Editor’s Note: This is the final article in our three-part series focusing on the ministry and initiatives of the National Vocation Office as the U.S. Franciscan provinces move toward becoming one in October.
Jimmy Beh, Luke Cumby and Christian Gonzalez were among the candidates who attended last January’s first-ever Interprovincial Weekend Retreat at St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, Fla. The three men will be welcomed into the interprovincial postulancy program in August, when they will continue their vocation discernment of friar life and begin their Franciscan formation.
The Jan. 6-8 retreat was instrumental in helping these men further clarify their Franciscan vocation goals, and it also provided vocation directors with the opportunity to learn about the candidates, who rotated individually among the friars for comprehensive, honest and frank one-on-one interviews that covered a range of subjects, such as family, childhood, education and employment background; spiritual life and relationship with God; personal relationships; talents and skills; outreach service-related experiences; and the attraction to friar life and Franciscan vocation. As part of the process, the vocation directors submit behavioral assessment forms—information derived from the personal interviews—and their recommendations. Jimmy, Luke and Christian were ready for acceptance to the Franciscan postulancy program.
A snapshot of the three men illustrates the diversity of the group. Jimmy, a native of Washington, D.C., lives in Baltimore, Maryland, where he works in career partnerships and recruiting at a major university. He attended two discernment weekends in St. Petersburg, visited other friar communities, and even attended a Mass of solemn profession. Luke was inspired by the Franciscan life and ministry of the late Philip O’Shea, OFM, who integrated his Franciscan vocation with his lifelong medical condition of cerebral palsy, a condition also embraced by Luke. Completing studies for his undergraduate degree, he serves his community by volunteering in his local parish and working at a leadership initiative for high school students. Christian, a Bronx native and resident of Union, New Jersey, is a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps. A trained carpenter, Christian’s proximity to the tristate area afforded him the opportunity to meet friars at 31st Street, and at the fraternities in Butler and Pompton Lakes, New Jersey.
John Hogan, OFM, who accepted the invitation from the National Vocation Office to serve as a local vocation director (LVD) for the new U.S. province, said he cherishes the opportunity meet and talk with discerners. “Coming from a vocation ministry background, I am happy to be part of the vision of the new National Vocation Office. Weekend retreats offer the experience of listening to discerning men and being amazed how gifted, talented, mature and deeply spiritual they are. Listening to them share their life and experiences is an important step in the discernment process because the next step is an application to join the postulancy program,” said John.
Among the other friars who participated at the first interprovincial discernment retreat were Basil Valente, OFM, national vocation director and eastern region vocation director; Gregory Plata, OFM, central region vocation director; Sebastian Sandoval, OFM, western region vocation director; and several LVDs, as well as resident friars of the St. Petersburg friary and the fraternity that serves pastorally at the Tampa parish.
“The retreat was vital because it provided the opportunity to meet these men. We determined that Jimmy, Luke and Christian were a great fit for Franciscan formation in their pursuit of friar life and vocation,” said Basil.
“I was impressed with the men who participated in the discernment weekend, and also the friars of St. Anthony Friary and Sacred Heart Parish. I am always in awe of the stories these discerners share about their own faith journey, as well as the friars sharing their spirit of welcome and vocation stories,” said Gregory, who added, “I had a deep appreciation for the friars’ enthusiasm in assisting Basil in executing a model that will be used throughout the country moving forward with the new U.S. province.”
Sebastian characterized the weekend retreat as an opportunity for candidates to get to know the friars on a deeper level, and for the friars to get better acquainted with the discerners. He was also encouraged by the team effort of the friars working in vocation ministry.
“I was impressed by the amount of collaboration from the various friars who participated in the weekend retreat. Vocation ministry gives friars an opportunity to give back to the province. I believe that the vocation model being put forth by the National Vocation Office will serve the new U.S. province well, involving friars from around the country as part of a vocation team, rather than relying just on the vocation director and regional directors,” Sebastian said.
Among the other LVDs present at the retreat was Dan Kenna, OFM, who resides at St. Anthony Friary. “I enjoyed participating in the weekend discernment retreat because my presence, together with that of my brother friars, helped model to discerners who we are as a community and the life to which we are inviting them. These retreats provide guys with the chance to see us as we are and experience what it’s like to live a life in common with brothers,” said Dan.
George Camacho, OFM, who happened to be in St. Petersburg for a short vacation that coincided with the discernment weekend—and was the youngest friar to participate—said he shared an important piece of advice with the candidates: Take your discernment experience one day at a time. “It’s important, of course, to collect data and information, and to ask questions. But learning about friar life also has to be experienced in order to achieve a more genuine discernment. I encouraged them to be transparent, honest and prayerful throughout the process,” he said.