The report below was submitted by one of several HNP friars who participated in a meeting held earlier this month. The other friars were Joseph Kotula, OFM, and Daniel Riley, OFM, of Mt. Irenaeus.
CHICAGO – A group of solemnly professed friars, ranging in age from their early 30s to mid-80s, met at Su Casa Catholic Worker House recently to discuss the General Secretariat for Missions and Evangelization’s document “Ite, Nuntiate… Guidelines for the New Forms of Life and Mission in the Order of Friars Minor”.
From April 6 to 8, eleven friars from five United States provinces spent time in contemplative prayer, discussed the document, reviewed the history of inserted communities since the Second Vatican Council, shared meals together, and dreamed of future possibilities. Friars from the other two U.S. provinces expressed an interest in joining the discussions, but were unable to do so because of scheduling conflicts.
Fr. Matt Tumulty, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, said, “The depth of the sharing exceeded all of our hopes and expectations. The Spirit’s power is very evident in this process of realignment and revitalization.”
Returning to Founding Charisms
Fifty years ago, Vatican II mandated that religious communities return to their biblical roots and founding charisms, and to develop a greater measure of engagement with the modern world. In response, friars around the world began experimenting with different forms of fraternities. In France, some friars became worker-priests – these were priests who took up work in such places as car factories in order to experience the everyday life of the working class. With permission, friars joined the Taize community, living with non-Catholics. Some small fraternities were formed jointly with sisters and laypeople.
In the U.S., the first small fraternity was formed in 1966 when three friars in Chicago lived with members of the Taize community. Fr. Bob Pawell, OFM, of the Sacred Heart Province, spoke at the meeting here about his journey from Taize, where he lived from 1966 to 1971, to Beacon Street in Chicago (1971-1976), to the Tau Fraternity in New Orleans (1976-1990s), and finally to Holy Evangelist Friary back in Chicago, where he now lives.
In a 1978 survey, Fr. Paul Lachance, OFM, of the Quebec province, and Fr. Alain Richard, OFM, from France, counted 36 friars living in eight intentional OFM communities and one such community of Capuchin friars. Almost all lived in rented houses in urban areas. Most were located in poor or very poor neighborhoods.
In 1991, Fr. David Buer, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, and Fr. Alain found the number of inserted fraternities in the United States had risen to 25. The survey concluded that although some friars worked in traditional ministries such as parishes, schools, hospitals and retreat work, many participants were freed of traditional ministry demands in order to be able to respond to the “signs of the times” in creative ways.
By their nature, these small intentional fraternities were themselves itinerant, some existing only for a few years, others existing for two or three decades. For those who participated in them, however, the impact often was an enlivening of one’s Franciscan vocation, even after returning to a more traditional lifestyle and ministry.
Some of the longer lasting fraternities included the formation houses in Oakland and Berkeley; the East Boston community; the Las Vegas fraternity; the Pleasant Street and Zacchaes fraternities in Cincinnati; and the fraternity attached to St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia.
Today, only a few small inserted communities remain in the U.S. These include Mt. Irenaeus, near St. Bonaventure University in Western New York; Pleasant Street in Cincinnati; East St. Louis, Ill.; St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia; and the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C. In Sacramento, Calif., the friars recently pulled out of a parish but remain in the friary to minister to the poor.
Renewing Efforts, Focusing on Eight Characteristics
Ite, Nuntiate is a reawakening of the renewal efforts of the Order after Vatican II. During the term of Fr. Giacomo Bini, OFM, as general minister, friars from small inserted communities in Europe met annually. For 10 years after his term as general minister and until he died, Fr. Giacomo lived in a fraternity he helped establish near Rome and was joined by numerous friars. Before his death in 2014, he wrote the concluding chapter of Ite, Nuntiate. This fraternity continues to host periodic meetings of friars interested the in the new forms of Franciscan life described in Ite, Nuntiate. A new international community was established last year in Turkey.
Ite, Nuntiate listed seven characteristics of such communities of friars, to which General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, added an eighth. These characteristics are:
- The primacy of prayer and of active listening to the Word.
- The promotion of deep, authentic fraternal relationships that will give clear witness to life in brotherhood.
- A lifestyle characterized by moderation and simplicity, minority and witness.
- Welcoming people and sharing lives with them – above all with the poor.
- Ensuring that the evangelizing mission retains characteristics such as: openness to mission ‘inter gentes’; itinerancy; being present in unknown, difficult and risky locations; being close to those who are poor, suffering, and excluded; having a pioneering approach to new forms of evangelization; being involved in inserted fraternities.
- Being in communion with the local church.
- Having a willingness to actively collaborate with laypeople and with other members of the Franciscan Family.
- A commitment to the transversal values of justice, peace, and the integrity of Creation; and to working for the social transformation of the structures in society and the reconciliation and healing of the social and natural world.
During the recent meeting, time was also spent talking about future possibilities. Fr. David Buer, OFM, spoke of his provincial’s invitation to consider opening a new house this fall on the U.S. side of the Arizona-Mexico border in order to bring a contemplative Franciscan presence to and offer humanitarian aid in the border region.
The friars set up an email list to continue discussions about “Ite, Nuntiate.” Any friar interested in participating in these discussions or wanting to learn more about the new forms of Franciscan life in the U.S. is invited to send an email message to email@example.com.
— Br. Jim, who lives at Juniper Friary in Philadelphia, is the national social media director for the U.S. provinces of the English-speaking Conference.
- “Assisi Community Commits to Serving as Sanctuary” – Feb. 14, 2017, HNP Today
- “Mt. Irenaeus Celebrates 30 Years, Looks to the Future” – Nov. 6, 2015, HNP Today
- “Franciscans Launch Plan for Revitalization” – March 4, 2015, HNP Today