In the Footsteps of Francis

The Ministry of the Franciscan Friars at The Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi

 May your listening ear, your open heart, your willingness to live the Gospel be a new beginning for us all. 
May God in His wisdom touch all our hearts.
– David McBriar, O.F.M., 1st Franciscan Pastor at St. Francis of Assisi

In the Beginning

Most parishioners of The Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi know us as a Franciscan parish, served by Franciscan friars of Holy Name of Jesus Province (HNP). This wasn’t always the case. To understand how we came to be a Franciscan parish, we need to look back to the beginning of our parish. We need to understand who we are as a people of God, who we are as Church.

In the Catholic tradition, a parish is typically established when the bishop or a local pastor recognizes a need within a geographical area. Often, that need arises when the number of parishioners in an existing parish has increased so much that a division into two parishes becomes a practical solution. The decision to form a new parish is usually made by the local bishop, with input from his advisory councils. However, this is not how St. Francis of Assisi Parish was born.

In the 1970’s, there was a rapidly-growing number of Catholics moving to Raleigh. Many were from the Northeast, moving here for careers at nearby Research Triangle Park. One of the larger parishes, St. Raphael the Archangel, was seeing a great influx of new members and was planning an expansion of their facilities to accommodate their growing numbers.


On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the parish, Monsignor Gerald Lewis, Chancellor of the Diocese of Raleigh, reminisced, telling an audience of St. Francis of Assisi parishioners, “Those were very exciting days. Soon after he became Bishop of Raleigh, Joseph Gossman was invited to a meeting of people who lived in this area. They met at Yvonne and Henry Foglia’s house, and they weren’t gathering just to say ‘hello’ to the bishop. They were petitioning Bishop Gossman to start a parish out here.” The audience chuckled; many recalled the auspicious beginnings of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church and the very meeting that put their parish on the map.

Most of St. Francis of Assisi’s early founders had been members of St. Raphael parish. Living in the Leesville community required them to drive long distances for church functions. From liturgies to faith formation, choir practice, youth groups and senior groups, the miles added up and they grew weary of the commute. When rumblings of St. Raphael expansion began, many northwest Raleigh parishioners couldn’t resist thinking that what the diocese really needed was a church in their area. Yvonne Foglia and Mary Lou Bender, the 1977-78 hosts of the annual St. Raphael Women’s Guild potluck supper, had a novel idea. Yvonne suggested to Mary Lou, “Why don’t we invite the bishop to come and talk about building a church in northwest Raleigh?” And so they did.

About forty or fifty folks came to the meeting that night. “A lot of curiosity-seekers, that’s what it was,” Mary Lou said. “They wanted to see what was going to happen. When we finished eating, we went into the family room. We had people sitting on the floor and everything. We sat the bishop in front of the fireplace.”

Yvonne nods. “He was the main man. Father Lewis and another priest were there, too. We started asking the bishop questions.”

As Mary Lou recalls, “Everybody got settled in, and then there was this silence. Henry said, ‘Okay, bishop, when are we going to get a church?’”

The parishioners made a memorable impact on the bishop that evening — so much so that the meeting led to the founding of our parish. In August 1978, when Father Lewis’ six-year term as Chancellor ended, Bishop Gossman appointed him Pastor of St. Raphael Church, with the assignment of studying the western area of the current parish with an eye toward forming a new one. Yvonne Foglia notes of the following years, “Any time the bishop saw either Hank or me, he would smile and say, ‘Any more vigilante meetings?’”

Bishop Gossman called upon the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus to ask a Jesuit priest to consider becoming the founding pastor of a Roman Catholic church located in a small suburb of Raleigh called Leesville. This Jesuit, Father Jim English, made several trips to North Carolina to meet with Father Lewis and the bishop. He also toured North Carolina, driving from the Appalachian Mountains to the eastern coast of North Carolina before returning home. In February 1982, Father English flew back to Raleigh and met again with Father Lewis and told him, “Jerry, I’m your man!”

In April 1982, once land had been purchased for the new parish, Father English began preparing for the groundbreaking and first Mass to be held in the woods on Leesville Road. He gave careful thought to the name of the parish. It would be named for the patron saint of his own Jesuit order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, or for the patron saint of the Franciscan order of his good friend, Father Bob Hudak. He decided to let the saints choose. For the groundbreaking, Father English knew we needed a beautiful day since no rain date had been scheduled. He talked to St. Francis, the patron saint of the environment, saying, “St. Francis of Assisi, you know I’m searching for a name for our church, and I would like to announce the parish name during the outdoor Mass. So I’m putting you in charge of the weather, and if it rains, I will recommend the parish be named after St. Ignatius of Loyola.”

St. Francis, and probably St. Ignatius with him, came through for our parish. The Mass took place on a beautiful, sunny Carolina day. The influence of Holy Name of Jesus Province on our parish had begun. Parishioner Kathy Bishop notes, “It seems as if the parish was somehow meant to be Franciscan from the start.”

So began St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, a Jesuit parish in a very rural area northwest of Raleigh. This parish community was founded because the people of God took the initiative to petition the bishop. It was all about the laity coming forth. Keep that in mind. It is an important piece of our history as a faith community and in our becoming a Franciscan parish.

There are some traits in our parish today that have common roots with those early days. Father English, as the first pastor, built our new parish into a welcoming faith community with its doors open to all. We are still that today. Everyone was invited to join and everyone wanted to be a part of building this parish. There was excitement in the air.

Long-time parishioner, Pat Kowite, remembers one of Father English’s enthusiastic homilies before our church was built. “We were celebrating Sunday liturgy at Lynn Road Elementary School. Father English told us that we all needed to be a part of building a faith community, not just a church building. He told us that if we could only give a nickel to the building campaign, then give a nickel. He didn’t want anyone left out. We were all part of a new family. Because most of us had moved to Raleigh from other areas, it was a very welcoming message. We all missed having family nearby. We all wanted to be a part of building a faith community.” That enthusiasm for belonging to a faith community and sharing our gifts for the good of all is still very much a part of our parish.

 

The Franciscan Connection

How did our Jesuit parish become Franciscan? Lay empowerment, pure and simple. One of the primary values of Holy Name Province, empowering the laity, is a principle that had been established at St. Francis from the very beginning, as evidenced by the early parishioners who called that groundbreaking meeting with Bishop Gossman. Our becoming Franciscan came about in a similar way.

