A Franciscan Farewell

San Damiano Cross [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
At the beginning of the year we received a letter from our pastor and one from our bishop. The Conventual Franciscan friars, who have served our parish since 1936, are turning the administration of the parish over to the diocese. There just aren’t enough friars to go around anymore, though we have been blessed to have two serving in our parish.

Having always worshipped in parishes staffed by religious priests (in all cases but one, Franciscan friars) rather than diocesan priests, I’m used to priests coming and going every few years.

But last night, at the last Sunday (OK, Saturday night) Mass our pastor would be celebrating with us, I did something I’ve never done before: I wept over the departure of these priests.

Let me be right up front and say that this is not because I don’t trust our bishop to send us a good diocesan priest to serve our parish, because I do. In fact, the priest who is coming here is someone whose homilies I’ve been following online for about a decade now.

But this departure represents something different.

First of all, it’s the loss of the Franciscan friars’ presence in our parish. That’s what drew us to this parish in the first place, in late 1991 when we were “church shopping” (yes, I admit it) after moving to this area. The friars made us feel at home. Franciscan hospitality is unlike any other.

But the two priests who have served here this year, who in some ways could not be any more different from each other, have touched my heart and it will be hard to see them go.

Father Brennan-Joseph, the pastor, inspires. A gifted speaker, he uses humor, personal examples and a fire born of true devotion to bring home the points he makes in his homilies. In addition, he is generous with gratitude and compliments for those who help at Mass in any way.

Father Matthew instructs and challenges. His knowledge of Franciscan history has been a true gift to the Secular Franciscans. He has urged us to keep the Franciscan spirit alive in this parish. And he tells it like it is, which (he admits) puts some people off, but which I find refreshing and necessary. Father Matthew also frequently speaks about prayer during his homilies, and you don’t hear many priests doing that.

Both priests live their calling. They pray with us and for us and they let us know this. They stay after daily Mass on novena days (Monday, the Blessed Mother; Tuesday, St. Anthony; Wednesday, St. Joseph; and Fridays in June, the Sacred Heart). They pray in the Adoration Chapel, with regular hours and drop-in visits. It is a true witness to parishioners to see their priests praying in the Adoration Chapel. They believe; they are devoted; it shows. And it edifies us.

When these two friars arrived in our parish, they knew they’d be here temporarily. But they didn’t just “phone it in,” do Masses, weddings, sick visits and funerals and call it a day. They gave everything they had. They became part of the community. They resurrected a dying altar-server ministry, started a Frassati Society for young adults, and showed up at each and every parish function, staying until the last piece of cake was served.

I am grateful for their service to this parish, for the example they set, for the inspiration and challenges they have given us. May God bless them in their ministry to their future parishes (one in New York state, one in England). And may God help our parish in this time of transition. May we show true Franciscan hospitality to our new pastor.

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