19 June 2010

Pennsylvania Province Chapter

The young and the youngerFrom June 14 to June 18, 2010, I presided at the Ordinary Chapter of the Pennsylvania Province. There was a wonderful, fraternal spirit among the 94 official delegates and the numerous guest-friars who attended the Chapter. The Province chose to reflect during the Chapter on the four core values of the Capuchin life mentioned in the General Minister's fourth circular letter, Let Us Fan the Flame of Our Charism, namely, fraternity in minority, contemplation, closeness to the poor and continuing renewal. In preparation for the Chapter, the friars of the Province met in regional assemblies during the past twelve months to discuss their experiences of these values and how they wanted to live them more deeply in the future. At the Chapter itself, the friars met in small groups to discuss the topics further and to formulate suggestions for the new definitory. The groups came up with many practical, yet challenging ideas for helping the Province live these values more authentically.

The liturgies and the moments of prayer during the Chapter were also well-planned. For lack of a suitable retreat center large enough to accomodate the Chapter, it was held at a conference center. Despite the lack of a real chapel, the space created for the liturgies was quite prayerful. The musicians and liturgists helped to create a prayer spirit during the Chapter, which no doubt contributed greatly to the overall sense of peace and fraternity that I sensed.

Congratulations to the new Provincial Council that was elected. May they be blessed in this fraternal ministry for which they have been chosen.

12 June 2010

Saint Lawrence Seminary Celebrates 150 Years

Soon after arriving in the United States and establishing the first, permanent presence of Capuchins in the country, Bonaventure Frey and Francis Haas realized that if the fledging jurisdiction was to survive, it needed to recruit and train local vocations. So it was that in 1860 they opened a school for boys that would become known as Saint Lawrence Seminary. On 3 June 2010, the seminary celebrated the 150th anniversary of that courageous and prophetic decision.

That the seminary exists at all is fairly remarkable since most high school seminaries in the United States closed in the 1970's due to declining enrollments. A Chapter of the Province of Saint Joseph (Calvary) discussed just such an option, but decided to do everything in their power to keep the doors open. The enrollment in recent years has been about 200 students, which is lower than at the school's height, but higher than in the 70's and 80's. Although only a small percentage of Saint Lawrence Seminary's students eventually become priests or religious, all are formed to become leaders in the Church and in their communities. Numerous bishops, priests and brothers were among the alumni who attended the anniversary celebration. Some of those present for the celebration are shown in the picture below. They are (from left to right, with alumni indicated by *): Br John Celichowski*, Provincial Minister, Bishop Octavio Cisneros*, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn, Bishop Joseph Perry*, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, Bishop Jerome Listecki, Bishop of Milwaukee, Bishop Richard Sklba, Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee, Bishop Paul Schmitz*, Apostolic Administrator of Bluefields (Nicaragua) and Br Dennis Druggan*, Rector of St Lawrence Seminary.

In my remarks, I mentioned that running an educational institution might appear to be a strange ministry for an Order whose founder viewed higher education with some suspicion and forbid his brothers to have any book other than the breviary. I recalled, however, something that Br Raniero Cantalamessa said at the International Chapter of Mats in 2009—that Franciscans were once known for their work of evangelizing the lost. Using biblical images, he said that we were once more fishermen than pastors. Given that youth are overrepresented among the unchurched today, the education of youth may be among the most Franciscan of all ministries.

03 June 2010

Chapter of the Central Canadian Province

Grounds of St Francis Retreat CentreProvincial ministers who dream of having smaller, less complicated provinces may want to talk to someone from the Province of Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd (Central Canada) before jumping ship. Having just presided at its Eighth Ordinary Chapter, I can attest that fewer brothers and fewer friaries does not necessarily translate into fewer challenges. In some ways, just the opposite is true. For one thing, fewer brothers means that a greater percentage of them are involved in the inevitable internal ministries of a jurisdiction—provincial minister, directors of formation, vocations and communications, etc. It is true that in a smaller province some of these ministries may not need to occupy a brother full-time, but assigning several ministries to one brother adds its own complications. Fewer brothers and friaries also means there is less flexibility in terms of ministerial and fraternal assignments. None of this, of course, is news to the members of the Mother of the Good Shepherd Province. The discussions during the Chapter clearly indicated that the brothers were well aware of the challenges they faced. They were equally aware, however, of the resources and hopes that they have to meet these challenges.

There are currently twenty-six professed brothers working in the Central Canadian Province. Of these, eight are members of provinces in Eritrea, India, Italy, and Poland. Some came specifically in order to work with Catholics of their own ethnic groups, but other came mainly to help the Province maintain strong, vital fraternities. Some have come with the intention of remaining the rest of their lives, while others are there on multi-year commitments. Because of the Province’s long experience in this regard, it is something of a laboratory for Solidarity of Personnel. In the discussions that took place during the Chapter, it was clear that successfully integrating brothers from different areas of the world is not as easy as it seems, and that it requires ongoing efforts. I was happy to see, therefore, that one of the resolutions passed at the Chapter was aimed at improving the way friars from other countries are welcomed and integrated into the Province.

On the other hand, the mere fact that the Chapter’s participants could candidly discuss the difficulties among themselves was a sign of the trust that has developed among them. That one non-Canadian served on the previous Provincial Council and two were elected to the current Council are further evidence that integration is possible.