U.S. Provinces Approve Four Restructuring Possibilities

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

The administrations of the U.S. OFM provinces during their meeting in Techny. (Photo courtesy of USFranciscans)

The administrations of the U.S. OFM provinces during their meeting in Techny. (Photo courtesy of USFranciscans)

TECHNY, Ill. — The provincial leaders have met. Reconfiguration options have been compiled. Now it is time for the friars to offer input.

Last month, after a meeting of the Provincials and definitoria of the seven American OFM provinces — the third of its kind — four models of how the U.S. provinces could be restructured was sent to friars of the seven provinces. Over the next year, the models will be evaluated and voted on by the friars.

More than 50 friars, representing the leadership of the seven provinces, met outside Chicago for two days to discuss options for reconfiguration. They approved four possible models, involving the reconfiguration of the existing provinces into one, two, three or four new ones.

On Aug. 19, the day the meeting concluded, the options were distributed to the friars in a letter from the provincial ministers as part of an e-newsletter. “Your participation and continued input into this process is vital for the future of Franciscan life in the United States,” they said. “We have very hard work ahead of us but we, your ministers and servants, are confident that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives as friars in the United States.”

The letter included a link to the report of the Franciscan Interprovincial Team, known as FIT, titled “Brothers for the Twenty-First Century: Report to the OFM Provincial Ministers on Possible Models for Revitalization and Restructuring of Franciscan Life in the United States.” It described the four models that, because of thorough analysis, meet eight criteria: (1) consistent with the Franciscan mission, vision and values; (2) attentive to our fraternal life; (3) demographically and financially stable and sustainable; (4) attentive to the care of senior friars; (5) attentive to the signs of the kingdom among us; (6) connected to ecclesial structures; (7) inclusive of all friars; and (8) attentive to issues of governance, formation and vocation recruitment.

“For better or worse, all the models presented bear some relationship to the U.S. geography,” said the members of FIT in the introduction to their report. “Geography isn’t everything, but it has to be taken seriously in any discussion of provincial realignment.”

Comprehensive Report
As a way to describe the four options and make clear their features, the more than 60-page document provides statistics and maps, and points for reflection. The report, dated July 15, the feast of St. Bonaventure, was written by the three friars who make up the FIT — William Beaudin, OFM, from Holy Name Province, Fr. Page Polk, OFM, from St. John the Baptist Province and Richard McManus, OFM, from St. Barbara Province — who are working full-time on the restructuring project. They were chosen late last year and will work through 2017, when a decision about the reconfiguration is made.

The e-newsletter that distributed the letter, called A Place at the Table, contained photos of the meeting participants and a link to the presentation the General Minister gave at the meeting. Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, described the core values for Franciscan life and mission, and also talked about the role of the General Minister and General Definitorium, and the shift of the Order’s population globally and in the United States. He concluded his talk with the phrase attributed to St. Francis: “Let us begin, brothers, for till now we have done little or nothing.”

Also at the Aug. 16 to 19 gathering were Fr. Caomhin O’Laoide, OFM, the English-speaking Conference’s representative to the General Definitorium, along with a speaker, Fr. Robert Voyle, of the Clergy Leadership Institute, and a facilitator, Dominic Perri, who has assisted Holy Name Province with several initiatives.

The Province’s leaders said the meeting was well organized and productive.

“What stands out for me was the fraternal conversation, the shared hopes and dreams for the future, and the willingness to work together to achieve the dreams,” said Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM. “It was another significant step in the process of revitalization of Franciscan life and the restructuring of the fraternal governance of the OFM friars in the United States. The Franciscan Interprovincial Team member did a great job in preparing the meeting materials.”

Ongoing Process
Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, said, “I think the meeting went very well. It was not without certain tensions as we began to get more concrete and specific about what reconfiguration may actually look like, but we were able to accomplish much in a remarkably short time. Of great concern at the meeting was the expressed need for the process to run simultaneously on two rails — that of realignment and that of revitalization. That concern was heard and will be integrated into future discussions.”

He continued, “Also of importance was the desire for more interprovincial gatherings and discussions. That, too, has been added to the process going forward. Finally, I was happy to see flexibility exercised by the leadership of the provinces with regard to the timetable of phase 2 of the revitalization/ reconfiguration process so as to accommodate the needs of the individual provinces.”

The Province’s upcoming fall fraternal gatherings will include discussions about the reconfiguration. Other opportunities for conversation and evaluation of the potential models will be set up by the Provincial Council at its September meeting. Among them will be house chapters and webinars, said Kevin.

The reconfiguration process began in earnest two years ago when the leaders of the American provinces met in Milwaukee, Wis. Since August 2013, the council members have met twice — in Racine, Wis., in August 2014 and this summer. In addition, the provincial ministers of the provinces have met several times.

Since early 2014, the United States Sub-conference of the ESC has been distributing “A Place at the Table” as a way to keep the friars up to date on discussions about revitalizing the U.S. provinces. News about the American provinces can also be found on http://usfranciscans.org/ and the USFranciscans Facebook page.

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

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