Meet the 70+ Friars Engaged in Vocation Ministry

Meet the 70+ Friars Engaged in Vocation Ministry

By Stephen Mangione

Are you (or is someone you know) being called to be a Franciscan friar? A new network of more than 70 friars across the United States is here to welcome you and answer your questions about friar life.

Our local vocation directors (LVDs) – who live everywhere from California to New Mexico to Ohio to Massachusetts – are excited to support men inquiring about a Franciscan vocation, especially during National Vocation Awareness Week (November 6 to 12). These friars represent diverse cultures and have a wide range of lived ministries and experiences to share.

It’s one thing to read about Franciscan ministry, but it’s another thing to serve meals to the homeless at a soup kitchen alongside a friar, assist with ministry to migrants, or pray and have dinner with the friars. Our local vocation directors hold organic community gatherings for inquirers, inviting men to join a local friar community in their area as a way to experience Franciscan life, fraternity and ministry.

If you or someone you know is interested in being connected with a local vocation director, we invite you to contact our National Vocation Office by filling out this form or calling 800-677-7788, ext. 345.

This new network of friars dedicated to vocation ministry is one of the fruits born of the process to create one new province of more than 700 friars. Although the new OFM province won’t be established until October 2023, friars across the country have already begun collaborating through the National Vocation Office to share their experiences and wisdom with inquirers on their discernment journey.

A Nationwide Support System for Men in Discernment

The local vocation directors “offer this in our Franciscan way of life – it’s who we are, being open to everyone in the world,” said Rommel Perez, OFM, of Joliet, Illinois. “I am excited to be part of this process because we are no longer individual provinces – and therefore, it is important for all friars to be engaged in vocation and to open the door to new vocations for the new province.”

Kevin Tortorelli, OFM, emphasized the support that men will receive from local vocation directors. “I’ve been a strong believer that vocation work is where it all begins. We acknowledge that the Lord is working His own harvest, and when he leads people in our direction, as friars we have to be there for them. There can’t be silence on the other end,” said Kevin, who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. “The person should have a sense that you’re invested in him. You want to build momentum, put some wind in their sails, provide encouragement, and learn to listen while respecting their freedom to choose. Meet them and move things along. I always say a short prayer – ‘Lord, let me listen and encourage, but don’t let me get in your way.’”

Vocation directors help a person listen to what the Lord is calling them to do, according to Roger Lopez, OFM, of Cincinnati, Ohio. “My role as a friar is to witness to the love and joy of our fraternity, and to invite people to our Franciscan life. As a vocation director, I can provide opportunities that invite men to Franciscan life in an intentional way,” added Roger, who is in the midst of forming a vocation discerning group designed to assist men and women, whether they are seeking marriage or religious life.

Our local vocation directors are supported by the National Vocation Office, which is headquartered in New York City. Vocation Director Basil Valente, OFM, works with Gregory Plata, OFM (Regional Vocation Director for the Central region of the United States) and Sebastian Sandoval, OFM (Regional Vocation Director for the Western region of the United States) to support men in discernment across the country. They are assisted by Mr. Jorge Martins, the national vocation office manager.

“Men in discernment are seeking a more authentic life of service to the poor, and that they want to serve in a welcoming community of brothers. Our Franciscan fraternity and charism offer both,” said Gregory. “It’s up to us as friars to provide as much opportunity to help discerners determine whether Franciscan life is for them.”

Sebastian agrees. “Living in fraternity, proclaiming the Gospel, and preserving the dignity and worth of all human beings – especially the poor, refugees, and others living on the margins – that’s the essence of Franciscan life and ministry. It’s what I talk about at discernment dinners and organic community gatherings for discerners.”

One of the foundations of Franciscan life is community, and the vocation directors make it a point to welcome men from the very beginning of their discernment process. “Vocation ministry is a ministry of inclusivity and an interdependency on one another ­– respecting, supporting and appreciating what each brings to the table, and recognizing that each region of the country has distinct realities, cultures and needs.” Basil said, adding “These wonderful opportunities to experience friar life and fraternity in organic environments – and to spend a week or a weekend in ministry serving the homeless and refugees – may plant a seed and then cultivate it to see where the Spirit takes you.”

Join an Organic Discernment Community Near You!

Are you interested in learning more about life as a Franciscan? Connect with us today to learn about organic discernment communities in your area! There are events happening across the country – from gatherings of young adults on college campuses where friars are present to prayer, dinner and conversation at places such as the Church of the Transfiguration in Southfield, Michigan, where Jeffrey Scheeler, OFM, is pastor.

“Organic gatherings are something the whole friar community at Transfiguration Church likes to do periodically,” said Jeff. “After three men attended our Transitus celebration last month, we invited them for dinner the next night on the feast of St. Francis.”

For the latest information on vocation events near you, or to connect with a local vocation director, we invite you to contact our National Vocation Office by filling out this form or calling 800-677-7788, ext. 345.

— Stephen Mangione is the marketing and content strategist for Holy Name Province.