As the lone priest in our parish, Father English often asked his Franciscan friend, Father Bob Hudak, to preside at liturgies and serve our faith community at times when he had to be away. We welcomed Father Bob, and as we came to know him he became a part of our faith family.

With Father English’s departure in the winter of 1987, parishioners knew that a new pastor would soon be assigned. Their hope was that Father Bob might be chosen for the position. Father David McBriar (who was eventually assigned as our first Franciscan pastor) said, “Father English had invited Father Bob to participate in the life of the parish, and I think it was at that point that Bob began to touch the lives of the people through his great presence.”

The Pastoral Council, including Murray Gould and Chris Judy, investigated the possibility of having Father Bob assigned to St. Francis of Assisi. Again, our parishioners stepped forth and ventured into territory not usually entered by the laity. On their own initiative, Murray and Chris traveled to New York City to visit the administrative offices of Holy Name Province, whose Franciscan friars, including Father Bob, served the East Coast of the United States. They met with Father David and painted a wonderful picture of St. Francis of Assisi Church. Father David was intrigued by this group of parishioners who made such a bold move on their own, thereby illustrating exactly what Holy Name Province had envisioned in their call to empower the laity.

Father David says, “I was Personnel Director in the province and it was at that time in administration when we were looking to branch out a little bit.” Even before Murray and Chris arrived in New York, HNP administrators had been searching for new places in the South where they could minister. Catholics were so few in the South that the Franciscans referred to serving in the Southeast as the “southern missions.”

“One of the things that is important to know is the perception of the Franciscans toward the South,” explained Father Bill McConville, who was assigned to St. Francis as Associate Pastor in 2001. “The Franciscans came to the South to work in African-American missions. We had a whole string of men who came down to work in the African-American community after the Second World War. So, our heritage was African-American ministry. Then in the 1950’s or 60’s, the [Diocese of Raleigh] bishop asked the friars to leave, so we left.” That was part of the early history of the Franciscans in North Carolina.

“Mission territory, it’s funny,” Father David says with a chuckle. “Lo and behold, circumstances were such that a friar, the Vicar Provincial Matthew Conklin, and myself were given the task of seeing if there were any receptive bishops.” And so the quest began to establish a Franciscan parish in the South.

One of the places Father David and Father Matt visited was Our Lady of Grace in Greensboro. “Our Lady of Grace was a church that a non-Catholic built for his Catholic wife with the stipulation that nothing ever be changed in it,” Father David says. “Matt and I went down there to see this church. It was kind of a beautiful church, marble altar rail, kind of like a cathedral. But when we heard about this stipulation, we said this is not for us. We were not going to take marching orders from somebody who says what you can and what you can’t do. So we wrote off Our Lady of Grace.”

Father Bill says that Raleigh’s St. Francis of Assisi Parish was off the radar screen. It was not a part of the discussions for Franciscan ministries of the future. “It wasn’t until after Jim English left and the people [of St. Francis] went to New York to request the Franciscans that we all became perfectly aware of St. Francis,” says Father Bill. “But I never in a million years thought I’d be stationed here.”

Father Bill states that “Franciscans pastoring St. Francis of Assisi happened because of a friendship between a young friar [Bob Hudak] and the Jesuit [Jim English] who started the parish. That’s the reason we’re here. Well, the reason we’re here is because our provincial said we could be here. But ultimately, that’s how it became part of our map.”

Remembering his first visit to the little parish in the South, Father Mark Reamer recalls, “It wasn’t until Dan Kenna came here that I visited the parish for the first time. It was so isolated. The Franciscans didn’t have a parish in Durham then, so, to us, it was just a place outside of Washington, D.C. There was a parish in Virginia and the next closest one was in South Carolina.”

When they visited St. Francis, Father Matt and Father David had conversations with many parishioners, asking about the parish’s strengths and needs. “Most everybody was enthusiastic about the possibilities of the parish,” Father David says. “Jim English empowered the people to run the place. They took over. They did what had to be done. Judy Shiel, Mary Morch, and Marylyn Kaus, all employees, were the main movers and shakers.” Father David was impressed by what he saw, particularly with the high degree of involvement from the laity. However, Father David recalls, “I remember saying to Murray and Chris, ‘I’m not sure you want the friars. You want Bob Hudak and we can’t guarantee that Bob Hudak will come here.’”

Father David recalls, “I remember at the provincial meetings, both Matt Conklin and I said that St. Francis had real potential for the friars, for our style of ministry. I said that anybody who would be interested in working in the South should meet in our headquarters. About twenty friars came. Of course, in those days, we numbered a lot more than we do now. But at one of those meetings, one of the men who came was Dan Kenna. His family was in Charlotte and he was more interested in our taking a parish that was available in Charlotte.”

“Dan Kenna was serving in New Jersey at that time, so he was locked in. The person who wanted to come, who stepped right up to the plate, was Father Tim Gritman. He was a wonderful guy,” says Father David. After a time, however, Father Tim backed out. “Raleigh seemed so far away,” Father David explains. “Those kinds of issues continued to arise, and soon there were no volunteers. So I said, ‘Well, I think we ought to do it and I’m willing to go, and I asked Bob Hudak if he would come with me.”

Just as representatives of the Pastoral Council met with Holy Name Province, they also met with Bishop Gossman to ask that he consider having the parish served by the Franciscans of Holy Name Province. This wasn’t the usual path for selecting parish leadership. The laity taking steps to influence who became pastor was rare. It just wasn’t done. Like Father David, Bishop Gossman was impressed with these parishioners who seemed to take matters into their own hands.

In July 1987, Bishop Gossman invited the Franciscan Friars to minister at St. Francis of Assisi. In time, Father David, who had been enticed to leave his administrative role and return to parish ministry, became the first Franciscan pastor of the parish. He was here for a month before Bob Hudak arrived and was named associate pastor.

Father Bob reminisces about his early days serving at St. Francis, “I had the unique privilege of serving Father English, the first pastor, who was a Jesuit, and Father David McBriar, the first Franciscan pastor. St. Francis of Assisi is a welcoming parish where people who have been broken or have gone through difficult experiences can find healing.”

Father Bob was no stranger to difficult experiences. He said that some struggles in his life had led him to step out of the Franciscan Order so that he could deal with those issues. At the time of Father Bob’s first visit to Raleigh, he had not been practicing as a priest for two years. “I had been working on the staff of a United States Congressman in Philadelphia when my good friend Jim English called me down.” He credits St. Francis with helping him return to the life of being a priest.

