“All are welcome.” At the Franciscan Renewal Center (FRC) in Scottsdale, Ariz., affectionately known as the “Casa,” this is more than a catch phrase. It’s been at the heart of the friars’ ministry there since the Casa was founded in 1951. The spirit of welcome also extends to the faith community at the Casa: The Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Angels, where Page Polk has served as rector since June.
“It’s a very interesting set up here,” Page said. “St. Barbara Province has a number of retreat centers with chapels. This is first and foremost a conference and retreat center, but there is also a faith community here that has grown over the years to the point that we have 1,800 registered families. We have a big, healthy, dynamic retreat center and a big, healthy, dynamic faith community.”
While Page is still relatively new to the role of rector, he arrived at the Casa in 2018 to serve as part-time minister for the retreat center and church. He had spent time there earlier in the year while discerning a new ministry and was drawn to its mission of being “a place of acceptance, a place of spiritual growth, healing, transformation and giving back,” he said. “I asked the Lord, ‘What is next for me? What gifts do I have that can serve this mission?’”
It has been a blessing over the past four years, Page said, to have the opportunity to listen, observe and become well-acquainted with both the retreat center and church and how they are integrated. The transition has been smooth thanks to the collaboration and cooperation of the staff and kindness and support of the friars from St. Barbara Province with whom Page lives and serves: Fr. Vincent Nguyen, vice rector, Br. James Seiffert and Br. Bradley Tuel. Page also expressed his gratitude for the generous support of the Casa’s board.
“I also appreciate the confidence of both Provincials (Mark Soehner and Fr. David Gaa),” Page added. “Their support has helped me enter into the responsibility of rector and been a big source of strength for me. It’s been very exciting to see a friar from one province be named to an important ministry role in another, and is definitely a sign of the times.”
Upon his appointment as rector, Page said, “I accept this appointment with humility and hope. The privilege and the responsibility of being the rector demands of me to help all of us grow in our relationship with our Lord. We continue to deepen our faith via participation in the sacraments, acts of charity and respect for each other.”
“The faith community at the FRC has been in development for 70 years,” he added, “The efforts of doing so are evident. The care shown by and to the community members, visitors and newcomers reflects respectfully that ‘all are welcome.’ Let us continue to be a faith community demonstrating such kindness.”
As rector, Page collaborates in the planning and execution of liturgical celebrations and provides pastoral care to the community. He also works with the staff responsible for the adult and children’s catechesis programs, faith formation programs and provides support for sustainability and endowment endeavors.
“My primary responsibility is the church side, obviously,” Page explained. “The faith community here is very strong, very vibrant. People are here because they want to be. There’s a very different atmosphere and attitude here. ‘All are welcome’ isn’t just a catch phrase. It’s what we do here. We welcome the diverse age population and alternative lifestyles. The friars from St. Barbara Province have fostered a great sense of prayer, community and welcome here over the years.”
His pastoral goal as a priest and friar is straightforward and meaningful. “I want to help people to fall in love with the Lord,” Page said. “I know that sounds rather Hallmarky, but God is the source of everything we have. I want to help people in their own way, in their own time realize how loved they are by God. It’s a love affair in the best of times and in the worst of times. God’s love and grace is there. I believe that as a friar, as a priest and as a person.”
How does Page hope to accomplish this? Through love, respect, and kindness, of course, in addition to “good liturgies, good preaching, helping people get to know one another and making them feel welcome,” he noted. “I see it every Sunday. New people are greeted with ‘Welcome. We’re glad you’re here.’”
Looking ahead, one of the faith communities’ priorities is a focus on youth and young adult ministry, Page said. “We really want to invite them to see the meaning and value in their Catholic faith lived out with a Franciscan bent. We’re trying to do more outreach through our catechetical programs. We do a fair number of baptisms here and see that as the beginning, the opportunity to plant the seed and make people feel welcome.”
His ministry as rector is both rewarding and challenging, Page acknowledged, and he readily admits that “this is a good place for me to be, both personally and as a friar.”
He’s grateful for the physical beauty encompassing the Casa’s 25 acres and the opportunity to walk, reflect and be in the Lord’s presence. “I appreciate the time and space to invite the Lord to help me with what I should be doing, what we should be doing.”
He recalled the joy and sense of community as the Casa celebrated its 70’th anniversary in 2021 and the theme for the occasion: “Founded by Franciscans. Formed by Community. Forward with Faith.”
“People here really get that and are embracing it,” Page said. “Those few words reflect the past, present and future at this place where all are welcome.”
Photos courtesy of the Franciscan Renewal Center