Occasionally, people will ask me “What order are you?” and other questions that eventually lead to the inquiry, “Where are y’all from?” I have noticed that people not native to the South have picked up that Southern expression. But it leaves me in a dilemma. I wonder if the one I am speaking with understands there is a difference between “y’all” and “all y’all”. So, I am not sure if they are asking where I am from (y’all having, in some cases, a singular use) or they are asking where all we friars are from (all y’all would have been clearer in use and intention). The answer to the question “Where are all y’all from?” might well be “Holy Name Province.”
Holy Name Province (HNP) is one of seven Franciscan OFM provinces in the United States. We range from Boston to Tampa in geography with 30 different ministry commitments (parishes, colleges, urban ministry centers, and more) as well as individual ministries – e.g. hospital chaplain, social worker, etc. – a wide variety of settings. Like Franciscans world-wide, we strive to continue our Order’s 800-year-old mission, bringing the Gospel into the everyday experience of men and women through our life in fraternity and compassionate service. Who are we? We are a fraternity in mission to the people of God.
When I joined the friars at the beginning of this century, there were almost 600 men in HNP. Back in the early 1970s there were almost 1,200 men! As our numbers grew, so did the number and range of our provincial ministries. After the wars of the 1940s and 1950s, there was a great upsurge in religious vocations. In its way this was the religious-life component of the Greatest Generation. And like their counterparts, the majority of those men have moved into retirement, nursing homes, or into God’s bright glory.
Today HNP has about 300 friars. While many them serve the people of God in a wide variety of places — colleges, parishes, urban ministry centers and diverse social ministries along the East Coast – many are also in the retirement homes. As the number of men capable of full-time ministry shrinks, during the last decade we have been reducing the number of places we serve. As mentioned, the current number of commitments is 30 – and we find that number is not sustainable. In the past our withdrawal from ministry sites was a “rear guard” action, in other words, we never “got ahead of the curve” and had no reserves to fill gaps. We find that many of our ministry sites are understaffed with friars. Here at Sacred Heart we give thanks that Fr. Salim was seeking to join HNP from India, otherwise it would be just Fr. Zack and me. At the foundation of all that we do is that we are a fraternity in mission to the people of God. Two friars in a parish, a fraternity does not make. The pace of parish life can make us more like two ships passing in the night.
At this point if your mind is racing, “Oh no, he’s trying to tell us the friars are leaving Sacred Heart!” – take a deep breath. I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that we, as a Province, need to reduce the number of commitments so that we can have vibrant fraternities whose life-in-fraternity powers and animates the places we serve, imbues the people with a Franciscan charism, and leads them to be a “fraternity” of the people of God serving the people of God.
During the last year, Fr. Dan Kenna OFM, has been leading an effort to do a detailed look at our 30 commitments – all of which are wonderful places with great ministries. On June 1–2, Fr. Dan and his team will spend the weekend with the parish in order to listen to you, the parishioners. What’s the topic of conversation? Anything you would like it to be, but I would suggest thinking about our shared future and what is it about this parish and our future that you want to invite even more friars to be part of the local fraternity. For example, how has the Franciscan presence in the parish helped to shape/benefit your faith and view of church? Given the growth of the parish and the accelerated growth we are facing in the next three to five years, how can additional Franciscan presence help the parish and even the greater Tampa community? What new ministries are we called to develop, especially those that would benefit from a Franciscan friar presence? Who knows what the Spirit will lead you to bring up?
Fr. Dan and the team will meet with ministry leaders, the parish council, and you, our parishioners! On Sunday, June 2, we will host an open house in the San Damiano Center after the 9 and 10:30 a.m. Masses during which Fr. Dan and the team will be available to listen to you, your thoughts, and your concerns. So please mark your calendars! We look forward to seeing you.