Having visited often when Father English was pastor, Father Bob returned as associate pastor with pleasure. He was coming home. Father Bob was our introduction to the Franciscan charism that soon became a part of our lives.

This, then, is how our faith community became a Franciscan parish. It sprang forth from the laity. Holy Name Province and the Diocese of Raleigh recognized and appreciated our lay involvement and the gifts of ministry it could bring forth.

 

 A Franciscan Community is Born

When Father David arrived as our second pastor, the parish welcomed him eagerly. There was much pent-up desire to move forward. David was regularly approached by parishioners who had ideas and desires for our parish. He once replied to such a parishioner, telling him, “I am dancing as fast as I can.”

David’s dance steps led us in multiple new directions. He brought the goals of Holy Name Province to St. Francis and merged them with diocesan goals. He began a wealth of new ministries, all under the leadership of volunteers. The fabric of our parish soon encompassed welcoming all who came to our doors, reaching beyond our parish boundaries to serve the needy, and advancing both lay empowerment and a contemporary theology.

“The parish was founded by Jim English,” says Father Mark. “But when Father David came, he sort of re-founded it on the priorities that our Holy Name Province had at the time, which include partnership with the laity, reaching out to those who are marginalized, and fraternity in mission.” Those priorities were able to blossom here because St. Francis was a place that did not have a lot of baggage. It was always thriving and growing and adopting new venues through which to serve the community.

 

Franciscan Charism

A term often used by friars is Franciscan charism. It refers to the special spiritual gifts of the Franciscans. It is also what distinguishes our parish from others. What does that mean — Franciscan charism?

The mission statement of Holy Name Province reads in part:  “Rooted in the Catholic and Franciscan tradition, we are disciples of Christ who seek to bring the Gospel into the everyday experience of all people through Franciscan witness, popular preaching, teaching, and pastoral leadership. We foster Christian discipleship by collaborating with those whom we serve and by standing in solidarity with all people, especially the alienated, the immigrant, and the poor.”

Franciscan Siena College speaks of a Franciscan community as “one that embodies the vision and values of St. Francis of Assisi:  faith in a personal and provident God, reverence for all creation, affirmation of the unique worth of each person, delight in diversity, appreciation for beauty, service to the poor and marginalized, a community where members work together in friendship and respect, and commitment to building a world that is more just, peaceable, and humane.”

All great words, but how do they play out in parish life? What does it mean to be a Franciscan parish? St. Francis of Assisi Parish, like all parishes in the Diocese of Raleigh, is a Catholic faith community, but with a Franciscan charism guiding our people, our ministries, the way we are present within the Church, the way we are Church.

Looking back to our Franciscan beginning, Father David McBriar remembers, “Bob [Hudak] came and we had some great years together.” There were some fine things that developed during those years, including two ministries that were groundbreaking in the Diocese of Raleigh: Gay and Lesbian Ministry and Prison Ministry.

When Father David and Father Bob arrived at St. Francis, there was no Gay and Lesbian Ministry in our parish or in any other parish in the diocese. However, our priests often visited a small Episcopal church that held a gay and lesbian Mass once a month, and our own ministry was soon formed.

Some years later, a diocesan priest presided at one of our weekend liturgies when Father David and Father Bob were away. He said he was glad to be with us because the homily he wanted to share with us was one he could never share at his own parish. He told of a young man in his parish who was gay and struggled with his identity, the ostracism by his family and friends, the pain of being who he was. This visiting priest appreciated that he could share this with us. We were a faith community that would allow him to speak of this.

There it is. Franciscan charism.


Our Prison Ministry has helped us to see those incarcerated as our brothers and sisters. There have been several occasions when parishioners have complained about our praying for our parishioner, Jeff Meyer, who is on death row for a murder he committed. Why should we pray for a murderer? Why do we pray for him more often than we pray for our parishioners who have died? Father Mark Reamer once replied that we pray for Jeff because we are the ones who need those prayers. We are the ones who need to open our eyes to see Jeff as a fellow parishioner, a brother. We need to remember that our God forgives everyone no matter what they have done, and we should, too.

There it is. Franciscan charism.

Father Mark once remarked that the Franciscans always work within the Catholic Church to bring about change, just as Francis did. Francis cared for society’s marginalized — the poor and the lepers. In our early Franciscan days, our parish reached out to the marginalized of our age. Society may have considered them marginalized but, to us, they were brothers and sisters in Christ. Just as we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

There is more to Franciscan charism than Gay and Lesbian Ministry and Prison Ministry, but these examples illustrate with crystal clarity how our parish has embodied what it means to be Franciscan.

 

Contemporary Theology

When Father David arrived, he brought with him a theology that most in our parish had never experienced. Our adult Catholics typically stopped learning about their faith after high school or college and lived in the pre-Vatican II world of their youth. Many were not prepared for Father David’s contemporary theology. Recognizing this, he helped the parish move forward by offering the Outstanding Theologian Series soon after he arrived in Raleigh. Over a period of two years, he invited Franciscan professors who were widely-recognized theologians to give presentations at St. Francis. Each presenter offered four evening lectures, with questions and answers afterward, as well as morning discussion sessions. The theologians were all immensely popular and the church was filled with attendees.

Father Bill McConville was our first presenter, long before he knew that he would be returning years later as an associate pastor. His lectures included: 

  • Catholicism:  the contemporary challenge of belonging to the Catholic Church
  • Belonging to a servant church:  the challenge of reconciliation and liberation
  • Belonging to a worshipping church:  the challenge of shared ministry
  • Belonging to a teaching church:  the challenge of authority and dissent

Father Bill’s last session included clarification of the church’s teaching on papal infallibility, noting that it is confined to a few specific situations. Many of our parishioners were hearing this for the first time. Most believed that papal infallibility applied to most or all of the Pope’s teachings and actions. Father Bill opened our eyes to a lot of hidden gems of our faith. He gave us a taste of the seemingly radical ideas that brought our parishioners beyond their traditional upbringing. Our parish was entering a new world of contemporary theology.

Other presentations followed, by Father Regis Duffy, Father Kenneth Himes, Father Kenan Osborne and Father Dominic Monti. Some of these theologians returned in later years for further presentations. They challenged our parish to think of our Catholic faith in a new light. They shook our old school beliefs right out of us and won us over in the process. We could now own our faith.