Franciscan Discerners Say ‘Yes,’ Begin Next Step of Vocation Journey with Order of Friars Minor

Franciscan Discerners Say ‘Yes,’ Begin Next Step of Vocation Journey with Order of Friars Minor

(L.-R.) Jason Peterson, Matthew Junker, Chad Butcher, Richard Gaunt, Daniel Mercado and Ricky Ferrer were welcomed into the interprovincial postulancy program of the Order of Friars Minor – the next step in their Franciscan vocation journey.

A half-dozen Franciscan discerners from three countries, five states, and diverse backgrounds and experiences said “yes” to begin the next step of their vocation journey. The group of men was welcomed last month to the interprovincial postulancy program of the Order of Friars Minor, which marks the beginning of their Franciscan formation. They will engage for the next 12 months in theology, liturgical, and Franciscan spiritual classes at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland, and will serve in Franciscan outreach programs for the poor, food-insecure, homeless, and migrants at nearby St. Camillus Parish and other area ministries.

After arriving on Aug. 10, the postulants spent an orientation period that consisted of inspiring visits and tours of extraordinary historic buildings and OFM ministry sites in and around the Washington, D.C., area – including the Smithsonian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, U.S. Capitol, Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, and Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. There was also a trip to New York City for a brother’s Mass of solemn profession at the 130-year-old Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street.

The discerners who said “yes” to Franciscan vocation spent an orientation period that included inspiring visits and tours of historic buildings and OFM ministry sites, among them a trip to New York City where they got a front-row seat at a friar’s Mass of solemn profession at the 130-year-old Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street.

Among the six who entered this year’s postulancy program are Chad Butcher, a Knoxville, Tennessee, native who once had a six-figure income working with entertainer Dolly Parton; Ricardo (Ricky) Ferrer, a migrant from Cebu, Philippines, who was a facilities/special-projects manager for a parish in San Jose, California; Richard Gaunt, a native of State College, Pennsylvania, who was a legal assistant in the immigration services program of Catholic Charities in Austin, Texas; Matthew Junker of San Diego, a graduate of the University of California Berkeley School of Law, who left behind a successful legal practice championing workers’ rights; Daniel Mercado, from Chicago’s North Side, who was a project manager in the automotive and hospitality industries, and Jason Peterson – born in Russia and raised in Florida after being adopted at 11-months-old – who was a cast member at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

Different Backgrounds, One Desire: Be a Franciscan

“These men come to us with unique gifts and distinct backgrounds, talents and inspired spiritual lives. It is a treasure and pure gift to journey with these men on their pilgrimage to the Franciscans. It is very humbling,” said Basil Valente, OFM, director of the National Vocation Office of the US-6.

“Their paths to discernment may have been different, but just as the friars of the US-6 will be united in October 2023 as a single entity, these postulants are already united in their desire to serve the people of God as Franciscan friars in the spirit of St. Francis,” added Basil, who also serves the regional vocation director for the eastern region of the country, and who has served as vocation director of Holy Name Province since 2014.

A welcome card designed by Jorge Martins, office manager of the national vocation office, that was sent to the discerners when they were accepted into the postulancy program of the Order of Friars Minor.

More than 100 men are currently engaged in active vocation discernment with the US-6 provinces, each of whose formation programs have been integrated under the umbrella of single postulancy, novitiate and post-novitiate programs.

Of the six newly-welcomed postulants, Ricky and Jason have entered through Holy Name Province; Matthew through St. Barbara Province; Daniel through Sacred Heart Province; Richard through Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary Province, and Chad through St. John the Baptist Province. The men have been accompanied throughout their discernment journey by vocation directors and other friars from around the country.

“We are often the Order’s first contact with inquirers, guiding and walking with men discerning God’s call. I am humbled by their sincerity and desire to follow Christ in a more radical way as friars minor,” said Gregory Plata, OFM, who serves as the regional vocation director for the central region of the country, and who has been vocation director of Assumption BVM Province since 2018.

(L.-R.) Basil Valente, OFM, director of the US-6 national vocation office, and regional vocation director of the Eastern region; Gregory Plata, OFM, regional vocation director of the Central region; and Sebastian Sandoval, OFM, regional vocation director of the Western region.

“As vocation directors, we try to encourage inquirers to see their goodness and potential in serving the Lord. As we shift to a new province covering the entire U.S. and Puerto Rico, it is my hope that we can inspire more men to join us in our existing and evolving new ministries that address the needs of the Church,” added Gregory, who noted that being on the road, meeting and interacting with discerners, and building relationships that foster and nurture vocations, is an important part of this ministry.

“In vocation ministry, I always tell discerning men – let us walk together and explore what God can offer you! As Franciscans, we are brothers to one another. As vocation directors, we are brothers to the men considering Franciscan life, being there to help them navigate their way through the process and helping them hear clearly God’s call,” said Erasmo Romero, OFM, vocation director of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province.

Who Needs Posters!

There are never too many cooks in a Franciscan kitchen, as Ronald Gliatta, OFM, invited discerners to help prepare Sunday dinner for the friar community and visiting discerners at an organic weekend gathering last March at Sacred Heart Church in Tampa, Florida.

