St. Francis of Assisi has a rich history, beginning with her founding by the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits) and Father Jim English, SJ as an outgrowth of St. Raphael’s Parish. It was, in fact, the sunny weather at the outdoor Mass to announce the name of the new parish which determined that St. Francis was chosen over St. Ignatius as the patron of the new parish…and the Franciscan sun has figuratively shone on the mission of our parish since that day. We had a discussion with Father David McBriar, the first Franciscan pastor of St. Francis, and he shared the story of how the Franciscans became an obvious and present influence on the community’s mission. His recollections speak to the mission we follow to this day, 40 years later!
St. Francis of Assisi, in the early 13th century, has been described as an “Incarnationalist.” Francis praised God for the sun and the moon, for the clouds and the stars, for the sea, indeed for all God’s creatures. (canticle_of_the_creatures) The mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, his life, suffering, death, and resurrection, were at the heart of Francis’ faith. While the friars, through the centuries, have struggled to live Francis’ love of all God’s creatures, they believe deeply in Francis’ call to service and dedicate their lives to following him. He was, above all, “Christocentric” and the friars remain dedicated to Jesus’ call to service.
The Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, from the beginning, was known for the parishioners’ deep involvement in their faith community and their outreach. It was this dedication to their mission that parallelled all that St. Francis stood for during his faith life. This congruence is what led a member of the Pastoral Council at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in 1985 to request a meeting with the Director of Personnel for the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province in New York City. Three members of the Pastoral Council met with Father David McBriar, the director, and requested that Holy Name Province consider assuming the pastoral leadership of the parish. Father David recalls, “What impressed me about these parishioners and their request was that they described the leadership of their parish under their first pastor as collaborative. At this time, we friars of Holy Name Province stated that we were ‘partners in ministry’ wherever we served.” The vision of the parish lay leaders seemed to mesh well with all the friars stood for in their ministry. Indeed, Fr. Bob Hudak, a Franciscan friar, had served as an associate of the first pastor. The parish knew the friars, at least as exemplified by Fr. Hudak. Father David remembers, “Two of us friars arranged for a parish visit. I remember meeting with the Director of Children’s Faith Formation and the Director of Faith Formation. They reiterated the judgment of the Pastoral Council that the parishioners, with the pastor, were partners in leadership for the community. After much consultation, Fr. Bob Hudak and I were recommended to the Bishop of Raleigh by the Provincial Council of Holy Name Province with the lay leadership of the parish to assume the leadership of the parish, and I was recommended to serve as pastor.”
Reflecting on his leadership here, he says, “I hope you have some idea from what I have described above, that my leadership style was one of ‘collaborative leadership.’ I had to laugh when I read that someone described my leadership as a ‘velvet hammer.’ I like the ‘velvet’ part. The ‘hammer’ part scares me a bit.”
Father David, as pastor, always assured that the parish was looking outward in service. He recalls the first meeting of the Social Concerns Committee. “I asked this question, ‘What does the city need and how can we help?’ We listed the needs of the city: housing, those with food insecurity, incarcerated women with children. We decided that we would tithe 10% of our weekly offertory for those in need.” Father David was the first of the four Franciscan pastors who led the parish from 1985 until 2020. The influence of St. Francis and the Franciscans is what defines the mission of our parish and they remain a guiding call to service that this community whole-heartedly embraces!
Father David closed our conversation with a remembrance, in part, of Francis’ final words: “When St. Francis was dying, surrounded by his friars, he said, ‘I have done what God called me to do. Now it is time for you to do what God calls you to do.’” Happy 40th Anniversary people of St. Francis of Assisi Parish!
Author: Mike Watson