Over the years, Fathers Dan, Mark and Steve have continued in these footsteps. When The Franciscan School opened, Father Dan extended our educational priorities, including contemporary Catholic theology, to our youth. Father Mark regularly provided theological works to the staff and Pastoral Council for reading and discussion, thereby improving their knowledge and understanding of our faith. Father Steve joined with staff members to present lectures and workshops on important issues, especially papal encyclicals and the care of creation.

 

Justice & Peace

In his article “Insights for a Value-Centered Life from the Franciscan Tradition,” Franciscan Brother Ed Coughlin wrote, “Francis chose to embrace, care for, and serve the ‘poor and the lepers,’ those who were ‘considered to be of little value and looked down upon’ by the lords and leaders of Assisi.” Our calling as a Franciscan parish is to reach out to those in need, to serve as Jesus served. This is one of the basic tenets the Franciscan friars have instilled in our parishioners.

Our justice and peace ministries began early in the life of the parish with a Social Concerns Committee, formed by Father David soon after his arrival and led by parishioners who had a passion for caring for others.

Those early beginnings helped prepare our young parish for what has continued to be a strong call to justice and peace. With the Franciscans, justice and peace ministries found new and fertile ground. Parishioners came with their thoughts and inspirations. Many of these germs of ideas blossomed into active ministries. Some of those ministries have grown into independent, non-profit organizations serving the needs of our community and beyond.

Duke Children’s Hospital Ministry, the first of its kind in our diocese, was begun by parishioner Mary DeLaRosa to serve children who were HIV positive. At that time, there was no known cure or treatment for AIDS and victims faced extreme ostracism. People were afraid to be around these young patients. This fledgling ministry eventually grew to serve all terminally ill children at Duke, providing visits and seasonal parties and bringing a bit of joy to the children and their families.

Other ministries reached out with pastoral care to our own parishioners and to those in the community. We continually asked what needed to be done and how we could do it. We promoted care for life from conception through natural death with ministries such as Brown Bag Ministry, Gabriel Project, Stephen Ministry, Homework Helpers, Eucharistic Ministers to the Homebound, and Alzheimer’s Caregiver’s Support. Our faith community was — and still is — constantly evolving.

Just as important as the ministries that were being formed was the fact that parishioners’ ideas were heard and respected. Father David recalls, “It was during those years that we started Passage Home, which was our first powerful outside ministry. We were always ecumenically minded, starting with our first faith formation classes in Leesville Road Baptist Church and Creedmoor Baptist.” With the vision of parishioner Jeanne Tedrow, St. Francis created Passage Home to address the needs of the poor in Raleigh. The ministry began with a conversation Jeanne had with Father David at his first St. Francis Parish Picnic. Parishioner Paul Williams joined the talks and Passage Home was born.

The ministry initially consisted of a group of parishioners who renovated houses for the underprivileged. After a few months, members of Lincoln Park Holiness Church, an African-American Pentecostal church in Raleigh’s inner city, strolled over to volunteer their help in renovating a house near their church. They asked what was being done and invited Jeanne to meet with their pastor, Bishop Ratcliff. Many talks and lunches later, the two churches joined together in a first-of-its-kind ecumenical program.

Passage Home is now a highly successful initiative that addresses the root causes of poverty. The award-winning program is an independent, faith-based, interracial community development corporation run by the laity. Using a community economic development strategy, Passage Home has assisted hundreds of families in transition, developing affordable housing opportunities and eventually expanding to home ownership and small business development. Through life-skills education, spiritual companionship and emotional support, Passage Home has strengthened the lives of those they touch. Jeanne became the executive director of Passage Home, leading the effort to “develop programs and services for families and neighborhoods that lift them out of poverty.” By partnering with other faith communities, they have accomplished far more than they ever could have done alone.

Soon after the Franciscans joined our parish, another outreach ministry was created:  the Carolina Interfaith Taskforce for Central America (CITCA), begun by parishioner Gail Phares. Gail, too, called on Father David to share her idea for our parish. Gail had ministered in El Salvador many years earlier when her former housemate, Maryknoll Sister Maura Clarke, and three other U.S. churchwomen were raped and murdered by a Salvadoran death squad. Three of the five soldiers eventually implicated in those murders were graduates of the then U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, GA. Gail said the violence she witnessed radically changed her life and she has worked ever since to establish peace and human rights in Central America. Today, Gail’s work continues at St. Francis through Witness for Peace, the Sister Parish Organization, and Migrant Ministry.

It was through Gail’s witness that St. Francis joined the Sister Parish Organization. For over 25 years, we have been in relationship with a small, rural village in Guatemala called Las Margaritas – exchanging visits and deepening our bonds of shared life and friendship. Las Margaritas is not just a recipient of our charity.

Both their parish and ours have been enriched by sharing faith together. Father David joined our first delegation to Las Margaritas. That delegation has been followed by many more, with friars and parishioners joining together to foster peace and justice. Our parish now arranges mission trips to Las Margaritas and other locations through Holy Name Province Missionary Union.

When the Franciscans of Holy Name Province first arrived at St. Francis of Assisi, there was no Migrant Ministry. The term dreamerhad not entered our lexicon, but human rights abuses were increasing for migrant populations. Today, our Migrant Ministry addresses the needs of migrants and resident Latinos by providing for their spiritual and temporal needs and by advocating for social change.

Another parishioner, Deb Royals-Mizerk, stepped forth with a different avenue to address social justice. Working with Father Dan Kenna, Deb created The Justice Theater Project to artistically address injustice. Justice Theater is now an independent, non-profit organization that is both interracial and interfaith. Thanks to support from Holy Name Province and St. Francis of Assisi, it regularly receives accolades for its artistic prowess and is a force for justice advocacy in our area.

In later years, Father Steve Patti, our fourth Franciscan pastor, worked with Trevor Thompson, our Director of Justice and Peace, to bring a new dimension to our outreach. Every year, in celebration of the October 4th Feast of St. Francis, all parish staff members join together for worship, camaraderie and service. After gathering for prayer, they spread out over our city and nearby communities for a day of serving the least among us. Some may clean the waterways at a local park. Others make bag lunches for a senior housing community, work at Habitat for Humanity, or dig sweet potatoes on a farm that serves the poor. A variety of service options ensures that all staff members can offer their own gifts in their own way. The goal is to join together as people of God to serve God’s people.

As we know, our Gay & Lesbian Ministry (now LGBT) and our Prison Ministry were created under Father David. At their inception, these were radical new avenues of ministry. Many years later, we find that their impact has grown and blossomed.

