Vocation Efforts Expand at Siena

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

LOUDONVLLE, N.Y. – Dinner, prayer, and conversation proved to be a successful recipe in attracting students to last month’s discernment night at Siena College for men interested in learning about Franciscan life.

With 20 students joining the friars at St. Bernardine of Siena Friary on the college campus on Oct. 23, it was the largest vocation event in Siena history.

The invitation for Siena’s recent discernment evening. (Photo courtesy of the Vocation Office)

Organized by George Camacho, OFM, assistant director of mission at Siena – in collaboration with the Siena College friar community  – the discernment night gathering enabled guests to experience an important glimpse of friar life beyond public ministry.

“The students joined us for evening prayer, followed by casual conversation and dinner,” said George, who professed his final vows as a Franciscan three years ago. “They were able to meet and engage with friars of various life experiences and ministries within and outside of the college.”

“This vocation event showed that offering an informal setting is a good way to help young men get to know friars and, in turn, to think about the idea of joining Holy Name Province,” said vocation director Basil Valente, OFM, who has encouraged the growth of discernment communities at ministry sites around the Province.

“This was an incredibly successful and well-attended vocation night, and I am grateful to each of the friars at Siena for promoting and hosting this organic discernment community gathering,” added Basil, a member of the Siena College Board of Trustees and the Province’s vocation director since summer 2014.

Basil said we should not lose sight that God has blessed HNP with more than 20 young men who are beginning to discern the Franciscan way of life with the friars at Siena.

“That’s a big deal, especially in today’s society. God is good. The friars have embraced the recent directive from the US-6 provincial ministers, who encourage each friar to embrace the opportunity to serve as a vocation director in support of their province’s vocation ministry. May God continue to bless them in their good ministry,” said Basil, who acknowledged with special thanks to George and the regional vocation directors for starting this initiative at Siena.

“I was impressed by the range of young men who attended the discernment evening,” said Daniel Dwyer, OFM, associate professor and chair of the history department. “It was a mix of graduate and undergraduate students, all with different majors, but each interested in learning more about the Franciscan way of life. Many thanks to George, who did a lot to organize the evening and make it a success.”

That the discernment event was held on a Wednesday evening was not by coincidence, but rather by design, according to Mark Reamer, OFM, guardian of Siena’s friary. It was put together by Mark, the vice president of mission and ministry at Siena along with George, Larry Anderson, OFM, chaplain of Siena College, and Sean O’Brien, OFM, who work with Mark.

“As part of our intercessions [during Wednesday prayer], we pray: ‘may our fraternities always be places of welcome to men considering Franciscan life.’ Having men from the campus join us for prayer and dinner was a fitting response to this [intercession]. George did a great job getting the word out on campus,” said Mark, who directs the college’s Office of Mission, under which Siena’s vocation efforts are coordinated.

Friars Paul Santoro, George Corrigan, James La Grutta, Steven Kuehn and Basil Valente with participants at the recent St. Petersburg retreat. (Photo courtesy of the Vocation Office)

A few weeks after Siena’s discernment gathering, friars of the Province’s regional vocation team in Florida planned a vocation retreat for candidates who joined the St. Anthony community in St. Petersburg. It was was attended by five men from various parts of the country. Led by Paul Santoro, OFM, and Kevin Tortorelli, OFM, it was held at the conclusion of 2019 National Vocation Awareness Week (designated this year from Nov. 3 to 9). Earlier this fall, the Vocation Ministry sponsored a discernment weekend at St. Francis of Assisi Church-Friary on 31st Street in New York City.

Friars throughout the Province have commented on the benefits of discernment gatherings – both for vocation work and for the fraternal nature of Franciscan life.

John Aherne, OFM, who is stationed in Pompton Lakes, N.J., recently remarked, “It has been wonderful to be in contact with so many men discerning our Franciscan way of life. They often approach with preconceived ideas – worrying that there is a standard that they are going to fail to live up to, or that the friars expect some kind of perfection in them. But there is a sigh of relief when they realize that the friars want to meet them in the same way God wants them – just as they are. It’s been a privilege to walk with several men on their journeys.”

Paul, who is stationed in Orlando, Florida, and has participated in several discernment weekends, has a similar perspective.

“I particularly enjoy making the initial contacts with inquirers in the central and south Florida regions. I also enjoy hosting the inquirers at our friary so that they can see firsthand the life we live and then allow them to experience our ministry,” he said. “Following this sharing, the journey with them as they continue to discern is a gift and privilege to help them explore God’s call and how they might live out that call as Friars Minor.”

Paul continued, “The friars at the St. Petersburg friary provide exquisite witness to the Franciscan life, as well as superb hospitality and models of prayer. The retired friars have much to share about their ministerial and prayer lives that I have found to be truly inspirational and uplifting. Having different friaries hosting these weekends affords a wide variety of life experiences and demonstrates the diversity of ministries and communities within the Province.”

In Florida, other friars who have collaborated with the recent vocation event include George Corrigan, OFM, John Hogan, OFM, Thomas Jones, OFM, and Alan Thomas, OFM.

Over the last year, Basil has noticed the momentum of regional vocation efforts building. In an article published in June, he said, “I am grateful for the support that the friars and staff members give to vocations. The reason that the Order is doing well in attracting men to religious life is because of the spirit that is shown and the hospitality that is given.”

The HNP Vocation Ministry – led by Basil and staff member Jorge Martins – is planning two discernment retreats for spring 2020 – both scheduled for March. They will be held in Boston and St. Petersburg.

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

Editor’s note: Information about Holy Name Province’s vocation and formation programs can be found on the Be a Franciscan website