Thomas Smith, OFM, vocation director of Sacred Heart Province since 2012, says that providing inquirers with the opportunity to meet friars plays an important role in the discernment journey. “We invite them for prayer and dinner and sometimes for weekend visits. They tell us that hearing stories and experiences of discernment, formation and ministry from friars firsthand is very helpful in their own decision,” said Thom, a solemnly-professed friar for 44 years who lives at Holy Evangelist Friary in Chicago, which serves as a house of hospitality for inquirers.

“Living in fraternity, proclaiming the Gospel, serving the marginalized, and preserving the dignity and worth of all human beings – that’s the essence of Franciscan life and ministry. I talk about these values at discernment dinners and organic community gatherings (formerly called ‘come-and-see’ weekends), when discerners also have the opportunity to experience our ministries,” said Sebastian Sandoval, OFM, who serves as the regional vocation director for the western region of the country, and who has been vocation director of St. Barbara Province since 2019.

As a former vocation director once said (to no friar in particular, but to every Franciscan friar), “I don’t need to print thousands of [vocation] posters. You are the living posters!”

“Sometimes we fall into the trap that it’s the vocation director’s job, but I think it is very important for friars to realize that we are all vocation directors,” said Sebastian, who made his first profession in 1999 and was ordained in 2012, and who served as an associate pastor at a parish in Los Angeles prior to his work in vocation ministry.

Franciscan discerners, joined by Matt Ryan, OFM, listen to a presentation at a discernment weekend.

Gregory, a professed friar since 1981 and ordained for 37 years, agreed that all Franciscan friars have a responsibility to vocation ministry. “Every brother has a unique story to tell, as well as a sacred mission that began when they said ‘yes’ to our Lord by their profession. If we really love our life as friars, then it should only be natural to want to share that passion with others by inviting them to where we minister, live and pray,” said Gregory, who served as pastor for 16 years in Mississippi before becoming vocation director, and who is moving to Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary, Indiana, home to a multicultural and enthusiastic fraternity that will host organic community gatherings with inquirers.

Did You Hear About the Atheist, Agnostic, and Methodist? They’re Catholics Now.

Discerners meet and discover friars at various points in their life, some while in high school or college, others through outreach ministries or chance encounters. But one thing many discerners have in common is their experience of profound conversion that pushes them to seek greater meaning in their lives. This couldn’t be truer than for all of the men who entered the postulancy program last month, including three whose discernment was sparked by their conversion to Catholicism.

Raised a Missionary Baptist on his family’s third-generation, 350-acre livestock and produce farm, Chad Butcher, a self-proclaimed agnostic by his mid-20s, experienced what turned out to be a life-changing event when he accepted a friend’s invitation to Sunday Mass.

As he describes: “Something happened, an internal conversion that I can’t explain, the desire to learn more, know more” – which led him to RCIA classes and a conversion to Catholicism in 2010. When the call to discernment got stronger, he walked away from six-figure-income employment with Dolly Parton in her reading advocacy program, and moved back home to work as a 9-1-1 dispatcher while sorting out “the feeling inside that I wanted to do more, but not as a layperson.”

Matthew Junker, another convert to Catholicism, was born and raised in San Diego, California, to a family whose parents weren’t religious, but sent their children to Catholic school for a better education. Finding instruction in faith “cold and authoritarian,” by 8th grade he became an atheist. While at the University of California San Diego, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and ethnic studies, his encounters with intellectual religious thinkers slowly opened him to spiritual practices and regular Mass attendance.

(L.-R.) Jason Peterson, Richard Gaunt and Matthew Junker enjoy the stories of Franciscan ministry and experiences being shared by Michael Duffy, OFM (far right, blue shirt).

In 2015, at age 25, Matthew enrolled in RCIA and began reading about St. Francis’ life and followers. Volunteer work in eastern Kentucky and time with diocesan seminarians deepened his curiosity about religious vocation – which, at the time, wasn’t an option since he was a recent convert. Instead, he went to law school at UC Berkeley – and after working as a law clerk for a federal judge in West Virginia for a year, he started a practice focused on workers’ rights.

“I had a strong desire to work with those on the margins – and going to law school helped me develop a skill set that allows me to do that. I think about the possibility of practicing law as a religious in service to the poor, disabled, immigrants, and those who are discriminated against,” said Matthew.

Richard Gaunt was raised in a United Methodist household – and although very involved in the church through his teenage years, he drifted from faith as a young adult. At New York’s Ithaca College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies with a minor in religious studies, he became more interested in politics and activism.

“Eventually, I found myself feeling deeply disillusioned and empty. This cleared space to really open up to God’s grace – not needing to ‘figure it out,’ but rather, letting God work in me and through me,” explained Richard. “Coming into the Church is a powerful experience of grace. I began to sense that I wasn’t going to be able to just go on with life unchanged, but rather that I needed to conform my life to the Gospel in a more radical way, which is what opened up the process of discernment for me.”

