Vocation Director Builds Momentum Promoting Friar Life

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

NEW YORK — “The year is off to a great start,” said Vocation Director Brian Smail, OFM, recently, referring to the many projects helping to publicize Holy Name Province and the life of a Franciscan.

Since Jan. 1, Brian has been interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR), filmed a video, and hosted several well-attended vocation weekends.

On Feb. 10, Brian’s voice could be heard in a piece on New York City’s NPR radio station. The story described the Province’s innovative approach to recruiting.

In her “Marketplace Morning Report,” Ashley Milne-Tyte, the reporter, described the Province’s ad that she saw while riding the N train. The ad reads: “Day Shift?  Night Shift? How about a Life Shift?” In her report, Milne-Tyte included recorded clips from her interview with Brian several weeks before.

Radio Interview
Her piece provided background on the Province’s membership statistics, as well as on the timing of the ad. She said that the ad appeared in the subway cars in mid-December, not long after the nation’s economy took its serious downturn. “In 1979, Holy Name Province had 830 members. Today, it has fewer than 400. Father Brian says it was time for a new tactic,” she said.

This is the first time that the Province has tried publicizing inside train cars, and the method seems to be effective, according to Brian. In the first few weeks, more than 24 calls were received by the Vocation Office, from people who had seen the “Life Shift” ad, said Carolyn Croke, Brian’s assistant.

Many are interested in learning more about becoming a friar, and other inquiries were about the Province in general, she said. To date, 40 men have contacted the Vocation Office because of the ad.

Several people phoned simply to express their joy at seeing the faces of the friars during their subway rides. One caller said: “What a beautiful representation. I hope it spurs a lot of interest in the Franciscan way of life.”

Another person wrote an e-mail saying: “I want to thank someone for the lovely ad I saw yesterday on an F train. I glanced up and found myself looking at, of all things, a group of habited Franciscans. I nearly gasped with surprise and joy. The beauty of the moment was doubled by the fact that so many of the ads splashed across the subway car walls are inane or downright offensive. Thank you for this touch of the divine in an unexpected spot, and may God bless you in your work.”

The radio interview can be heard — and read — on Marketplace’s Web site, which introduces the piece with the title, “Friars Looking for a Few Good Men.” 

The Marketplace text says: “The New York subway system may be an odd place to consider becoming a friar, but one group of Franciscans hoping to up vocations is getting creative. Ashley Milne-Tyte explores which demographic might find the friar lifestyle appealing.”

The subway ad has attracted the attention of others in the media, too. Last week, Brian was contacted by theNBC’s Today show, as well as representatives from CNN, who plan to interview Brian and Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, this week.  Both networks aim to air the pieces by early March.

Vocation DVD
Brian and his vocation team are also developing a video that tells the story of Franciscan life, to be shown to men interested in joining the friars. It is a video, tentatively titled, “The Call to Franciscan  Life: A Remarkable Ministry,” that will offer viewers a glimpse at what satisfies friars about their ministries.  Five friars participated in a filmed conversation at St. Francis of Assisi Friary on West 31st Street on Feb. 3.

The friars who participated are Michael Carnevale, OFM, Michael Harlan, OFM, Anthony LoGalbo, OFM, Frank Sevola, OFM, and Benedict Taylor, OFM. Formation student Daniel Horan, OFM, came to New York City from Silver Spring, Md., to serve as moderator.

Opening and closing segments by Brian were also recorded. He welcomed viewers with the Latin words, “Pax et bonum — peace and all good things,” describing the greeting often used by friars at Holy Name Province. “It expresses the calling that St. Francis had for each Franciscan priest and brother, that is, to be heralds of the Gospel in the midst of society.”

The DVD closes with a reference to this historic year. Brian says, “For 800 years, Christian men have been attracted to an extraordinary religious life by serving as Franciscan friars. By learning more about Holy Name Province, we hope you, too, may find yourself blessed by God to be called to a Franciscan life.” 

The Vocation Office expects the project to be completed by early April. The video will be posted on the Vocation page of the HNP Web site.

Hospitality Weekends
Another way that Brian has been communicating information about friar life is through visits to Province ministries. He spoke last month at the University of Georgia, where friars David Hyman, OFM, and Thomas Vigliotta, OFM, are campus ministers.

VocationsCollage“It was a wonderful experience,” Brian said, adding that quite a few interested men turned out for the events.

“The friars hosted a dinner in the friary that was attended by 25 students,” Brian said. “Afterwards, I presented a talk about Catholic social teaching. I also preached at all the weekend Masses.”

Since the start of the year, Brian has led several traditional Vocation Weekends. In January, he hosted a Franciscan Experience Weekend (FEW) at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, and last weekend, he was at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., for a Come and See Weekend.

Brian said he is pleased that seven men attended the Boston program; four were invited to apply to the Province.

This weekend, another Come and See Weekend will be held in New York City, at St. Francis of Assisi Friary on West 31st Street. The photo “behind” the image above shows a promotional display outside St. Francis of Assisi Church.

These programs invite men interested in Franciscan life to participate in hospitality, prayer, discernment and fraternity. They dine together, celebrate the Eucharist, and reflect on the Gospel life of joy, compassion and service inspired by St. Francis of Assisi.

Participants at this program will visit several Province ministries in New York City, and speak in depth with Brian. The atendees with have free time to sightsee.

In addition, Brian has been organizing focus groups with members of the Province Vocation Committee. In the spring focus groups, lay members of several HNP ministries will respond to questions designed to help the Vocation Office best promote a Franciscan vocation.

“It is important to invite our lay partners into the critical conversation about vocation,” Brian said. “After all, they have an equal stake in the future of Holy Name Province.”

“These past few weeks have been very busy and yet extremely rewarding,” Brian said. “Several interviews with men who saw the subway ad have been scheduled for the near future.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications  for Holy Name Province