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Leading the Way

All faith communities, especially those that are vibrant, are true ones when the members take the lead in forming its mission in light of their priestly, prophetic, and royal offices received in baptism and in conformity to the Gospel. That has always been true of the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi and continues today. As always, any great community needs direction, guidance, and steady leadership. Our community is blessed to have a strong commitment to the Franciscan charism and has the robust counsel of our clergy to lead the community. There was a change in the clergy leading the community in 2020 and, as we come out of the pandemic and especially welcome those who have joined us since this change, we wanted to briefly present to you, in a less formal or traditional way, the priests who serve us here at St. Francis. Father Michael, Father Alex, and Father Jim all have roles at St. Francis, and we are fortunate to have priests from such diverse backgrounds. So, let’s get to know our priests!

Monsignor Michael Clay (a.k.a., Fr. Michael), our pastor, was born in Philadelphia but grew up in New Bern, NC from a young age; he considers New Bern his hometown and his mother still lives there. When asked how he came to know the priesthood was his calling, Fr. Michael mentioned, “Like many boys of my generation, the idea of being a priest occurred to me when I was a young child. It wasn’t until college that I gave it serious thought and only in my senior year did I take initial steps to explore the possibility of studying for the priesthood. I listened to the call because I had a sense it came from God and not me and needed to check it out to see if the invitation was authentic.” As the leader of the parish, his role focuses on growing our community in the faith with the staff and members of the parish, and providing an engaging and loving faith community, especially for young adults. As Michael says, his focus is on “building a stronger faith community with more and more people in love with the Lord.” He also mentioned that he is “considered the father of the rural R.C.I.A. in the United States in light of [his] pioneering work in this field as a doctoral student. The books [he’s] written and the training programs he developed and have [helped] parishes in small towns and rural communities implement the R.C.I.A..” A true expert in faith formation of all ages, we are fortunate to have Father Michael as our pastor!

As parochial vicar, Father John-Alexander González likes to be called Father Alex. He is the newest priest to join us at St. Francis coming into his role here this past June. Alex is from Tuluá, Colombia and still has family there. Alex shares that he is a soccer fanatic and follows some of the international leagues. He enjoys attending games and said he has “attended some important games and I really have a wonderful time.” However, Alex admits he has come to like the “other football” and assures us that he follows two teams in the NFL and two in the NCAA. He didn’t share which teams he supports and wants people to guess who he would support…you’ll have to get to know Alex more to find out, and here’s the perfect opportunity for those who love football or soccer! Father Alex is looking forward to working with young couples in his ministry here and connecting families with their faith.

Father Jim, our “Friar in Residence,” has been a fixture at St. Francis since 2017. Everyone in the church, the preschool, and The Franciscan School knows Father Jim by his gregarious nature and brown friar habit. Raised in Niagara Falls, NY, Jim says, “I had an idea early on in my life that perhaps becoming a priest was an option, but I quickly suppressed it. When I was confirmed in 10th grade the idea came back to me, but I suppressed it even further! Wanting to go into international relations and diplomatic service, I went to The Catholic University of America, and it was there that I began to seriously consider the possibility. I did not want to act on it, though, and spent many years working in Parliament in Great Britain and as a clerk in a law firm here in the US. But there was always something unsettled in me with these choices.” Eventually, it seems, God (and all of us) won! Father Jim spends time supporting the schools and has even been known to put his well-known culinary talents “on the block” as a fundraising event. You may even be fortunate enough to have him to cook for you!

Especially in our parish, as we continue to embrace our Franciscan traditions, it is important for the priests to not only be recognized as leaders and mentors, but embraced as fellow Catholics growing in their faith with all of us.

Our priests, as they welcome us, are an integral part of the community, beyond leadership, and want to connect to those they serve at St. Francis. When asked how the community can get to know them better as individuals on a personal level, all embraced the connection after Mass greeting people as they exit. However, as Fr. Michael points out, “I always enjoy speaking with people after Mass although that is usually brief because there are so many people to greet.” All of our priests expressed their enjoyment of a lively discussion over a meal as one of the best ways to engage parishioners at a more personal and relaxed level and for them to get to know those they serve.

We are so fortunate to be able to participate in the faith-filled community here at St. Francis. Join your fellow parishioners in spending some time getting more familiar with these engaging and faithful men, not only as leaders, but as fellow Catholics and friends in our pursuit of God’s grand plan for us and the world…they are truly a joy to know!

Author: Mike Watson