What Do You Most Need to Do? What Does the World Need Most to Have Done?

Whether converts, or born into the Catholic faith, all discerners experience an awakening that is then encouraged and nurtured by vocation directors, initially through phone conversations and (during the pandemic) virtual meetings. They receive books about St. Francis and vocation information about the Order, and as their discernment journey progresses, they are invited to visit friaries for prayer and dinner, and to experience and participate in Franciscan outreach ministries.

Jorge Martins, office manager of the National Vocation Office

Jorge Martins, office manager of the National Vocation Office, plays an instrumental role in distributing information to discerners in an effective, expeditious, and creative way.

“At a recent meeting of national vocation directors, we all sung Jorge’s praises for his effective and successful work and ministry throughout the country,” said Basil, who added that Jorge’s talents as a graphic designer, even-tempered personality, and ability to multitask and work with many constituency groups is a great asset to the National Vocation Office.

No matter when or where the spark is lit, the common thread of Franciscans is underscored in the centerpiece of their values – recognition of the dignity and worth of all persons, and service to the poor and marginalized.

“C. Frederick Buechner, a renowned inspirational theologian and poet, characterized vocation in this way: ‘The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ For someone who did not have a Catholic upbringing, Frederick (who died last month at age 96) reflected quite remarkably on the Franciscan charism and our work with the poor and marginalized,” said Basil.

“The work to which God calls discerners is the kind of work: A) that you need most to do, and B) that the world needs most to have done. The question for all discerners and friars is, ‘What do you most need to do, and what does the world need most to have done?” added Basil.

Jason Peterson (left) and Richard Gaunt experienced the front lines of Franciscan outreach ministry during the discernment process, preparing meals for guests at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia.

Thom, whose friar life has traversed three states (Michigan, Ohio and Missouri) and has included pastoral ministry, teacher, librarian, campus minister, and director of a national shrine, said he has found that inquirers are attracted to the Franciscans because of “our love and ministry to the poor, marginalized, and those most in need.”

Sebastian said fraternity is another significant draw to the Order. “Inquirers are interested in our community and prayer life, and, of course, the different ways that we minister to the marginalized,” said the vocation director, who lives at Assumption Friary in Los Angeles, California.

The postulant class of 2022 couldn’t agree more.

Outside the Walls

“The most appealing thing about Franciscan life is that the friars are called to be where the people are,” said Jason Peterson, whose introduction to the Franciscans was a Capuchin friar who helped with Sunday Mass at his local parish. “My Franciscan heart drew me to the OFMs. I spent a lot of time with friars who were instrumental in helping and guiding me during my discernment process,” added Jason, who, being in the Orlando area, often visited HNP’s nearby regional vocation directors, including Kevin Tortorelli, OFM, at the St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, and Henry Fulmer, OFM, at Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa.

Daniel Mercado cleaning up outside St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, where he spent one year of service as a member of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry.

In Chad’s case, he was ready to say “yes” after a weekend visit with friars at St. Anthony Friary in Cincinnati. “What attracts me to the Franciscans is how they preach outside the walls. They meet the people and put their faith into action. Working on my family’s farm helped me value all of God’s creation, so the opportunity to work with people of all walks was a tipping point for me.”

“Being introduced to the breadth of Franciscan ministries and diverse professions of friars during [discernment] weekends made me realize I could thrive in the Order. I also love the idea of being part of a close fraternity that is wholly dedicated to building the kingdom of God and serving the most marginalized,” said Matthew, adding, “I felt an immediate connection and [realized] this was a community I would feel at home in.”

Matthew Junker sweeping the street outside St. Francis Inn.

Inside the Soup Kitchen

For Daniel Mercado, the most appealing aspect of Franciscan life is community and brotherly love. “Once I started interacting with various Franciscan communities, I saw how the friars completed each other, rather than competed with each other. They were unique and transparent with their ideas, opinions and personalities. Divine honesty! It was wonderful to hear friars sharing their own stories and experiences,” said Daniel, whose initial contact with Thom was followed by Zoom meetings with friars, including Fred Dilger, OFM, and Aaron Richardson, OFM, whose passion for their work at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia influenced Daniel’s decision to serve at the iconic Franciscan soup kitchen for one year under the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry before entering the postulancy program.

“FVM gave me a chance to minister in a Franciscan way at a ministry that captures the spirit of St. Francis. I loved serving and spending time in community with the brothers. The first thought I had when I awoke each morning – I really want to be a Franciscan! Serving the marginalized also taught me to be vulnerable with the most vulnerable of society. They need to be loved and understood, not rejected and judged,” said Daniel, who noted that a series of events in 2019 – World Youth Day in Panama, the National Catholic Youth Conference, and a night of Eucharistic praise and worship with a group of friends – kicked his discernment journey into overdrive.

Fred Dilger, OFM (left), shares his experiences of outreach ministry at St. Francis Inn with Jason Peterson (2nd right) and Richard Gaunt (far right).