Through our LGBT Ministry, parishioners who felt they had no place in our faith are now active members of our faith community. “Always God’s Children” is a program developed when Father Mark was pastor. It provides a confidential setting in which LGBT persons and their parents, families and friends support one another by sharing their concerns and experiences in a confidential, Catholic setting. The goal is to help people develop acceptance of themselves, free themselves from fear, foster loving families, and establish a fulfilling relationship with the Church. The program is named after the American Bishops’ 1998 pastoral letter “Always God’s Childrenand reflects our membership in two families, the family into which we were born and the family into which we were baptized.

One parishioner, Codi, tells beautifully of how she felt being welcomed at St. Francis of Assisi:

I walked into the doors of St. Francis not knowing what to expect. Growing up Catholic as part of the LGBT community was not rainbows and butterflies for me. I ventured away from the church for a very long time. Upon returning to Christianity, nowhere ever felt “at home.” Immediately upon entering St. Francis, I felt as though I found a missing part of myself and a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

St. Francis is much more than a church. It is a home. A community. A safe place. It is a place to breathe freely when the rest of the world seems a little too heavy. It is open arms from every parishioner and a warm hug whether you need it or not. St. Francis, as a whole, is the definition of family.

Codi’s words tell the story of people who are now free to worship our God because of the Franciscan hospitality that has been created in our faith community.

The same profound impact can be seen in Prison Ministry. Through the friars’ ministry, prisoners on death row now know that they, too, have a home in our faith. In shared worship, they can speak of their faith freely. In Bible Study, they hear that they can be forgiven by an all-merciful God.

During Father Dan Kenna’s time as pastor, a large number of prisoners on death row joined our Catholic faith. St. Francis parishioner and prisoner Jeff Meyer, the only confirmed Catholic on death row, was the sponsor for each of them. Bishop Gossman presided at their sacramental initiation. It was the first time he had visited death row. In a photo taken at the time, the bishop in his red robe closely resembled the prisoners in their orange jumpsuits. That image spoke volumes about our faith.

St. Francis offers many more ministries that reach out to our brothers and sisters. Every parishioner can find a ministry that uses his or her gifts in a special way. Our call is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Most Catholic churches hear that call and respond. At St. Francis, it is the extent of our outreach — the sheer number of ways that we reach out — that reflects our Franciscan roots.

 

Lay Empowerment

Franciscan charism is the term that describes the particular way the friars live the gospel message, but there is another term that uniquely falls within their mission:  “Partners in Ministry.” This term refers to the collaboration of the laity and the friars in ministry.

Although the staff at St. Francis of Assisi often speak of being partners in ministry, the term may not be familiar to many of our parishioners. Still, the collaboration of laity and friars is very evident at St. Francis of Assisi. Most of our ministries are led by the laity. Through the years, it has been the laity coming forth that has forged the way to new ministries and new ways to live as Christ taught. Lay involvement is an integral part of who we are. It can be seen in the formation of our parish and in Holy Name Province’s decision to minister here. However, it is through the friars’ seeking our collaboration that the fire of the Holy Spirit has come to fruition among the laity here.

Father David once described lay empowerment as the Holy Spirit blowing open the doors of the Church and letting in the fresh air of renewal. Though many Catholics see a reduction in priestly vocations as a negative, Father David saw it as an invitation to empower the laity as the future of the Catholic Church.

Many parishioners never question whether they should share their time and talent at St. Francis of Assisi. Their only question is how they can best serve. What are the gifts they bring forth for the people of God?

In one of his homilies, Father David told of a church that caught fire during a Sunday morning liturgy. The organist kept playing music as the parishioners fled. It was his gift of music that calmed them and allowed everyone to leave without pandemonium. The music of that lay minister was his gift to the parish. In Father David’s typical fashion, he asked, “What for you; what for me?” What are the gifts you have? What are the gifts I have?

This call to use our gifts has been a common sentiment throughout the years at St. Francis. Through the gospel, the friars have called us forth and welcomed our response.

Beginning with Father David and continuing with Fathers Dan and Mark, our parish saw an increase in lay employees. We now have a large, professional staff to support our volunteer ministers. Many of our staff members are parishioners who left sometimes high-paying careers to work at St. Francis. Some have enhanced their skills with advanced training and degrees in theology and other fields. Empowered by our Franciscan friars, they and others have brought a professionalism to our parish that improves all we do.

Our parish broke new ground in the Diocese of Raleigh when it employed the first lay Business Administrator, Julio De La Rosa, and the first Volunteer Coordinator, Mary Morch. Julio joined the staff at St. Francis after retiring as a manager at IBM. Not only had Julio been involved as a volunteer with many of our ministries, but he had developed a rich spiritual life as a Benedictine Oblate. His spirituality and his business acumen made him a perfect fit for our parish and consequently allowed the pastor more time for the pastoral care of our parishioners. Julio brought sound business practices to St. Francis, resulting in strong and effective financial policies that provided a model other parishes throughout the Diocese of Raleigh would soon adopt.

Mary Morch began her role at St. Francis as the first youth minister for our high school teens. She left that role after four years, but she found a new way to serve our growing faith community. Many parishioners were eager to become involved with our ministries, but they had no idea how they could best answer that call. Mary helped them find ministries that best used their talents. She also taught staff members how to turn over some of their many duties to these new volunteers. Father David encouraged Mary to cultivate this role and Father Dan Kenna, as the next pastor, officially named Mary as the first Coordinator of Ministry Development in the Diocese of Raleigh. Again, other parishes jumped on board and created similar positions.

Other members of the laity soon stepped forward to serve in key positions. Under Father Dan’s leadership, Paul Amrhein, our first Director of Justice and Peace, brought many new ministries to our outreach efforts. For the first time, we moved beyond direct assistance to those in need and added formal programs for education and advocacy in the peace and justice arena.

St. Francis Parish later created other lay positions in the areas of stewardship, human resources, safe environment (for child safety), and more. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has called us to share our gifts of time, talent and treasure — to give back a portion of the gifts God has given to us. Through the friars’ sharing their role with the laity, the path has been made clear.

As Father David would say — Bravo!

 

Joining with Other Faith Traditions

One of Bishop Gossman’s strengths was his passion for ecumenism, the joining together of Christian denominations in ministry and worship. In our area of the country, where there are few Catholics, many Protestants initially considered our rapidly growing numbers a threat to their way of life. Bishop Gossman wanted to bring understanding and unity. Rather than looking at the differences between Protestants and Catholics, he preferred to highlight the strengths of each denomination. What do we each “bring to the table”? He worked to build bridges and find common ground.

