WNY Secular Franciscans Advocate for Gun Violence Awareness

Maria Hayes Around the Province

WEST CLARKSVILLE, N.Y. — When John and Anita Dutcher, OFS, learned of the shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, they were making gingerbread cookies. Both members of the St. Irenaeus Secular Franciscan Fraternity were deeply affected — they had lost a close relative to a gun-related incident.

As former representative Gabrielle Giffords called on the nation to “do something,” the Dutchers decided to share gingerbread cookies, decorated as children either killed or affected by gun violence, with their legislators, along with a message calling for responsible gun legislation. Together with other Secular Franciscans, visitors to Mt. Irenaeus, and students from St. Bonaventure University and Houghton College, the Dutchers have continued to bake cookies to send to representatives.

“Cookies provided the perfect metaphor for articulating a pro-life issue as sensitive as gun violence has become in our society,” said Don Watkins, minister of the fraternity, which meets at Mt. Irenaeus. “These boy and girl cookies represent the many children who have been exposed to misuse of firearms, those whose lives were lost, and those who survived.”

Cookie Project
The gingerbread cookies decorated with black sashes represent the children who survived, according to Watkins. The sash symbolizes their grief for friends who will never play again or open their eyes. The boy and girl cookies with closed eyes and no sash are trimmed in red, white and blue, symbolizing they have been denied life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Boxes containing six cookies are mailed to federal and state officials to remind them of their responsibility to take action concerning the sale of weapons. Notes mailed with the cookies encourage gun owners to store weapons and ammunition separately and locked away, and ensure that only healthy and stable people are given access to weapons. Cookies have been sent as far as California, Colorado, Florida and New York City.

“A serious right to life issue was brought to light and lives were changed,” Don said. “Conversion took place around this powerful issue in a way that invited everyone to think of how they could help families and children.”

The St. Irenaeus Secular Franciscan Fraternity was founded in 2006. Louis McCormick, OFM, currently serves as spiritual assistant.

Mt. Irenaeus News
In other news from Mt. Irenaeus, the latest issue of Making All Things New, the ministry’s monthly newsletter, includes a tribute to the late Daniel Hurley, OFM, who died March 31, 2010.

“We give thanks for the many ways in which his own life and way of living both helped begin and confirm the life and purpose of Mt. Irenaeus,” reads the tribute, titled “Remembering Hurls.” “Dan brought a special light and delight to everybody, welcoming every guest, young or old. May his memory and spirit, still abiding among us on the Mountain, always stir us to new life and his intercession help us ‘to join with Jesus Christ to make all things new.’”

Daniel Riley, OFM, director, recently traveled to California, where he co-led a contemplative day at San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville and participated in a Mountain on the Road event in Napa. He also visited with the monks living in Big Sur, Calif., where he has stayed several times before.

“Clearer than the Pacific, more and more clear to me is the depth to which we long for God and the delight we find when God emerges in our midst as one who has always been present,” Daniel reflected. “In conversation and sharing God’s word and Eucharist along the way, California has been a holy place where my hope and my pilgrimage with you has been renewed.”

Upcoming events at Mt. Irenaeus and on the road can be found on the ministry’s website. A committee has been organized to plan a celebration of the 35th anniversary of Mt. Irenaeus later this year. 

 Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Don Watkins provided information for this story.