Richard, who scrapped plans for a master’s degree in community and regional planning when he instead decided to pursue “the tug to discern” a different calling, said he is drawn to the Franciscan way of life that is “out in the world bringing God’s presence to others – but also rooted in deep spirituality, prayer life, and community. I also like that the [Order] encourages friars to develop and use their talents and hobbies,” added Richard, who is hoping to bring his passion for music and photography to ministry life.

A Voice Calling from the Desert (it was really the church parking lot)

The postulants are grateful to their vocation directors and other friars for maintaining the line of communication, and for the many fraternal events, ministerial opportunities, and even the impromptu encounters, that helped in their decision to say “yes” to Franciscan vocation.

Jeffery Jordan, OFM, an HNP regional vocation director in Boston, with Ricky Ferrer at the Franciscan discernment weekend in September 2021 at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston.

“[During discernment], the friars treated me like a brother. I was drawn to the Franciscans by the joy of brotherhood and the ability to minister and collaborate with those they serve – to smell like the sheep and, at the same time, be the sheep,” said Ricky Ferrer, who credits William McConville, OFM – whom he met after a Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Raleigh, North Carolina – for awakening the spirit that lay dormant since migrating with his family from the Philippines.

“The moment Fr. Bill laid hands and recited the prayer of absolution [after confession], I felt the warmness of God’s love and presence in my life. That moment reignited the fire,” Ricky said of the calling that lingered for much of his life, but which he admits he often ignored – “even ran away from.” It was a voice literally calling out, not from the desert, but from across the church parking lot – that of Stephen Kluge, OFM, asking, “Are you discerning?” It was a question and an encounter that Ricky said couldn’t have been a coincidence – and one that he could no longer ignore.

After sharing that he had moved to Raleigh temporarily to help care for his grandfather and an uncle, both in failing health, Ricky – who, like Daniel, spent one year in service as a volunteer minister at St. Francis Inn – recalled Stephen’s reaction: “He said, ‘You have Franciscan blood in you!’ I kept replaying those words in my head on the entire plane ride back to San Jose.”

Prayers Answered

Jason Peterson presents a scripture reading at a discernment retreat in Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida.

For Jason, he never thought of any other job as a lifetime career. “I have always felt a calling to religious life – that I would one day be serving God’s people in a special way,” he said. “I think back to the Capuchin friar who showed me what it meant for a Franciscan to live the three vows in his daily life – poverty, to live simply; chastity, to love everyone with your whole heart, and obedience, to do what is asked of you with total reverence for the building of God’s kingdom.”

Jason continued, “I am grateful for meeting the friars in St. Petersburg and Tampa, and for the time they so generously spent with me in my discernment. They validated my desire to serve all of God’s people, but especially the poor. Br. Basil was absolutely supportive of my openness to being a friar and my calling to serve the people. When he informed me that I was accepted to the postulancy, it was a very emotional moment. It was something that I prayed about my whole life, and it was finally happening.”

Richard called his vocation director an amazing guide. “I loved getting to know Fr. Greg. He has always been kind, compassionate, and encouraging, and I am so grateful for his help in this process! The OFM friars were the first to have a virtual discernment event (when everything was on COVID lockdown at the time), which gave me a good first introduction,” he said.

Matt Ryan, OFM, (left) a formation student with St. John the Baptist Province, and other friars helped Jason Peterson celebrate his birthday at a discernment weekend in Florida.

Daniel, who credits his church youth group for developing his faith – which led to service as a youth minister, catechist, usher, and other positions – said Thom and other vocation friars kept him engaged with Franciscan events throughout the process.

“I want to especially thank HNP’s team of eastern regional vocation directors – those serving in New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Florida – for their patient and important work that has been so vital to the success of vocations and particularly to this group of discerners who responded ‘yes’ to the Franciscans,” said Basil.

How Are Those Guys Doing?

Franciscan discerners share their stories with Zachary Elliott, OFM (far left) and Michael Jones, OFM (2nd left).

Discernment is not only a time for inquirers to contemplate religious vocation, but also a time for vocation directors to examine their ministry – reflect on whether they are being a positive influence and demonstrating their joy and commitment as friars minor.

Basil recalls the words of a former minister general of the Order – who always told friars in vocation ministry to “be sure to tell our Franciscan discerners that we are not holy people! Rather, tell them that we are good, broken men trying to grow in God’s holiness.”

Friars accompany Franciscan discerners on every step of their journey.

When he first became involved in vocation ministry, Thom recalled seeking advice from a handful of brothers who had previously served. Their responses ranged from, “Be honest,” “Remember, you’re walking with them, not leading them,” and “Keep a sense of humor, pray often.” But the one that still stands out for Thom: “Even though your name is on the door, always remember that all friars are part of our vocation office and ministry.”

There is no better example than two friars who both recently celebrated 70 years of profession, according to Thom. “Seventy years and still in ministry. They are generous with their time spent with inquirers – and it’s not one day and forget. They’ll ask months later, even a year later, how ‘those visitors’ are doing, and they pray every day for them. That’s the spirit of vocation ministry,” he said.

Added Sebastian, “There would be no Order without vocations. Vocation ministry is the beginning of all other ministries.”