One way he fostered that common ground was by creating an Ecumenical Council, of which Father David became the chair. Father David, who had already begun to work with other Christian denominations, was a good choice for this role. Soon, our parish found ourselves sharing worship services several times a year with our brothers and sisters of other faith traditions and working side by side with them in ministry.

Our shared worship began with Passage Home. Early parishioners recall Pentecostal Bishop Ratcliff’s community joining ours several times a year for worship. The floors shook as the music and the people of God joined together in praise.

Passage Home was only the beginning. Soon we were having annual ecumenical services at Thanksgiving that joined Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations from all over Raleigh. Behind the scenes, there were gatherings of people from many different faith traditions, working together to find common ground in serving the needs of our area. Father David and the friars after him formed relationships with other church leaders and worked with them to bridge the differences in our beliefs, laying the groundwork for very important work we never envisioned.

Our second Franciscan pastor, Father Dan Kenna, served at the time our country witnessed the 9/11 attacks. Our parishioners, like the rest of the country, were frightened and didn’t know what would come next. We gathered together for prayer and reached out to those whose relatives were affected by the terrorist strikes. But at St. Francis, we also sought to educate our parishioners about the beliefs of Islam.

As it happened, Father Bill McConville had joined us as an associate pastor on September 10, 2001, one day before the terrorist attacks. Immediately afterward, he offered lectures on the three great faiths under one God — Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Through Father Bill’s calming presentations, parishioners came to view Islam as a religion that worships the same God we do, a faith that teaches peace, not suicide attacks.

Following Father Bill’s lectures, we created gatherings called Three Faiths, One God. Members of the three faith traditions came together for presentations and small group discussions to learn about each other. Our ecumenical movements in prior times had prepared us for that moment. It was through Father Bill’s lectures and our Three Faiths, One God series that we could again respect our Islamic brothers and sisters rather than fear them. We could love our neighbors again.

 

Growing in Faith Together

As our parish grew … and grew … and grew, we found ourselves bursting at the seams. When the parish began, there were only two buildings. The church, our liturgical worship space, was designed as a multi-purpose space. With its movable chairs, it served not only as the location for Mass, but also as the hub for many social gatherings, formation programs, and more.

The other building had three distinct areas. The first was the administrative office of the parish. Adjoining the office was a meeting room for advisory councils, staff, and volunteers. The last space in the building was the friary, where the priests lived.

Between the two original buildings was a courtyard with benches and a fountain, which became our gathering space and a venue for many receptions and social functions. In inclement weather, the surrounding covered walkways provided shelter.

Although these buildings were sufficient for the first years of our parish life, it soon became evident that we needed more space. The number of families in our parish was increasing at a very fast pace and we outgrew our buildings shortly after they were built. All of our children’s faith formation programs were held in rented space in nearby Baptist churches. Ministry meetings were held in parishioners’ homes. The number of staff members was limited by the cramped quarters.

With Father David as pastor, we began the first capital campaign to expand our facilities. The friary was moved to its current location and the meeting room was demolished, creating a place for our current Clare Hall. With this additional space, our formation programs and ministry meetings could move to our parish grounds for the first time. We had room to breathe and grow.

While Clare Hall was being built, a new ministry was being created that would change our parish forever. Meetings were held to investigate the possibility of having a preschool program at St. Francis of Assisi. One parishioner, Sharon Ardolino, led the way in planning a formal program for children ages three and four. Clare Hall would provide the space for a faith-based education for our youngest parishioners. The Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC) opened in September 1991. Parishioner Nancy Bourke, formerly a preschool teacher at St. Raphael Parish and a catechist at St. Francis, was chosen as the first director. Nancy brought her contagious enthusiasm, her love of children and her Southern charm to the ECLC. Now renamed St. Francis of Assisi Preschool, it has expanded considerably in programs and enrollment since its opening.

Although Clare Hall was originally intended as a space for faith formation programs for all age groups, it was soon filled with meetings and gatherings of all kinds. There was space for new ministries, and they flourished. Within a year of its completion, Clare Hall was booked to capacity every evening. In the movie Field of Dreams, there is a famous line, “If you build it, they will come.” At St. Francis, they did.

New parishioners kept coming and our parish continued to grow quickly. We had plenty of space for meetings and programs, but not for worship. Every Mass on every weekend was filled to capacity, with overflow crowds outside in the courtyard. Outdoor speakers were added so parishioners could hear the liturgy, even if they couldn’t see it. It was time for our next expansion.

With Father David still pastor and Father Dan associate pastor, St. Francis undertook the construction of our current church and renovation of the original one. During Father Dan’s time as pastor, the new church was completed and dedicated in June 1996, increasing the seating capacity in our worship space from 450 to 1250. The parishioners who had participated in liturgies in the courtyard, sometimes in rain or snow, were very appreciative.

The original church was divided into meeting rooms and re-named Anthony Hall. With the renovation, floor to ceiling windows were added along the side walls to brighten the spaces with natural light. The dark stain of the wood was replaced with softer grey tones and carpeting was added. With the extensive renovation, it is hard now to picture what that original church looked like.

Following Father David’s lead in bringing contemporary theology to St. Francis of Assisi, the new church would be designed to demonstrate that sacredness is not attached to holy things, but to holy action. The space would beg for full, lively, conscious participation in the action of the Eucharist. Parishioners would come together at a common table to receive Christ, to see Christ in others and to become Christ for others. The design of the church incorporates a natural simplicity, with windows and natural light bringing in the outside environment. With the clean, light-colored walls, the focus is not on holy things, but on the faces of the holy people of God.

The contemporary theology of the Franciscans manifests itself once again in the inclusion of the St. Francis of Assisi Columbarium and Memorial Garden. In 1963, during Vatican II, the Catholic Church lifted its ban on cremation. Father David’s familiarity with European customs and his work with other Christian denominations led him to explore the possibility of a columbarium, a structure to hold the cremated remains of our deceased loved ones. With Bishop Gossman’s permission, St. Francis of Assisi became one of the first Catholic churches in the United States to offer a columbarium. The believer, when coming to church, figuratively comes from death to life, comes through the Memorial Garden to the waters of Baptism and the table of the Eucharist.

With the completion of the church and Memorial Garden, we thought the days of construction were over. That was before the Meitler Report, a diocesan report that led to the most significant change to our ministries we had yet experienced.

