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Vincent Laviano Marks 50 Years as a Friar

This is the fourth in a series of profiles of friars commemorating their anniversaries of profession this year. The Province’s 2019 silver and golden jubilarians will be honored in June at a special Mass celebrated in New York City. The previous newsletter issue featured John Jaskowiak, OFM

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The welcoming nature and camaraderie of Franciscans is what drew Vincent Laviano, OFM, to Holy Name Province – and not by coincidence, these virtues have played largely in the fabric of his ministerial life as a friar, whether through hearing confessions or preparing rooms for visitors.

The friars at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. – where he often visited and attended musical performances as a youth – left such an impression that he knew Holy Name Province would be his path to vocation. It also helped that a maternal uncle, Bernardine Teresi, OFM, was a friar and Siena’s music department chairman, and that an aunt was a member of the Sisters of St. Francis.

“There was something special about the Franciscan friars I met. They were deeply committed to their work and ministries, but what struck me most was how down to earth they were – their concern for one another and their hospitality, making everyone feel welcome,” Vincent said during a phone interview from St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, where he has been stationed since 2013 and was appointed guardian in 2017.

Unbeknownst to his uncle, Vincent had written to the Immaculate Conception Province in response to an advertisement in a diocesan newspaper. “I didn’t know there were different Franciscan provinces until my uncle told me to write to Holy Name Province,” Vincent recalled. “There was no pressure – other than making sure I joined the right province!”

The hospitality and welcoming nature that got him hooked on the Franciscans became his foundation and a common thread throughout his own ministerial life, as Vincent celebrates his 50th anniversary since his first profession as a Franciscan friar.

One of the most rewarding parts of his ministry over these past five decades has been administering the sacrament of reconciliation. “Hearing confessions and knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life – welcoming them back and lifting a burden they may have been carrying for weeks, months or years – is one of the most gratifying things I do as a friar,” Vincent said.

Early Life to Ordination
By seventh grade, Vincent knew that he wanted to be a priest. Despite having an uncle in vocation, his early thoughts of discernment were influenced by the Sisters of Mercy, the order of religious women who taught at the grammar school he attended, St. Teresa of Avila in Albany, N.Y.

But the eldest of five children, whose father was an engineer with the New York Central Railroad and whose mother was a homemaker, says his paternal grandmother placed him on track to religious vocation.

“My parents were religious, but it was my grandmother who made me very much aware of God’s presence and the saints,” said Vincent, who served as an altar boy at St. Teresa’s Parish. “She had a collection of photographs of saints, but the most special one was the patron saint of the town where she was born in Sicily.”

One of Vincent’s fondest childhood memories is his grandmother taking him to church in downtown Albany to attend Mass on the feast days of patron saints of the towns in Italy from which local residents emigrated.

“These patronal saint celebrations helped me experience the broader Church. Afterward, my grandmother would take me to a huge local market – an experience that also had a great impact on my faith and appreciation for other cultures,” he said.

During his second year of high school at Vincentian Institute, Vincent met with Siena chaplain Anthony Moore, OFM, whom he described as a very pious and reserved friar, to discuss his interest in HNP. He entered St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., in what would have been his junior year of high school.

“It was quite a leap, leaving high school in midstream and being the only new person in a class that was already bound together. But like the aspects that attracted me to the Franciscans in the first place, my classmates and the friars welcomed me and made me feel like part of the group,” Vincent said.

Visiting the Infirm
He was received into the Order in 1968 at St. Raphael’s Novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., and made his first profession one year later. He professed his final vows in 1972 at St. Francis of Assisi on 31st Street in New York City, and was ordained in 1974 at St. Camillus in Silver Spring, Md.

His internships included summers at St. Anthony Shrine on Arch Street – where he ministered to those afflicted with alcohol abuse at a program in the South End of Boston – and in Atlanta, Ga., teaching religious education at a local parish with his classmate and close friend, John Hogan, OFM. Vincent received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from The Catholic University of America in 1971, and a master’s degree in theology from Washington Theological Union in 1974.

After ordination, he served at New York City’s St. Francis Parish until 1976, when he was assigned as parochial vicar to St. Elizabeth Parish in Wyckoff, N.J. – where in addition to performing pastoral duties, he began a personal ministry that has followed him to all of his assignments.

“I took it upon myself to regularly visit the sick at their homes, hospitals and nursing care facilities. I have always had a special sensitivity for the sick and their needs,” he explained. “Sometimes, it’s just showing compassion or spending time in conversation, and other times it’s bringing the Eucharist to shut-ins and the hospitalized or providing help with filling out assistance forms.”

