Virtual Jamboree Brings Together Friars in Formation

Mike Specht, OFM Friar News

Postulants, novices, and simply-professed friars from across the country took time during April and early May to gather for a virtual inter-formation jamboree, an event formerly known as intersession. Although it was previously planned to be held in person in Oceanside, California, during the last week of May, the event’s format needed to be revised because of pandemic restrictions and it turned out to be a success. Men in formation gathered by means of Zoom to say hello to familiar faces, engage with brothers from different houses, and work to build fraternity together across distances.

Brothers had the opportunity to meet in one of three jamboree sessions, on April 10, 17, or 25 – all scheduled on weekends to accommodate academic commitments. While there was no keynote speaker as in years past for this event, the attendees shared some of their dreams and initiatives about how they hope to live out their vocations as Friars Minor, ways the pandemic has affected their formation experience, and how our vocations as Franciscans can help inspire a world in need of hope.

Jimmy Kernan, a novice, is scheduled to make simple vows on July 2 with other friars at the interprovincial novitiate. (Photo from the Provincial archives)

James Kernan, OFM, of Holy Name Province, a novice in Santa Barbara, California, created an activity for the jamboree attendees where they were all asked to submit the name of a song that inspires them to live out their vocations as brothers in fraternity. The submissions were turned into a Spotify playlist and shared with all the brothers in formation to listen to. The styles of the song submissions ranged greatly, from Mass hymns like Table of Plenty to Elton John’s Border Song. Fruitful discussions about the song choices followed. Jimmy, along with postulant Nolin Alinsworth, of Sacred Heart Province, and student friar Adolfo Mercado, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, and I worked together as a committee to plan the details of the jamboree.

After the initial three smaller Zoom calls, all participants gathered virtually one more time for a culminating jamboree discussion on May 1. After a quick hello and introductions, the 30 brothers were divided into separate breakout rooms, to be able to chat and catch up with a wide array of guys who they may not have seen on their first calls in April. They were split up based on geographic regions of their hometowns, their profession classes, and also randomly.

John Neuffer is a simply-professed friar living and studying in Chicago. (Photo from Povincial archives)

John Neuffer, OFM, of Holy Name Province, a simply-professed friar at St. Joseph Friary in Chicago, commented on how he appreciated being able to see and interact with other friars from different formation houses across the nation.

“It was great to see the other guys and to get a sense of the wider formation community,” John said. “Even connecting with them virtually gave me a better sense of who they are and their plans for the next few months. I look forward to living with them even more because I now feel like I know them a little better.”

Salvador Lopez Mejia, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, a student friar at St. Vincent Friary in San Diego, California, particularly appreciated the laid-back nature of the formation event that allowed him to develop fraternal bonds.

“Just to be able to see my classmates and to get to know other brothers in a very informal way was positive and community-oriented,” said Salvador.

Novice Adolfo Mercado of St. Barbara Province was on the committee that planned the event. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

Following the breakout sessions, all attendees gathered together to listen to a pre-recorded talk given by Kevin Mullen, OFM, Provincial Minister of Holy Name Province. Among other suggestions, Kevin invited the brothers to stay in touch with one another, to pray together often, as well as to work alongside each other in order to build and strengthen fraternal bonds. He also commented on how the current men in formation are witnesses to the reality of a new province that will come together in the years ahead.

“You are our brothers and, quite frankly, you are our future,” Kevin said. “You have knocked down the walls that have separated many of our provinces in the United States over generations. Thank you very much for that.”

Novice Brian Menezes, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province, conveyed the overall sentiment of the gathering, in that we are called to work to come together as one province primarily through encountering one another as brothers.

Novice Nolin Alinsworth of the Sacred Heart Province was on the committee that planned the event. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

“Dialogue at all levels is essential because time is not constant and, hence, we require new ideas to enhance each of our provinces in order that we may be flexible enough to come together soon enough,” said Brian. “Each province has certain ministries and friars that make it stand out and the R&R process seeks out these unique traits and brings them together in order to make them better accessible and to reach more of those on the margins of society.”

Likewise, postulant Domingo Martinez, of Holy Name, sees his time in initial formation as a push to identify not as one particular province, but as a larger entity of Franciscans throughout the United States.

“The formation process is reducing if not eliminating the differences to the provinces and we are starting to think of ourselves – at least men in formation – as U.S. Franciscans instead of our own provinces,” Domingo said.

The jamboree concluded with a goodbye from all the participants, followed by a slideshow tribute of formators on the postulant, novitiate, and post-novitiate levels in recent years. Participants gave thanks to those who’ve helped and continue to guide them in the footsteps of Francis through their dedication and witness of Franciscan life.

Mike Specht, OFM, is a student friar living at St. Joseph Friary in Chicago, Illinois. The St. Bonaventure University graduate, a member of Holy Name Province, professed his first vows in 2019.