Most of the Franciscan friars in the US will be coming together on May 30 to cast a single vote. They will be voting on whether to recommend to the minister general whether he should consider restructuring the provinces in the US to form one province from the currently existing six provinces.
(One province, the Immaculate Conception province, and various custodies, foundations, and commissariats, and — of course — the Mexican friars working in the US — are not part of this vote.)
It is no secret that vocations to the religious life in the US have been falling since the 1960s. Provinces which once had over a thousand men are now down to only a few hundred; provinces which started smaller are now similarly much reduced in number. There are savings which can be gained by combining vocation offices, accounting offices, communication offices, etc. More of the money generously donated to us by the people of God will be able to be dedicated to our works.
The US provinces began this journey in 1993 when some of the provinces began a joint novitiate in Cedar Lake, Indiana. In 1999, four provinces met with the minister general to begin discussions about restructuring. Eventually, the other two provinces joined them, so that now six of the seven US provinces are discussing forming one large province, which would encompass the entire US.
Interestingly, the provinces are not calling this process a merger. but rather “Revitalization and Restructuring” (“R+R” for short). The stress is not merely on reducing overhead or saving money, but rather on revitalizing Franciscan life in the US.
I will be voting yes on May 30. I will be coming down solidly on the side of revitalization. Yes, there will be savings and, yes, this will benefit our work. But that is not the main reason that I will be voting in the affirmative.
The ministry opportunities, if we form one province, particularly for the younger friars, will increase dramatically. A young friar may work for a time in an urban ministry such as shrine church; he may choose to work for a while in parish ministry or in one of our ministries for the poor; he may elect to work on the border with migrants; he might choose to serve for a time in a historic California mission; he may decide to work in retreat ministry.
While I have good relations with many friars from other provinces in the US (and throughout the world, for that matter), there’s always the thought in the back of my head that we are of different provinces. When I visit their houses, I am very conscious of the fact that I am a visitor and representative of my province.
With one province, there will be a new excitement in Franciscan life in the US. St. Bonaventure, in his biography of St. Francis, tells us that towards the end of his life St. Francis would tell the other friars: “Let us begin again, brothers, for up until now, we have done little or nothing.”
One of Francis’s other biographers, Friar Thomas of Celano, tells us that Francis “did not consider that he had already attained his goal, but tireless in pursuit of holy newness, he constantly hoped to begin again.”
From this, I think that Francis of knew the excitement that comes with beginning a new project and also of the need to reform structures which no longer meet our needs.
So, on May 30 in our provincial chapter, I will vote yes on the recommendation that we move ahead.
The spring meeting of the English-Speaking Conference (ESC), held outside London at Domus Mariae Conference Centre (April 9-13, 2018), was hosted by the Custody of the Immaculate Conception in England. During the meeting of the Conference, friars from the respective areas of the Conference updated members on the processes of reconfiguration:
Canada: Chapter of Union
The union of the two Canadian provinces will occur on October 23, 2018, at the start of their chapter of union.
United States: Provincial Chapters in May
Six of the U.S. provinces will hold extraordinary chapters on May 30 to vote on a possible merger. Those six provincials met in Chigwell on Sunday and on Monday morning regarding this renewal and revitalization process.
Here are other highlights of the meeting:
1. A key component of the meeting was a new personal sharing format. Each provincial or custos shared a recent life-giving event that had given him new hope regarding our Franciscan life. It was gratifying and inspiring to hear how the Spirit is working throughout the United States, Canada, Ireland, England and Malta.
2. General Councilor Caoimhin O’Laoide presented an overview of the general administration’s work-with special concentration on the June 2018 Plenary Council or the Order (CPO) in Nairobi. The members then reviewed and discussed the ESC’s CPO Report.
3. The members reviewed and discussed the initial Vatican document on the World Synod on Youth (October 2018).
4. The members received a joint progress report from the Commission on the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition (CFIT) and the CFIT Task Force. The members were grateful for the quality of the scholarship that has been displayed by CFIT and the efforts that have been undertaken so far to bring this scholarship to the wider public – especially by developing a website with numerous resources, including the Early Franciscan Sources volumes in Latin and in English.
Read on ofm.org.
ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — In a move designed to strengthen both academics and mission, St. Bonaventure University has merged the Department of Theology and School of Franciscan Studies.
The university’s Faculty Senate officially dissolved the School of Franciscan Studies to pave the way for the consolidation. The new department, to be called Theology and Franciscan Studies, will be housed under the School of Arts and Sciences.
The School of Franciscan Studies had been housed under the internationally renowned Franciscan Institute, which has been based at SBU since the 1940s. The school was established in 1991 to distinguish the teaching program from the research and publication work of the Institute.
The administrative reorganization will allow the Institute to focus its attention on scholarly research and publishing, said Friar David Couturier OFM Cap., executive director of the Institute.
The merger, he said, will strengthen theology and Franciscan studies offerings to undergraduates.
“This will put a greater number of professors with a wide range of expertise at the service of our students looking for a wider variety of courses in theology,” David said.
