Editor’s Note: Stephen Mangione has been covering the ministry and initiatives of the National Vocation Office as the U.S. Franciscan provinces move toward becoming one in October. This second article of a three-part series focuses on vocation training and promotion. Look for part three in April.

The group prays together

The group prays together at the Interprovincial Vocation Weekend Retreat, held in January.

The first-ever Interprovincial Vocation Weekend Retreat, held Jan. 6-8 at St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, Fla., was not only an inspiring event for participants discerning a call to Franciscan life, but also served as a roadmap for the incoming regional directors and 72 LVDs (local vocation directors) and for vocations in the new U.S. province. At the inaugural retreat, with the participation of vocation directors from around the country, the National Vocation Office took away experiences and successes that will be used in the upcoming training workshops and in the new province’s foundational strategies and guiding principles for vocations and journeying with discerners.

The National Vocation Office is planning a series of regional training workshops this spring for the 72 friars who have volunteered to serve in vocation ministry for the new province as LVDs in the geographic areas where they are assigned in parish, education, outreach and other ministries. These workshops will be laser-focused in providing LVDs with resources, information, preparation and guidance so that they would be able to host their own interprovincial retreats for serious discerners, as well as sponsor organic community gatherings that invite inquirers to their friaries for dinner, prayer and ministry encounter opportunities.

“We are grateful to the friars across the country who have accepted the role of LVD. They are deeply committed and passionate about accompanying inquirers and candidates on their discernment journey. We will provide the training, know-how and resources to help them become familiar with the intricacies of vocation weekend retreats, for example, how to interview candidates and ascertain information about their spirituality, goals, and family history,” explained Basil Valente, OFM, national vocation director and eastern region vocation director, who noted that the training workshops will be held in Albuquerque, Chicago and a yet-to-be-determined location on the East Coast.

Los Angeles Religious Education Congress

In late February, Basil, Gregory Plata, OFM, central region vocation director; Sebastian Sandoval, OFM, western region vocation director; LVDs, including Roger Lopez, who teaches religion and serves as director of community outreach at Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati; and National Vocation Office Manager Jorge Martins, OFM, participated in the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress (RECongress), the nation’s largest annual gathering of Roman Catholics sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Office of Religious Education.

Friar smiling

Fr. Casey Cole, OFM

Close to 20 friars, including several from St. Barbara Province, staffed the National Vocation Office’s information booth at the three-day conference (Feb. 24-26) in Anaheim, which kicked off with Youth Day, a day-long event for high school students that featured workshops, presentations and guest speakers—among them, Casey Cole, OFM, chaplain of Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, Ga., where he also is a friar in residence at Holy Spirit Church.

Coming together as one U.S. province offers great inspiration to me as a Franciscan and will hopefully remind all friars of our responsibility to promote vocations in all that we do,” said Casey, offering his thoughts about the new National Vocation Office’s participation and presence at the conference. “For me, the greatest way we evangelize is through the fraternity, and so widening that fraternity speaks as loudly as anything we can say of who we are and what we’re about.”

“We were grateful for the opportunity to connect with hundreds of religious education coordinators from around the country who attended the conference and who now will bring back the Franciscan message to young people who are considering religious vocation,” said Basil, noting that the friars also spoke at length with inquirers and discerners interested in Franciscan vocation.

There were many people with genuine interest who asked questions, such as the difference between OFMs and Conventuals, and details about the formation timeline.

“We were encouraged by the interest in Franciscan life and ministry,” said Sebastian.