With rapid growth in the Research Triangle Park came a parallel growth in most parishes. Many Catholics in our area came from places where Catholic education was well-established. At that time, there were only two Catholic elementary schools in Raleigh, at Sacred Heart Cathedral and at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. Bishop Gossman regularly heard from parents wanting Catholic schools for their children. Eventually, the Diocese of Raleigh hired the Meitler consultation group to study the need for and feasibility of expanding Catholic education in the area. Studying population growth trends and parish census data, Meitler concluded that St. Francis of Assisi was the primary location where a new Catholic school would be needed and would be most successful. So began another phase of capital campaigns and construction, with Father Dan leading the way.

The Franciscan School (TFS) was dedicated on a sunny summer day in 2000, with hundreds of parishioners processing to the four new buildings that would serve as a center of Catholic education and formation for all of our children, both those in our school and those enrolled elsewhere.

With Father Mark as pastor, the growth of our facilities continued with expansion of St. Francis of Assisi Preschool and construction of three new buildings:  Our Lady of the Angels Chapel, The Assisi Community Center and The Siena Center for Lifelong Learning. In purchasing property for the new buildings, we acquired two long-standing houses on Leesville Road. One has been used continuously for outreach to the community, rented to the City of Raleigh as a residential facility for adult women with disabilities. The other is used for parish ministries and offices. Its front yard is home to our Community Garden, which raises fresh produce for the underprivileged in Raleigh.

At this point, we felt we had completed our expansion. We finally had room for our ministries, our schools, our worship and our programs. That’s when we were presented with a unique opportunity. Bethany Hills Baptist Church, located on the last remaining property adjacent to ours, asked if we would be interested in purchasing their property and buildings. Due to declining membership, Bethany Hills could no longer afford their expenses and needed to sell their property. Even though we had no well-articulated need for more buildings or property, the chance to acquire an adjoining parcel of land would not be presented to us again. It was a one-time opportunity. There were many proposals on how the buildings could be used. The price for the property was within reason. Since we felt it would be a wise purchase, we moved forward with the acquisition. After doing so, however, we found that maintaining and renovating the buildings would strain our finances more than we thought prudent.

Then another opportunity knocked at our door. Our Lady of La Vang was a Vietnamese Catholic parish in Raleigh that had no church. The parishioners were refugees who emigrated to the United States after the Vietnam War. Since they had assisted our armed forces during the war, remaining in their homeland would put them in danger. They made their new home in Raleigh, where they established a parish but had no place of their own to worship in their native tongue. For many years, they celebrated liturgies in other Catholic churches. The Diocese of Raleigh felt that the Bethany Hills Baptist Church property might fit their needs.

The parishioners of Our Lady of La Vang were delighted to purchase the property from us. They told us it had been 40 years since they left Vietnam. With parallels to the Israelites, they had been wandering in a figurative desert and they had now found their promised land. We welcomed them as our neighbors and shared worship with them. Every fall they join us for Francis Fest, sharing with us their dragon dance celebrations and their foods. They are home now. There could not be a better use for the property we purchased.

Now, with Father Steve Patti as pastor, we have moved to another phase of parish life. Our need for expansion has been met. The rapid growth in our parish has leveled off. Our ministries continue to evolve as the needs of our people and those in our community evolve. This is as it should be.

Our Franciscan parish is a faith community that welcomes everyone. Our door is open to all. On the cornerstone of the sanctuary is a quotation from Isaiah:  “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people. This spirit of acceptance and hospitality has been a magnet that has attracted thousands to our parish. Here they are at home. Our buildings are more than buildings. They are places where ministry happens, where we hear God’s call and live as Christ for others. This is holy space.

 

Leading the Way:  Gifts of Our Pastors

Each of our four Franciscan pastors has brought his own perspective to our parish. Each has brought his own gifts. Each has left an indelible mark on our faith community.

Our first Franciscan pastor, Father David McBriar, brought an explosion of new justice and peace ministries, but that was not his only gift. He gifted us with a contemporary theology that we had not previously experienced, beginning with his Outstanding Theologian Series. He placed a strong emphasis on lay empowerment and ecumenism. As with his predecessor, Father David welcomed everyone with open arms. Our family grew, and he was here for us every step of the way. It was Father David who established St. Francis of Assisi as a Franciscan community. It is now hard to imagine who we would be as a parish without his influence.

Father David was followed by Father Dan Kenna, our second Franciscan pastor. It was during Father Dan’s years that a diocesan study found an overwhelming desire and need for increased Catholic education in our area. The Franciscan School was born and Father Dan was there to open the doors to our children. The school may have been the most prominent of Father Dan’s accomplishments, but it was not the only one. The construction of our current church was begun while he was associate pastor and it was completed shortly after he became pastor. He was instrumental in its design.

Father Dan had a special affinity for the youth in our community, who considered him our “cool” pastor. He didn’t wait for youth to come to him; he went to them. He served as chaplain for the athletic teams at North Carolina State University. At basketball half-times in the locker room, the coach played “bad cop” and Father Dan played “good cop.” It was not uncommon to see basketball and football players in our parish halls. And it was not uncommon to see Father Dan strolling around the parish campus in easy conversation with one of our young parishioners. He was often present in the halls of our Faith Formation sessions, in our schools, and at Cardinal Gibbons High School.

While Father David brought a rich, contemporary theology to our parish, Father Dan took it a step further by bringing inclusive language to everything we did. He told staff members that when he arrived at St. Francis, he found it jarring to hear the language we used. We thought we were already being inclusive but Dan brought us prayers and readings in more contemporary translations. “All men” became “all of us” or “all God’s children.” Our eyes were opened.

During Father Dan’s tenure as pastor, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 rocked the entire world and eventually affected our parish in an unexpected way. Father Mark, then an associate pastor, had been serving for some time in the Naval Reserves. During the Iraq war he was called to Kuwait, where he spent one year serving as a chaplain to our military personnel in the Middle East. While Father Dan was chaplain to young men on athletic teams, Father Mark was chaplain to young men fighting a war. The times had changed.

Shortly after returning from the war, Father Mark became our next pastor. One blessing that was sometimes a problem at St. Francis was our continuous growth. Staff members often joked about how to deal with such success. An event planned for 50 participants might have 100 registrations, far too many for the reserved room. Problems like these became the norm. Father Mark led us through those years of growth, overseeing the design and construction of our newest facilities and once again giving our ministries room to branch out and breathe.