If God is calling you, or someone you know, to be a Franciscan, contact us via our website,, follow #USFranciscans on social media, or contact Jorge at the National Vocation Office, at 800-677-7788, ext. 345.

— Stephen Mangione is a freelance writer for Holy Name Province.

After More Than Two Years of COVID Postponements, ESC Vocation Directors Resume In-Person Conference in Arizona

After More Than Two Years of COVID Postponements, ESC Vocation Directors Resume In-Person Conference in Arizona

By Stephen Mangione

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — A group of friars from US-6 provinces, and other ESC member provinces throughout the world, participated in a five-day retreat and fraternal gathering of the English-Speaking Conference of Vocation Directors earlier this month at the Franciscan Renewal Center. After holding their meetings virtually for more than 24 months, the May 2 to 6 conference was the first time since the start of the pandemic that the ESC vocation directors assembled in person. Three previous attempts at holding their annual meeting in person had been postponed due to COVID concerns.

The gathering at “The Casa” – as the Retreat Center is affectionately known from its origins as Casa de Paz y Bien when it was established by the Order of Friars Minor in 1951 – was twofold in purpose: to encourage, support and reinvigorate the friars in their global vocation work, and to brainstorm contemporary vocation strategies that bring about renewal and motivation to the witness of Friars Minor around the world.

9 friars wearing their brown habits stand in front of a stained glass window depicting the cosmos

(l.-r.) Sebastian, Orlando, Greg, Erasmo, Tom, Joachim, Thom, Carlos, and Basil in front of a stunning stained-glass window during a tour of the Conventual Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels.

Among the participants were Tom Nairn, OFM (Sacred Heart Province), Greg Plata, OFM (Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary Province), Erasmo Romero, OFM (Our Lady of Guadalupe Province), Sebastian Sandoval, OFM (St. Barbara Province), Thom Smith, OFM (Sacred Heart Province), and Basil Valente, OFM (Holy Name Province) – all representing the US-6 provinces – Carlos Ona, OFM, and Joachim Yoon, OFM, both from Holy Spirit Province in Alberta and Montreal, Canada, and Orlando Ruiz, OFM, of Immaculate Conception Province.  Although the majority of ESC vocation directors attended, the European members – including Lithuania, Ireland, England and Malta – were unable to participate due to COVID restrictions in their respective countries.

The group engaged in robust dialogue during a series of sessions on timely and topical issues, among them ESC membership, the role of the vocation leadership team, in-person vs. virtual meetings, recruitment strategies, and the challenges and blessings of vocation ministry during the pandemic. They also discussed the priorities and implications of recent reports issued by the National Religious Vocation Conference and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate as they pertain to vocation ministry during COVID and beyond.

During the business portion of the meeting, Orlando was unanimously elected to serve as vice president of the ESC vocation directors, succeeding Dan Gurnick, OFM, of Holy Spirit Province. The group, which expressed gratitude for Dan’s service and guidance, also ratified the other members of the leadership team who will continue in their roles, including Basil (president), Sebastian (secretary and treasurer), and Tom Nairn (provincial liaison).

In breakout-group discussions, a common theme was the effect of the pandemic on vocation recruitment and ministry, with the friars agreeing on the importance of in-person vocation director and candidate meetings, in addition to candidates participating in come-and-see visits to friaries.

“I appreciated the opportunity to finally be able to come together in person, and to enjoy each other’s company. I also enjoyed the exchange of ideas in support of each other and our ministries,” said Sebastian.

Added Greg, “It was a wonderful gathering, especially having not seen some of our brothers in almost two years.”

Four men examine documents as theysit around a table in a conference room.

(l.-r.) Greg, Thom, Erasmo, and Orlando at work during a small-group breakout session.

Erasmo echoed this sentiment, saying, “This was a joyous, in-person opportunity to check in with one another and to see how vocations could be promoted and encouraged around the world.”

Basil noted that while vocation ministers adapted their work to the pandemic – hosting virtual vocation retreats and meetings on Zoom – the group agreed it was time to resume in-person conferences, meetings and retreats because it is essential for candidates to have in-person encounters with friars and communities around the world as they discern the Franciscan way of life.

“It was delightful to be able to see my friar brothers after being apart so long. There is tremendous value being face-to-face, exchanging ideas and stories, and helping to enrich one another. It’s equally vital to candidates contemplating Franciscan life to have the opportunity to live, pray, share meals, and experience a slice of this life with friars in ministry,” he said.

A friar with a long beard wearing a brown habit stands in front of a retreat center.

Bradley, a member of St. Barbara Province who shared his formation experiences during a presentation to the group of ESC vocation friars, takes a break outside the Franciscan Renewal Center. 

“The entire exercise was inspiring and exuberant, from sharing vocation stories, to praying in the chapel, and planning for the future. It was a very important strategic meeting for us as vocation directors. We left the conference encouraged and re-energized to work collectively in our regions of the country and world, converting these strategies into tactical realizations,” added Basil.