Vincent was on the receiving end of this compassion when he experienced a near-fatal medical situation that required life-saving emergency surgery. “When I look back, I feel fortunate to be alive. Each day is a gift, a special event,” said Vincent, who enjoys classical music and reading novels and historical biographies.

In 1982, the Wyckoff parish was returned to the local diocese, which led to his reassignment to St. Stephen of Hungary Parish on the Upper East Side of Manhattan – where as vicar he taught religious education, served as procurator of the friary, and visited the infirm.

Vincent was on the move one year later, returning to New Jersey in 1983 to St. Anne’s Parish in Fair Lawn, N.J., which David Convertino, OFM, told him would be a perfect fit because of the parish’s need for a friar to care for the sick. “There was a large population of elderly parishioners, and I took care of their ministerial needs,” he recalled.

Vincent, second from right, in 1970 at Immaculate Conception Parish in Atlanta, Ga. With him are John Hogan, left, Arthur Murray, center, and David Lingelbach, a former friar, at right.

To Rome and Back
In 1986, Vincent was assigned abroad to the Curia in Rome, Italy – a short-lived obligation because office work made him realize how much he missed parish ministry. Although he wasn’t thrilled with the paperwork, he appreciated the cuisine, afternoon siestas, and living among an international community of friars.

When he returned to the U.S. in 1987, Vincent worked for six months at a parish in Elmwood Park, N.J., a circling pattern of sorts until he could figure out his next ministerial landing pad – which later that same year became St. Francis on 31st Street. and the beginning of what would be a 26-year assignment.

As vicar and director of maintenance, he was charged with overseeing the upkeep of the entire physical plant, an enormous undertaking that at the time included two churches, a school building, friary and eventually the new office and residential tower. Of course, there were pastoral ministries and visits to the sick – but there was also another responsibility that Vincent welcomed joyfully: as guest master, he was in charge of hospitality, mostly making new friar residents, as well as guest friars from around the country and abroad, feel at home.

“In my own travels, arriving at friaries when I was assigned to new ministries, I knew what it felt like to be the new kid on the block,” Vincent said. “For me, it has always been important to help friars get settled, making sure their rooms are inviting and welcoming – whether they’re visiting for a weekend or an extended stay, or taking up permanent residence for a new assignment.”

Vincent wasn’t planning to leave 31st Street, but a private retreat at the St. Petersburg friary changed everything. Then-guardian James Toal, OFM, approached him about assuming the guardian position at the friary – to oversee facility operations, care for resident friars, and provide hospitality to visitors, guests and residents – precisely what he had been doing for 26 years in New York.

“Jim said I was always so welcoming when he came to 31st Street. He said they could use me in Florida,” said Vincent, who at first was lukewarm to the idea of leaving the Big Apple for Central Florida.

But quiet, contemplative time, and conversations with resident friars whose camaraderie made him feel welcome at the friary, helped seal the deal. “I knew that St. Anthony’s was going to be a good fit. It’s where I was needed and where I was being called,” Vincent said.

Mini-Convention Center
But his new assignment came with adjustments. “It was so quiet in St. Petersburg, compared to the non-stop sights and sounds of Manhattan. I missed the theater and museums, and the walks along the busy streets,” Vincent said.

As the largest house of the Province with 34 resident friars, Vincent often plays host at the friary to Province events and meetings for guardians, the Provincial Council, vocation groups, and the English-speaking conference.

“The friary is like a mini-convention center,” said Vincent, who oversees accommodations for guests and residents. “I make sure friars have what they need, whether it’s the creature comforts, keeping the house functioning and operational, or maintaining an overall safe and pleasant environment.”

Vincent says his greatest source of pride as a friar is knowing that he is surrounded by talented and dedicated brothers. Among the friars who have influenced his ministries are Peter Fiore, OFM – who Vincent said is “as humble and ordinary as could be” for someone who is an internationally renowned scholar – and Fr. Howard Ready, OFM, who was a “down-to-earth” assistant novice master.

One of the most unique aspects of the Province, according to Vincent, is the freedom that friars are afforded in determining how their talents can best serve others. He says this is evident in all ministries, from counseling and education, to work with the poor and marginalized and caring for the infirm.

“Wherever there is a need, the Province and friars are there to fill it. That’s what caught my attention at Siena College – friars with distinct personalities and talents teaching all kinds of subjects. In a way, that is the Province in microcosm – friars reaching out in different ways and touching so many lives,” Vincent said.

— Stephen Mangione, a longtime writer and public relations executive based in Westchester County, N.Y., is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.

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