Father Mark worked to bring a sense of community to our every-growing parish. He completed the expansion of our facilities, strengthened our Safe Environment program for child protection, brought our annual Francis Fest back to our parish grounds, and led our parish through the 2008 economic downturn.

During those challenging economic times, there were many parishioners who lost their jobs and experienced hardships. Many moved elsewhere for new jobs. Some families in our schools could no longer pay tuition. In our Faith Formation programs, many of our youth couldn’t afford retreat fees. Father Mark turned no one away. They needed us then more than ever. It was not until a few years later that the financial burdens reached a crest for our parish. Father Mark had meetings with each ministry to see how we could tighten our belts and make our way through those days together.

Together. That was an important word for Father Mark. He worked endlessly to bring a sense of community and collaboration to our parish family. He felt that it was only through working together that we could reach beyond our doors to serve others.

After Father Mark’s term as pastor, the reins of our parish were turned over to Father Steve Patti. Having served as an associate pastor and temporarily as acting pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, Father Steve knew the North Carolina landscape, figuratively and literally.

As Father Mark left, he told Father Steve that his job was to “take the parish to the next level.” In time, Father Steve found that our days of building and growth had receded. We were settling into our days of aging buildings and mortgage payments, which called for a new method of operation. Our Finance Council put steps in place to move us safely into the future. They created a new council position for building maintenance, resulting in repairs and renovations of our buildings and equipment, and crafted a plan for addressing future needs before they become critical. All improvements have been undertaken with an eye toward caring for our environment.

One of Father Steve’s goals is to re-engage our parishioners in the daily life of our faith community. Clearly many people here are involved in many things in very good ways, as evidenced by our hundreds of ministries and volunteers. Still, Father Steve believes there is room for more actively inviting our people to share in the mission of the parish and to live out the gospel in their lives by virtue of their being baptized. What he has sought to do is “have us step back a bit, reflect more deeply on who we are and what we’re called to.”

As staff member Deb Mizerk asks, “How are we called to live in this house together?”

Using a Lilly Endowment grant, lay staff members have been participating in “Communities of Calling,” an initiative based out of Collegeville, Minnesota. Through this initiative, our staff will guide our parish to reflect on the meaning of “calling,” to discover and deepen our sense of God’s calling in our lives. We are inviting parishioners to imagine living out the gospel not necessarily as something dramatic, but as something found in the ordinary stuff of life. We are asking people to be aware of and to speak out on issues of justice in the community and the world. Father Steve tells us, “That, I believe, is the future. With declining numbers of priests, the vision of the Second Vatican Council of an empowered and engaged laity is critically important for the Church going forward.”

Now that Father Steve’s time with us is being cut short, his plans may not all be realized. Some of his good work has already been done and will not be lost. Our staff members’ ongoing work with “Communities of Calling” will help our parishioners to recognize their calling and to use their gifts for the good of all.

When Father Steve was assigned pastor of St. Francis, his experience was unlike that of our former pastors. Father Jim English and Father David led a new parish that was small and relatively easy to manage. Fathers Dan and Mark both began here as associate pastors and were very familiar with our parish by the time they became pastors. Father Steve had neither of these advantages, and had to quickly learn who we are and how to run our parish. Therefore, another initiative important to Father Steve has been improving the introduction and acclimation of new pastors to our large, active parish. Little did he know that by doing so he would be easing the way for a diocesan pastor, one who did not have the opportunity to learn about our parish from fellow friars.

 

So Here We Are

From 2017 to 2019, Holy Name Province undertook an exhaustive study of how its Franciscan friars serve the people of God in all of their ministry locations. With an ever-decreasing number of friars, they knew they would not be able to maintain all of their commitments. They simply did not have enough friars for all of their locations.

When Holy Name Province announced in January 2020 that the friars would be leaving St. Francis of Assisi Raleigh, we were in collective shock. We wept. We reminisced. We wanted to rebel. We wanted to be a part of deciding who would become our new pastor. After all, that has been our history. All of these emotions engulfed us.

We were scarcely beginning to plan our farewells when a tidal wave struck with full force. Coronavirus hit us just as it did the rest of the nation and the world. We wanted to soak up every minute we had remaining with our friars. We were told to stay home. We wanted to celebrate all the friars have done for us. We were told not to gather. We wanted to invite all the friars who have served at St. Francis to help us celebrate. We were told not to travel. We wanted hugs, good-byes, fun and food. We wanted to do things BIG. That’s what we do at St. Francis. We were told that doing so at this time could endanger lives.

For those of us who are part of The Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, this is a new twist to the journey. We will find other ways to extend our gratitude and blessings to the friars of Holy Name Province. Not perfect ways, but good ways. And holy.

We now look to our present day church at St. Francis of Assisi. Our pastors and our laity have strived to build the Kingdom of God, each in his or her own way. Much has been accomplished. There is more to do. With the announcement of the departure of the friars, this year promised to be one of turmoil, of transition. However, it has become more than we ever could have imagined. The coronavirus hit us like a tsunami, but churning below the surface were two earthquakes waiting to shift our world. The first is a financial crisis that may be worse than that of 2008. The second is the Black Lives Matter movement, which gained momentum following the death of George Floyd. This movement is bringing systemic racism to the forefront of our national conscience. Both “earthquakes” have added to the anxiety in our country and in our parish. However, along with that anxiety comes hope for significant change, for broader racial equality, for justice and peace.

Julio DeLaRosa, former employee and current member of the Pastoral and Finance Councils, notes, “This is an extremely challenging time for our parish due to the pandemic and recession and transition. In addition, the Black Lives Matter movement, an important sign of the times, presents new challenges and opportunities for our parish to engage in social justice advocacy and action.”

Truer words could not be spoken. It is a challenging time, but St. Francis will come through this. All of this. We are called to step forward. We are forever inspired by our patron, Francis of Assisi. Perhaps our best way to thank the friars of Holy Name Province is to honor the legacy they have built in our faith community. Their Franciscan charism is alive in us. Our challenge now lies in responding to those in financial distress, to those who find it hard to cope with current anxieties, to those who long for justice.

We will find new roads to travel, this time without the Franciscan friars who have shaped us. They, too, will discover new paths as they make their own transitions. St. Francis of Assisi Parish has been home to them just as it has been to us. We, as they, are people of God looking for new ways to serve the people of God.

When our patron, Francis, left his earthly life, he told his followers, “I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours to do.”

Indeed.

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