NEW YORK – At a Mass that reverberated with music and energy, Javier Del Angel De los Santos, OFM, and Roberto Tito Serrano, OFM, made their solemn profession of vows at St. Francis of Assisi Church. Friars, friends, partners-in-ministry and relatives from around the country and as far as Mexico, filled the pews of the historic church on 31st Street on Aug. 24 to witness the two members of the Province express their commitment to live the vows of St. Francis – in obedience and with nothing of their own – and pledge to serve the poor and marginalized as lesser brothers.
With a joyful liturgy prayed and sung in English and Spanish, the 11 a.m. Mass exuded a multi-cultural aura and themes of justice peace were at the core of both the readings and the songs. This was evident from the opening hymn, “On Holy Ground,” as the congregation raised its collective voice and exuberantly sang the refrain, “Do you believe in freedom? Yes, we do, Lord! Do you believe in justice? Justice for all!”
“We indeed are on holy ground!” proclaimed Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, the celebrant of the Mass, as he welcomed all to St. Francis of Assisi Church, which is marking its 175th anniversary.
“We give thanks to God for the gift of these two brothers who today join the Order. It’s clear to me, after reading the petitions of Javier and Roberto, that they want to walk in the footsteps of Christ,” Kevin said in his homily. “Our brothers have a passion for mission. At the core of what they want to do is be like Isaiah and have justice. They have a passion to go forth and live the passion of the Gospel.”
The Provincial added, “Our brothers want the integrity of speaking the truth. The washing of the feet reminds our brothers that they must always walk with God’s people not above them. Congratulations on this day of your profession.”
Tradition and Justice Abound
After the homily and singing of the Litany of the Saints, Javier and Roberto professed their vows – first Roberto in English and then Javier, in Spanish. This was followed by the Franciscan tradition of all solemnly-professed friars walking forward, one-by-one, and offering a fraternal embrace and sign of peace to their newly professed brothers.
A song of praise after Communion echoed the theme of justice that permeated the Mass – as the congregation sang “Voices That Challenge,” by David Haas, whose verses sound the call for becoming the voices that challenge for the children who long to be heard and respected for the lowly and broken destroyed by oppression, and the old and fearful who hope for a new day.
Assisting with the Mass were friars and others who have been important in Javier and Roberto’s lives and Franciscan journey. Among them were Mass concelebrants Provincial Vicar Larry Hayes, OFM, the provincial secretary for formation and studies, and Joe Rozansky, OFM, the Province’s director of post-novitiate formation. Serving as lectors were Maria Hayes, a Provincial Office staff member, and Diana Aguilar of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, who studied under Javier and is now taking over his Spanish Bible Study Group. Altar ministers included four student friars – John Boissy, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province, Josh Critchley, OFM, of Immaculate Conception Province, Angel Vazquez, OFM, and Jay Woods, OFM.
The Mass concluded with Kevin expressing gratitude to the many people who helped in the planning and success of the celebration – with Larry translating each expression of thanks into Spanish. Among those singled out by the Provincial were Tim Shreenan, OFM, who served as master of ceremonies, Andrew Reitz, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Jerry Bleem, OFM, Joe Rozansky, and David Convertino, OFM, guardian of St. Francis Friary who hosted the festivities on the eve of the profession Mass.
Kevin also thanked “our brothers who accompanied [Javier and Roberto] in their formation, and especially the family members and folks who traveled a good distance to be here. You’ve helped shape our brothers.”
Journey Toward Profession
This summer, both Javier and Roberto spent time in Assisi and Rome as part of the traditional month-long retreat that friars take before professing solemn vows. They were in Italy for the month of June, after finishing their one-year internships as part of their Franciscan formation.
Javier, a native of Tamaulipas, Mexico, holds a master’s degree in communication and socio-cultural studies, as well as a master of arts degree in theology with a concentration in biblical studies, which he earned last fall from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Before joining Holy Name Province in 2013, Javier worked for 15 years in the private sector in organizational development, change management and corporate coaching in Mexico, the U.S., Canada, and South Korea. In 2010, he spent a year in Israel and Italy studying biblical archeology, exegesis, and theology. Javier spent the last year before solemn profession as an intern at St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., and is now living at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, where he is studying for a master in divinity degree at Boston College.
Roberto, who is popularly known as Tito by family, friends, friars and Franciscan ministry communities, was born in Florida and grew up in several places – including Germany and Phoenix, Arizona. He spent his internship year at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville, S.C., helping with both parish and school programs.
Tito had transferred to Holy Name Province in summer 2016 from Immaculate Conception Province after getting to know HNP friars while at the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate, then located in Burlington, Wisconsin. He is now studying at the Catholic Theological Union for a master of divinity degree. Before joining the Franciscan formation program, Tito – who has strong ties to Puerto Rico – worked in customer service for an athletic club, as well as in electrician and security jobs. Both he and Javier are working toward ordination to the priesthood.
The Aug. 24 celebration continued after the Mass with a reception in the Province’s San Damiano Hall, where the mothers of the two newly professed friars expressed their joy.
“Javier has always liked to read and study. I was so proud. He showed interest in being a priest in high school – or maybe earlier,” said his mother, Ana María De los Santos, who traveled from Mexico. She and Javier’s cousin, Juanita De los Santos spent four days in the Silver Spring area meeting friends of Javier before coming to New York to witness his solemn profession.
Elizabeth Salgado, Tito’s mother, expressed deep pride that her son (and daughter) is following the Lord. Salgado, who works at St. Mary High School in Phoenix – the school from which Tito graduated – said she suspected that her son had thoughts of religious vocation when he was in first grade.
“He always loved St. Francis – and several times as a child, he said he wanted to be a priest,” she said, also recalling the time that Tito drew a picture of his favorite saint in sixth grade. “I remember him saying, ‘thank you, St. Francis, for making me want to be a priest.’ After thinking about the idea of religious life off and on for years, he told me that he had decided to apply to the Franciscans.”
Both mothers couldn’t be happier about the vocational path their sons have taken – a sentiment shared by the Province friar community, family and friends who turned out for this joyous milestone in the Franciscan journey of these two men.
— Jocelyn Thomas is the director of communications for Holy Name Province.
Editor’s note: Photos taken during the Aug. 24 Mass can be found on the St. Anthony’s Guild Facebook page. Information about Holy Name Province’s vocation program can be found on its website Be a Franciscan.