, he took part in a variety of activities, from teaching RCIA classes to working with the poor and homeless.
“I helped out with preaching, participated in a Church history seminar, offered a lecture for the pilgrimage to Assisi, assisted in a graveside service, sat in on some marriage preparation meetings, worked as a weekend sacristan and participated in a children’s liturgy,” he added. John also taught a weekly Irish dance class, using skills he gained while running a small Irish dancing school before he joined the Order.
“I found the Church in the South to be vibrant, dynamic, growing and optimistic,” he noted. “It was exciting to experience it first hand, a refreshing counterpoint to the sometimes pessimistic view of the Church in the Northeast. I am so grateful to my brothers below the Mason Dixon line for showing me such outstanding hospitality, and for introducing me to the great work they do.”
Living as a Minor in Guatemala
Dennis Bennett, OFM, traveled to Quetzaltenango, in the western highlands of Guatemala, to study Spanish and experience life in a different culture. He stayed with a local family while he attended the ICA Spanish School five days a week, receiving one-on-one instruction.
In his free time, he took part in the many cultural activities offered by the school, including lectures on Mayan cosmology and religion, and discussions on indigenous rights, education and the negative effects of mining on the rural population. He also visited local market villages and religious sites, hiked nearby volcanoes, toured local businesses and took weekend trips to Lago de Atitlán, a beautiful volcanic lake.
While in Guatemala, Dennis found himself experiencing life as part of a minority.
“I was a foreigner with limited language ability,” he said. “It took a lot of effort to communicate every day in a foreign language, to pick up on customs and habits, and to learn to laugh at myself. It was a great lesson in humility, and has deepened my understanding of what it is like to move to a country with a different culture and language, as our immigrant brothers and sisters have done.”
Dennis also was able to offer the ministry of presence to the people with whom he interacted..
“When people learned I was a friar, they opened up to me and discussed with me issues that had been difficult for them, things they were struggling with,” he explained. “It was a very humbling experience, and I felt blessed to be welcomed into their lives, often times just to listen, offer assurance and pray with them.”
Following his time in Guatemala, Dennis traveled to Nicaragua, where he joined Michael Johnson, OFM, and members of St. Camillus Parish in a weeklong St. Francis Builds trip. In Casas Viejas, a small village one hour north of Managua, the group built a library and a retaining wall, and painted classrooms. During that time, Dennis developed a sense of community with the people he served.
“Despite the language and cultural barriers, we worked side-by-side with the people in Casas Viejas, using sign language, sharing smiles and laughs, and speaking what little Spanish and English we had,” said Dennis. “Within the St. Camillus group, we set aside time for prayer, reflection and sharing. I got to know members of our parish at a much deeper level.”
Taking Part in Community in New York City
George Camacho, OFM, spent his summer taking part in many different ministries at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City.
“For the first few weeks, I became part of the team preparing for the Province’s chapter at Siena College,” he said. “Then, I joined the volunteers at Franciscans Deliver, helping to pack and deliver groceries. I also performed intake interviews for people seeking help from the Migrant Center. In addition, I attended activities for tenants of St. Francis Residences, including day trips, billiards and yoga. In the parish, I was present at Mass, and helped with greetings, collections and serving as Eucharistic minister. Finally, I participated in special events, including bread distribution on the feast of St. Anthony.”
George remarked that he valued the sense of community at the 31st Street friary.
“I enjoyed engaging the friars within the community,” he said. “Each friar has a unique personality and sense of humor that he manages to integrate into community life and into his work. It seems everyone is comfortable simply being himself.”
George, a native New Yorker, was able to see friends, family and former co-workers while he was stationed in Manhattan.
“The general response I received was that I seemed happy,” he said. “At times, wearing the habit and being addressed as ‘brother’ felt surreal, but overall, the experience was affirming.”
Growing in Confidence in Camden
Casey Cole, OFM, spent his summer at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden, N.J., where he, too, immersed himself in parish life. On his blog, Breaking in the Habit, he described several memorable experiences, including teaching an eight-week Bible course, taking part in house visits, fraternal responsibilities, some manual labor, and preaching twice a week at daily Mass and two Sundays.
“The regularity of preaching, no matter the readings or context, really helped my confidence in the long run,” Casey wrote in a post titled “What I Will Take From Camden.” “At first, I was very nervous and tried to memorize every word of the ‘perfect homily’ I had written. By the end, I had a few notes jotted down and was able to speak a bit more extemporaneously.
“The other factor in this was that I preached bilingually each Mass, and I don’t speak Spanish,” he continued. “Although I was only reading a translation in Spanish, being able to stand in front of people and speak in a different language made preaching in my own that much easier.”
Casey also supervised the Student Leaders’ Von Nieda Park Task Force, a group of young people who advocate for improvements in a local park. He met with them weekly, assisted them in organizing monthly park “open” meetings, and accompanied them on a trip to Washington, where they took a tour of the Capitol building and gave a presentation at St. Camillus Parish.
Casey spoke highly of the Camden parish’s weekly Wednesday night walk. Two years ago, St. Anthony’s was taking part in a peace walk to end violence. At 6:20 p.m. that Wednesday, parishioners who left the church to meet the marchers were mugged. Since then, the friars have walked the streets of their neighborhood every Wednesday at 6:20, missing only Christmas and the Fourth of July.
“They do not carry signs, nor do they pray the rosary,” said Casey. “Nothing about them is calling attention to violence or injustice. All they do is walk up and down the main street in their neighborhood, in habits, each Wednesday at 6:20. What I love about it is that they are a regular, vision presence in Camden. People recognize them and look for them. For those that do not know them, they strike up conversations about who they are and what they’re doing.
“It is the story of Francis and a young brother,” he continued. “Walking through the city one day, they went through the marketplace, side streets and fields, not saying anything about Jesus. The young brother, disappointed, said, ‘I thought we were going to preach today.’ Francis replied, ‘My son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We were seen by many and our behavior was closely watched. It is of no use to walk anywhere to preach, unless we preach everywhere as we walk.’”
Casey concluded, “It is my hope to do this always, of course, but to also make it a regular practice back in our neighborhood in D.C.”
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.