Seven men — five priests and two brothers — stood before the altar. In the culmination of a spiritual journey that took them a little more than a year, one by one they received their new habits and religious names from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. Now, as brothers, they are the founding members of the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit.
The Friars were established in the July 2 ceremony at St. Francis Mission in Ak-Chin as a “public association of the faithful” — that is they are a religious community under the auspices of the Diocese of Phoenix, with Bishop Olmsted as their superior. The seven had previously been members of the Third Order Regular Franciscans when they arrived in Phoenix a little more than a year ago to begin discerning where they felt God may be calling them.
It was then that the bishop assigned them to reside at St. John the Baptist Parish in Laveen. Built into the mission of the Friars is to serve those on the margins, including indigenous populations. In their time in the diocese, they have not only served in the Office of Native American Ministry, where Mass attendance has steadily increased since their arrival, but they also initiated the monthly “Mercy Night” program for the Year of Mercy.
“This truly is a momentous occasion. Just over a year ago a group of men felt called by God to form a new Franciscan charismatic community in the Diocese of Phoenix. After prayerful discernment, the Church officially recognizes and affirms their decision as an authentic call from God,” said Fr. David Sanfilippo, vicar for priests for the diocese in opening remarks.
The five priests took public oaths of fidelity, incardinating them as priests of the diocese. Then each received a gray habit, which represents penance. Bishop Kevin W. Vann from the Diocese of Orange, California, who had known them for several years, tied the cord around their waist. The cord has three knots, representing the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Then Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup — the only diocese in the country erected specifically to serve the Native American population — presented each new Friar with a red rosary, symbolic of the fire of the Holy Spirit, their namesake.
“Jesus calls men and women to serve him in the world but not being part of the world. ‘Every age is saved by a saint that is most unlike it,’” said Bishop Olmsted in his homily, referencing a quote from the early 20th-century novelist and theologian G.K Chesterton. “So when God calls a man to serve Him, often it begins with a call to leave home, to leave all that is familiar and dear to him and to go where the Lord will show him.”
The bishop then told the Friars that the ability to love others and themselves comes from living in Christ, and the vows they were about to take would help them in that endeavor.
“My dear Friar Brothers — and my sons who have become very dear to my heart in the last 14 months — your religious vows today and your fidelity to them each day hereafter draws you into something revolutionary, something that Jesus uses to transform your lives and society,” he said.
“If Chesterton is right, namely that every age is saved by a saint that is most unlike it, your religious vows make you odd. There’s two ways to spell odd — ‘O-D-D,’ which it does, and ‘A-W-E-D,’ which it does. Your religious vows embraced in faith and lived in faithful love are a sign of a contradiction needed by our brothers and sisters today. … Fraternal love is a powerful sign of what living on in Jesus is about.”
The occasion marked not only a milestone for the Friars, but also for the Native Americans being served by the missions. There had not been resident priests at the missions in nearly four decades.
“It’s the answer to many years of prayer on the part of the people in the missions,” said Dcn. Jim Trant, diocesan director of the Diaconate Office and parish life coordinator for the Indian missions. “In the last couple years, it was wonderful to see God’s plan,” he said, noting how the convent was repaired in the hopes that a community would come.
Deborah Griffin, a parishioner at St. John the Baptist, has developed a relationship with the Friars and wanted to support them in this special occasion.
“It was a really special feeling for me because I could feel the new life. … It feels like they’re going to renew the community,” she said.
Chris Phillips, a parishioner at St. Francis Ak-Chin, went to the Mass with his mother.
“The Friars have helped with a lot of the issues here,” Phillips said of their impact. “It was history in the making — we wanted to be a part of it.”
The Franciscan roots in the Southwest are deep. Indeed, the Friars turn to St. Junípero Serra, who had evangelized the Native Americans, for inspiration.
“We’re tapping into the Franciscan tradition that’s been here for over 100 years. To be able to live on the reservation with the people as a Franciscan community is a blessing,” said Fr. Antony (formerly Michael) Tinker, director of Native American Ministry. Fr. Antony is also drawing inspiration from his new patrons: Ss. Anthony of the Desert and Anthony of Padua.
“Anthony of the Desert was the founder of religious life, and he went out to the Desert to draw people closer to Jesus and we’re in the Arizona Desert and feel called to do likewise,” said Fr. Antony. “When [Anthony of Padua] saw the Franciscans who were martyred, he wanted to be a Franciscan. I feel that call to spiritual martyrdom and to preach as he did.”
Though they reside at the missions, their ministry is not limited there. Fr. Ignatius (formerly Zygmunt) Mazanowski, recently completed his doctorate that focused on the Mercy of God and on finding healing, and with Fr. Joseph Francis (formerly Bradley) LePage, will be working with Catholic students at Grand Canyon University.
“We were very much impressed with the words of the Holy Father to go beyond your institutions to evangelize the young and minister to the poor,” said Fr. Joseph Francis. “We see those two apostolates — education and Native American Ministry — as the way the Lord is asking us to do it.”
That they were established during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is not lost on the Friars.
“In the Lord’s mercy He created this new community,” said Br. Peter Teresa (formerly Sean) McConnell. “I think that will always inform our identity and our mission, to be marked with mercy. It’s part of our charism now.” Br. Peter Teresa is also a seminarian and took simple vows rather than final vows.
While still members of their former community, the Friars were all close friends and would get together for praise and worship and hold charismatic prayer meetings, and found a devotion to the Holy Spirit.
“We sought the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As a group of friends, we dedicated ourselves to that,” said Fr. Alcuin (formerly Ron) Hurl. “It was a common devotion to the Holy Spirit that brought us together and made us a band of brothers. So that’s why we say we’re the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit. But also, we want to lead people into a deeper encounter with the Holy Spirit as charismatic Franciscans.”
The Friars held their inaugural General Chapter July 11-15, where they elected Fr. Antony as community servant to lead the community, Fr. Ignatius as vicar, and Fr. Joseph Francis, Fr. Alcuin and Fr. Benedict Mary (formerly Augustine) Lieb as community councillors.
Now that they are officially incardinated in the diocese as a public association, the Friars feel like they’re home.
“The Diocese of Phoenix is our home now,” said Fr. Ignatius. “We feel comfortable, welcome and at home here.”