Virtual Advent Vocation Retreats Attract Nearly 30 Discerners

Jocelyn Thomas Be A Franciscan, Friar News

In the first of two recent Advent retreats, men throughout the country interested in a Franciscan vocation had an opportunity to welcome the season and to talk and pray with a group of Holy Name Province friars during a “Come and See Vocation Discernment Retreat” that was held virtually.

The 13 discerners – men considering a Franciscan vocation with Holy Name Province and a future dedicated to the Gospel following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi – met with the director of vocations, and five other friars who serve the Province as regional vocation directors, at the Dec. 5 retreat, “Called by God; Invited by Francis: A Vocational Discernment Experience During Advent,” held virtually via Zoom conference.

From all accounts of friars and discerners, the retreat of prayer, presentations, and discussions provided a well-rounded, comprehensive look into friar life, including community prayer and Franciscan ministry,  according to Basil Valente, OFM, HNP’s director of vocations and one of the Province’s six friars that participated.

The event began with welcoming remarks from Basil and an Advent prayer by Ross Chamberland, OFM, who served as retreat moderator, followed by two sets of readings, reflections, and small and large group discussions on one’s Franciscan journey. The first session was presented by Paul Santoro, OFM, and Kevin Tortorelli, OFM, and the second by Michael Duffy, OFM, and student-friar Steve Kuehn, OFM. Basil also gave an introduction to the Franciscan vows.

Due to the pandemic, the retreat was held online so that discerners and friars could participate from the safety and comfort of their homes.

“It was a delight to journey that morning with the inquirers and my brothers,” said Paul, who is stationed in Boston, Massachusetts. “We appear to have some fine faithful men being called to our fraternity. With the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I hope to see these men in our formation program before long.”

During the retreat, Steve Kuehn described what hope means to him. (Graphic courtesy of Jorge Martins, Vocation Ministry of Holy Name Province)

In his presentation, Kevin spoke about the joys and challenges of his Franciscan life, describing St. Francis as a man of joy. “When he pressed a gold coin into the leper’s hand, he understood that he shared God’s joy in the existence of the leper,” said Kevin. “Joy said to Francis, ‘behold brother leper.’ Joy makes us brothers to everyone, as the pope’s encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’ tells us. True simplicity is to be found here, a gentleness. Joy knows our challenges.”

Basil, who has served as the Province’s vocation director for more than six years, said, “I’m so grateful to my friar brothers who took the many themes of the Advent and Christmas seasons and connected these important messages to the questions of discerners. It allowed our candidates to learn more about themselves, their vocational journey with God, and the life and ministry with the Franciscans. We did all of this online in a format that allowed for large group discussions and small group interactions, sharing of information on the screen, and follow-up,” he added.

“A personal highlight was the in-depth discussion of the Franciscan vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience — especially as we spoke about how those vows lead us beyond ourselves and our own needs and provide an invitation for each of us to respond to the many needs of our brothers and sisters in a global community,” said Basil.

Steve agreed: “I especially appreciated the conversation on the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. That part of the discussion really allowed the men in discernment and the friars to share their thoughts and insights on each of the vows. The discerners seemed like a great group, and the retreat made for a joyful experience.”

“The retreat was well-structured in terms of longer and shorter presentations, good visuals, and excellent interaction and pacing,” said Kevin, a regional vocation director stationed in Florida. “The effect was seen in the enthusiasm and participation of the candidates in discernment.”

Valuable Discussions
Several discerners provided feedback about the value of this vocation-gathering exercise.

“In times like these where social seclusion is preeminent, this retreat allowed me to feel close to the Order and among friends. It provided a holy atmosphere complete with jovial interactions and prayerful meditations,” said John, a discerner from New Jersey. “The refreshing feeling I had following the retreat was keenly tangible and I look forward to attending future virtual retreats.”

The Facebook ad announcing the online retreat. (Graphic courtesy of the US-6 OFM Franciscan Vocation Ministry)

After the Province’s morning retreat, the 13 HNP discerners were joined by 14 US-6 discerners from throughout the U.S. who, together, participated as a group in an afternoon retreat hosted by the US-6 OFM Franciscan Vocation Office. Led by Johnpaul Cafiero, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province, it included a presentation and discussion on St. Francis and the Incarnation.

“Our goal was to have the HNP Advent retreat flow into the afternoon program to give the men much to consider and pray about,” said Basil, who is stationed in New York City.

Nearly 30 discerners and seven friars –  Johnpaul, the retreat director, Michael Duffy, OFM, a regional vocation director from Holy Name Province, and vocation directors from Assumption BVM, Holy Name, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sacred Heart, and St. Barbara provinces – participated in the US-6-sponsored program.

Johnpaul’s retreat also focused on the “Infancy Narratives” and he spent time sharing the tradition of the Christmas crèche, which was created by St. Francis of Assisi more than 800 years ago in Greccio, Italy.

“The retreats were a success,” said Jorge Martins, HNP’s Vocation Office administrator. “Our discerners had a well-balanced day, as they were able to immerse themselves in the HNP-focused group and then the US-6 gathering. After the discussions, the discerners were probably able to better respond to God’s call in their lives, in light of the Advent season.”

“Spending a Saturday morning and afternoon with the friars was such a joyful blessing as a discerner,” said Luke, a participant from South Carolina. “In hearing the different vocation stories of the friars and seeing the many aspects of what makes up the Franciscan life, I am ever more attracted by their great love and fraternity to discern this magnificent way of life in following Christ through the path of St. Francis of Assisi.”

“I told the discerners that what really helped me during the process was just talking about it with family, friends, and friars… [and] considering all the avenues, every which way that God may be calling, and being open to that. For me, that was probably the biggest aid – in addition, of course, to prayer,” Steve told the 13 men during the morning retreat. “But really listening to those people and hearing what they had to say, I realized that God was calling me to this way of life.”

Other Vocation Programs
In September, the HNP Vocation Office held an online Come and See Retreat hosted by Casey Cole, OFM, who is well-known across the country because of his high-profile online communication presence that includes retreats, lectures, and educational and interactive videos.

The men participating in the Province’s virtual retreat. (Photo courtesy of the HNP Vocation Ministry)

During Advent, HNP’s Vocation Ministry has invited discerners and others interested in the Franciscans to participate in various seasonal events.

“As we light the first candle of the Advent wreath, may the hope of the season – especially during this global pandemic – fill our hearts, minds, and homes as we prepare the way of the Lord,” said an announcement on the News & Events page of the HNP website.

The Franciscan Vocation Ministry is celebrating Advent with the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street in New York City. Those with interest in Franciscan life were invited to join Advent Vespers on Dec. 7, 14 and 21, and to participate in other activities, including “Advent: Hope and Healing,” – small scripture sharing groups led by a friar – and “What Are You Waiting For?”, a virtual Advent retreat.

In the coming months, the HNP Vocation Ministry plans to hold more virtual events and continue socially-distanced visits to friaries, such as St. Francis on 31st Street. During this time, HNP’s regional vocation directors will remain in contact with the men who participated in the Dec. 5 retreats to enable them to discuss their discernment.

Earlier this year, the US-6 vocation directors distributed creative posters to friars around the United States to display at various ministry sites in order to promote Franciscan life. Men seeking information about Franciscan vocation are encouraged to visit or to call 1-800-677-7788 ext. 345.

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