The sessions and meetings were peppered with inspiring presentations by friars who shared personal reflections and formation experiences. Bradley Tuel, OFM, and James Seiffert, OFM, both from St. Barbara Province, spoke about the blessings, challenges and joys of formation and vocation, while also offering insight on how vocation ministry could move forward post-COVID.

One of the most intriguing elements to emerge from their presentations was the importance of recruiting and promoting vocations to mid-aged and older candidates as vigorously as ESC vocation ministers support younger candidates. Bradley accepted the leadership team’s invitation to collaborate with vocation directors and other friars from ESC provinces to develop online tools and strategies for local, national and international vocation efforts.

It became apparent in the group’s follow-up discussion that new and creative approaches to vocation ministry should be explored. Friars from Holy Name Province recently put a new approach into practice. Calling themselves the Bleacher Brothers, Casey Cole, OFM, and Roberto “Tito” Serrano, OFM – both regional vocation directors who very effectively utilize blogs and other social media platforms – on May 19 kicked off an 11-week, 17,000-mile road trip, during which they will visit all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums, wearing their Franciscan habit to all the games and evangelizing at the ballparks, as well as at local area parishes where they will deliver talks on their own vocation experiences.

Two friars in their 30s who are wearing their brown habits stand in front of a pickup truck.

Bleacher Bros Casey (left) and Tito (right) plan to visit all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums on an evangelization tour that spans the United States and Canada. (Photo courtesy of Casey)

Other guest participants and presenters at the five-day conference included Norbert Zwickl, director of liturgy and music at the Franciscan Renewal Center, and Vincent Nguyen, OFM, the Center’s vice rector and guardian. Norbert provided a tour of the campus and a historical perspective about the Conventual Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels and its striking stained-glass windows, which showcase a beautiful artistic representation of Francis’ Canticle of Brother Sun enveloped by Scottsdale’s Camelback Mountain.

The retreat also offered occasion for fraternity, including traditional communal prayer services, group Mass with the local Franciscan community of St. Barbara Province, tours of the Province’s St. Mary’s Basilica (the oldest Catholic parish and church in downtown Phoenix), sightseeing in the desert town of Sedona that included nature’s spectacular red-hued landscapes and stunning rock formations, and the Tlaquepaque Arts Village, and religious excursion to Sedona Verde Valley to the Chapel of the Holy Cross and to Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park – one of the oldest forms of outdoor sacred architecture for prayer and meditation, considered to be the living presence of the Buddha.

“It was fraternally fun and inspirational,” said Orlando, who announced at the conference that Immaculate Conception Province would be delighted to host next year’s meeting of ESC vocation directors in Toronto, Canada.

A crucifix depicting Jesus hanging from the branches of a tree in front of a large window

The crucifix in the Chapel of the Holy Cross.

Basil said the event was motivating, prayerful and energizing, thanks to fraternal dialogue and creative thinking, and to the inspiration of Saints Francis and Clare. “We harnessed some cutting-edge ideas to help move us into a future of Franciscan vocational recruitment internationally,” said Basil. “May God continue to bless each of us in our ministry and especially those men who continue to discern our Franciscan way of life.”

The friars began the conference by celebrating Mass with their brothers of St. Barbara Province and the local worshipping community of Scottsdale. The retreat ended with a celebratory supper hosted by St. Barbara Province at a restaurant in downtown Scottsdale. The participants expressed their gratitude to the host province St. Barbara, to its friar community and lay staff, and to the Franciscan community at St. Mary’s Basilica, for their warm hospitality and generous welcome to all ESC friars.

If God is calling you, or someone you know, to be a Franciscan, visit if you are in the United States or the website of your local province if you are outside the U.S.

– Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to Holy Name Province’s newsletter.

Franciscans Call for Peace in Ukraine

Franciscans Call for Peace in Ukraine

The following statement from the provincial ministers of six provinces belonging to the Order of Friars Minor in the United States regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine was issued on Feb. 24.

We are horrified at the unfolding violence in Ukraine and the death and destruction unleashed on the people of Ukraine. Most often, it is the poor, weak, old, and young that pay the highest price in times of conflict. We mourn that a nonviolent resolution based in diplomacy could not be reached, and we applaud the efforts of the United States, Europe, and the United Nations in trying to achieve such a solution. Unfortunately, Russia’s actions have self-separated it from being a legitimate member of the family of nations on our globe. Such a tear in a family is always a cause for despair.

We affirm and share the feelings of our Holy Father Pope Francis in his address of Feb. 2, 2022, where he spoke with “pain in his heart” of the potential (now realized) for violent scenarios to occur with the invasion of Ukraine.

Now is the time for unceasing prayer and nonviolent responses at the international level. We call upon the government leaders of the U.S. to put aside partisan differences and find a common response to the conflict. The world must unite in a coordinated nonviolent effort to encourage Russia to cease its invasion and return to being a member of the world family of nations.

Finally, we accept Pope Francis’s call for Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2022, to be an international day of fasting and prayer for peace. We encourage all Franciscan ministries in which we serve also to take up the Holy Father’s call as they prepare for the beginning of Lent.

