US-6 Provinces Plan Chapter of Mats

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

NEW YORK – The six OFM provinces in the United States, currently in the process of restructuring themselves into one coast-to-coast Franciscan community are planning a historic gathering this summer when 400 of their members will convene in Colorado for the first chapter including friars from the six provinces.

Called a Chapter of Mats after the tradition initiated by St. Francis more than 800 years ago when friars would gather at multi-day meetings with their sleeping mats, the event will give participants the opportunity to get to know friars from the other provinces. The gathering is one of many steps in the process of moving toward a revitalized Franciscan presence in the U.S.

As of the April 30 registration deadline, more than 380 friars had signed up to attend the event, which will begin on the afternoon of July 29 and conclude with a morning Mass on Aug. 2. The Chapter is being held at Denver’s Hyatt Regency Tech Center, less than 30 minutes from Denver International Airport.

The gathering will bring together members of the provinces of Holy Name, Wisconsin-based Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe headquartered in New Mexico, Sacred Heart based in St. Louis and Chicago, California’s St. Barbara, and Ohio’s St. John the Baptist – a group referred to collectively as the US-6.

The objective is fraternity, according to the chapter planning committee, which comprises one friar from each of the six provinces. Chapter attendees will listen to presentations and participate in discussions aimed at helping friars get to know one another.

“We want to provide a setting in which friars can talk to each other comfortably and, at the end of the gathering, feel acquainted with guys from other provinces,” said Lawrence Ford, OFM, a member of the chapter planning committee. “The Chapter’s purpose is not business. It is fraternity. We want friars to use this opportunity to get to know each other.”

The agenda will include prayer, presentations, discussions, meals, and off-site excursion options, according to the committee, which is rounded out by Fr. John Barker, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province, Fr. Robert Hutmacher, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province, Br. Maxwell Klug, OFM, of Assumption Province, Br. Sam Nasada, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, and Fr. Efren Quintero, OFM, of OLG Province. It will also include table discussions and gatherings of interest groups.

The interest group conversations will be held in two blocks of time, so that if a friar is interested in more than one topic, he can participate in two different conversations, according to Larry, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in New York City. He said that the interest groups – many of which have held discussions over the last year – focus on a range of topics, from culture and educational interests, to formation and vocation.

The event will include an address by the General Minister of the Order of Friars Minor, Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, who will speak to the group by video conferencing. Fr. Michael, who has served as the Order’s leader since 2013, is a native of Indiana and a member of Sacred Heart Province.

This gathering will be “historic and important,” according to Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, because it is the first time that members of these six provinces are gathering together to share prayer and fraternal time.

“We are looking forward to the future with great hope,” said Kevin.

Planning Setting and Communication
Larry and the other Chapter committee members will be visiting Denver this weekend to evaluate the venue and to assure that all details are available to ensure the success of the event.

“We’re going to try to set up the venue in a comfortable way so that we can share where we’re all from, but not overly emphasize the past,” said Larry.

Reports about the week’s activities will be produced by a team of communicators whose goal is to convey to friars across the country not only the specifics of the Chapter but also the spirit of the gathering.

Denver, Colorado.

The communicators plan to distribute daily updates similar to those produced last year during the Order’s Plenary Council meeting in Kenya and the US-6 administration leaders’ meeting in St. Louis, Mo., according to Fr. John Eaton, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province and chair of the US-6 Communications Committee. “They will include information, photos and videos,” he said.

In January, the US-6 communicators launched a monthly newsletter called Friars Forward.

“The publication, which is emailed to all members of the US-6 provinces, summarizes the provincials’ meetings and gives information aimed at helping friars across the country get to know their brothers,” Fr. John explained. “The first few issues have provided snapshots of photographers and missionaries, and upcoming newsletters will feature vocation directors and the friars planning the Chapter of Mats. Each issue provides dates of upcoming events that are open – and of interest – to members of all US-6 provinces.”

Moving Forward on Reconfiguration
The restructuring process has been underway for a year, officially launched when members of the six provinces voted on the same day – May 30, 2018 – to move ahead with the process to recommend the formation of one new province.

Discussions about restructuring the Franciscans across the United States began more than seven years ago and will continue for several more. Members of the administrations of the provinces first gathered in July 2012 for a retreat in Malibu, Calif., where they reflected on the nature and challenges of Franciscan leadership.

Discussions about the reconfiguration process formally began with a meeting in December 2012 in Burlington, Wis., where provincial leaders gathered to discuss the future of Franciscan life in the U.S. That meeting resulted in the creation of an interprovincial commission that prepared and presented a report in October 2013, whose major reveal was that “the present structure is not sustainable.”

Provincial ministers of the US-6 provinces, from left: Fr. James Gannon, Fr. David Gaa, Fr. Thomas Nairn, Fr. Jack Clark Robinson, Kevin Mullen, and Fr. Mark Soehner. (Photo courtesy of Fr. John Eaton)

Since summer 2018, the Revitalization and Restructuring Process has been fully engaged, with the provincials of the six participating provinces, along with three friars known as moderators, meeting regularly to discuss all aspects of the unification. Among the many factors reviewed at these meetings – which are held both in person and by video conferencing – are elder care, finances, formation, ministry sites and vocation.

The US-6 provincial ministers, in addition to Kevin, are Fr. David Gaa, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, Fr. James Gannon, OFM, of Assumption, Fr. Thomas Nairn, OFM, of Sacred Heart, Fr. Jack Clark Robinson, OFM, of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province. Along with John Eaton, Lawrence Hayes, OFM, and Fr. Dan Anderson, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province, are serving as moderators.

Other provinces around the world have also restructured in recent yeras, including OFM provinces in Germany, Italy and, most recently, Canada.

In less than three months, the US-6 members plan to be together in the Midwest at this important interprovincial gathering, building on their histories and on the Revitalization and Restructuring Process to create a new, revitalized community for the 21st century. The provincial leaders expect that the new province will be officially formed by early 2023.

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