Five Institute faculty members with wide-ranging expertise will bolster a distinguished theology faculty featuring three full professors, each having more than 17 years of classroom experience at SBU.
“These (Institute) professors have special skills in historical theology, Islamic theology, Jewish theology and pastoral theology,” said David. “At the same time, this expertise will allow us to strengthen our Catholic Franciscan offerings.”
Friars Dominic Monti OFM, Michael Calabria OFM, Kyle Haden OFM, David, and Bob Donius will be transitioning from the Institute to the new department. They’ll also continue their scholarly work in the Institute.
The move will enable the department to offer more courses and strengthen majors and minors in theology and Franciscan studies, David said.
A search to hire a new chair to oversee the department will begin soon, said Dr. David Hilmey, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.
Both Hilmey and David said the merger will only enhance the Franciscan mission of the university by making the core values of the mission more accessible academically.
Read the complete story here.
A diverse gathering
They came from far off San Diego and from nearby Brooklyn. They hailed from four nations, three language groups, and two rites of the Catholic Church. Individually, they represented six of the seven O.F.M. provinces in the United States. Collectively, they typified the rich ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity of American friars solemnly professed under ten years (aka SPUTY).
On May 20, 2015, Jerome Wolbert (Assumption), Erick Lopez (Holy Name), Orlando Ruiz (Immaculate Conception), Erasmo Romero (Our Lady of Guadalupe), Roger Lopez (St. John the Baptist) and Philip Polk (St. Barbara) met with Franciscan Interprovincial Team members Page Polk, Richard McManus and Bill Beaudin in New York City. (Thinh Tran of Sacred Heart Province was unable to make the meeting due to a scheduling conflict.) The younger friars shared their convictions about Franciscan life and their hopes for its future in the United States. The gathering took place at Serra House, FIT’s headquarters in the former curia of the Immaculate Conception Province.
A full schedule
The day-long meeting consisted of introductions, an overview of the renewal and restructuring process currently underway, several listening sessions, time for personal reflection and a group exercise. The day began with morning prayer, included the celebration of the Eucharist for the feast of St. Bernardine of Siena, and concluded with a festive dinner.
Brotherhood a priority
Fraternity figured prominently in the conversation about what the younger friars value most about Franciscan life. “Being a part of a worldwide family” is how one friar described what he treasures in his Franciscan experience. “Praying together, laughing together, working together to serve the most vulnerable—that’s Franciscan life at its best,” another friar said. A third commented: “The diversity of friars working side-by-side is attractive to young people.” Others spoke appreciatively of the support and encouragement they received from their brothers during difficult times in their lives, and the grace of looking passed the gruff exterior of a friary curmudgeon to befriend the man behind the mask. The SPUTY friars agreed that our fraternity is the great gift we have to offer one another and the Church.
Shared dreams, some fears
What are your hopes for the future of Franciscan life in the United States? the younger friars were asked. Again, fraternity took center stage. “Fraternities of equals, healed and liberated from past, who want to live, work, play and pray together—that’s my dream,” one participant declared. Others look forward to “revitalized fraternities based on core Franciscan values out of which ministry happens;” “fraternities more centered on Jesus and the gospel;” “fraternities of brothers who are holy without power, holy without being in a higher caste, holy by being with the people of God and not above them.”
And their fears? Becoming fewer in number did not seem to trouble these friars who never knew what it was to live in provinces whose membership ballooned in the post-war vocation boom. Their fear is not that things have changed or will change, but that they won’t change enough. “Don’t continue business as usual,” one friar told the team. “Create new provinces not through mergers but by cutting across current provincial lines,” another friar suggested. A third friar struck a chord with his peers when he said, “We don’t want to fulfill the dreams of the older friars, but to pursue our own dreams,” while a fourth issued a challenge to all of his brothers in the U.S.: “This is an incredible opportunity to revisit how we do things. Let’s create something new.”
On the way
During the afternoon session, an evocative image emerged for the work of renewal and restructuring that lies ahead. It was the image of pilgrimage. Some of the participants had seen the movie “The Way” which, for those who have not, is the story of one man’s transformation en route to Santiago de Compostela. “The person who begins the pilgrimage isn’t the same person who completes it,” one of the younger friars commented, “and what happens along the way cannot be predicted in advance.” The pilgrimage idea proved to be both illuminating and illustrative of any genuinely Franciscan process of revitalization and reorganization. It bespeaks itinerancy, conversion and uncertainty. It requires faith, courage and detachment. On a pilgrimage, the renewal happens as the journey unfolds, although its exact contours cannot be predicted in advance. But a pilgrimage also has a structure. There is a route, there is a sense of direction and there are set stops along the way. It is a planned trip whose outcome cannot be foretold and whose transfiguring power cannot be underestimated.
One thing is for certain. The pilgrimage of itinerant brothers envisioned by the younger friars who gathered in New York City on May 20 begins with a willingness to step across the threshold of the familiar and to move into the unknown. After their meeting in Manhattan, it appears that at least six of our brothers are ready to take that first step.