Our world is at a critical juncture of how we organize ourselves to respond to global crises of violence and existential destruction. The only sustainable path forward is rooted in nonviolence and places the needs of the poor and marginalized first. In the spirit of St. Francis, let us “begin again” and make this path by walking it.


Fr. David Gaa, OFM
Province of Saint Barbara
Fr. Thomas Nairn, OFM
Province of the Sacred Heart
Fr. James Gannon, OFM
Province of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM
Province of Saint John the Baptist
Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM
Province of the Holy Name
Fr. Ronald Walters, OFM
Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe

For interview and photo requests, please contact Maria Hayes, communications manager, at 646-473-0265 or

Franciscan-hearted People Invited to Join Laudato Si’ Action Platform

Franciscan-hearted People Invited to Join Laudato Si’ Action Platform

The Laudato Si’ Action Platform, the Church-wide journey launched by the Vatican to bring the teaching from Laudato Si and Fratelli Tutti to transform our world, is now open for registration.

The friars invite all interested people – be they ministries, organizations or families – to consider taking part in the platform, which will offer practical planning guides and resources for communities to use to discern and implement their response to Laudato Si’. The US-6 provincial ministers committed to joining the platform last year because they recognized that it will help the friars to live into the values and vision we profess for the new province emerging through the R & R process.

The Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation animators are offering their support to people who are registering for the Laudato Si Action Platform. The animators, with help from the US-6 communicators, have created a short video to assist you with the sign-up process. 

In the first question on the registration page, individual friaries are encouraged to enroll in the Religious Local Community category. Ministries are also invited to sign-up for the platform. Even though it might seem redundant to sign-up twice, the support services and community connections provided are tailored to different sectors of the Church so that each can play its part in accepting Pope Francis’ invitation to integral ecology and social friendship. Click here to begin the enrollment process.

If you require assistance in your journey with the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, please reach out to your provincial JPIC animator or email and your animator will respond. Thank you for your consideration to join the larger Church in this journey.

Franciscan Leadership Commits to Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform

Franciscan Leadership Commits to Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform

On Nov. 2, the Provincial Ministers of six OFM provinces in the United States released the following statement.

Statement of Commitment to the Laudato Si’ Action Platform

As the leadership for the Franciscan friars in the United States, we humbly and publicly accept the invitation of Pope Francis to commit to the Laudato Si’ Action Platform. The Laudato Si’ Action Platform is an incredible gift to us as we continue the process of joining our six provinces into one coast-to-coast province through our Revitalization and Restructuring Process. Early in our journey to become one, we recognized Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti as guiding documents. The seven goals of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform provide a framework for us to embrace our charism in new ways that build upon our current efforts and elicit creativity for opportunities to live the teaching presented in Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti, while also journeying with the larger Church and world.

We recognize that committing to this seven-year journey is committing ourselves, both collectively and individually, to be open to conversion. Such a conversion we hope will enable us to actualize integral ecology and fraternity with greater authenticity.

To take this journey we will adopt these guiding principles:

  • Ensure that any listening, discerning and going forth processes built into the Laudato Si’ Action Platform can feed into our efforts with the R & R Process and vice versa.
  • Provide adequate institutional support to embrace the Laudato Si’ Action Platform in each of our friaries and ministries.
  • All plans and actions should be grounded in the deep active contemplation of our Franciscan tradition and easily related to the values of Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti.
  • At each step, we will include friars, friaries, and ministries from each of our joining provinces, and we will continue this inclusion when we are one.
  • Appreciate the uniqueness of each of our friaries and ministries. Thus, we will be moving together, even if we are working on different areas of integral ecology and social fraternity.
  • Full internal and external transparency of our actions and processes
  • Challenge ourselves to embrace the Holy Father’s invitation to “dream big, to rethink our priorities, and to commit to act in our daily life on what we dreamed of.” (Let Us Dream, p. 6) 

It is our vision that by the end of our seven-year journey, we will live even more fully in a way that expresses our Franciscan charism in service to the Church and larger society by addressing the emerging challenges of the 21st century. We also hope that our personal and communal footprint on our sister, Mother Earth, will be lighter and sustainable, that our relationships with persons marginalized in our world will be even stronger, and that we have new bonds of fraternity with diverse groups in and outside of the Church.

We commit our six provinces to this journey and invite the leadership of the new province to continue this journey.

Signed on November 2, 2021,

Fr. David Gaa, OFM
Province of Saint Barbara
1500 34th Avenue
Oakland, CA  94601-3092
Fr. Thomas Nairn, OFM
Province of the Sacred Heart
3140 Meramec Street
Saint Louis, MO  63118-4399
Fr. James Gannon, OFM
Province of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
9230 W. Highland Park Avenue
Franklin, WI 53132-8143
Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM
Province of Saint John the Baptist
1615 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH  45202-6400
Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM
Province of the Holy Name
129 W. 31st Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY  10001-3403
Fr. Ronald Walters, OFM
Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe
1204 Stinson Street, SW
Albuquerque, NM  87121-3440


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