By Steve Mangione
With the picturesque Santa Ynez Mountains and Pacific Ocean as the backdrop, and national landmark Old Mission Santa Barbara as the setting, a group of men contemplating friar life were invited to the inaugural vocation discernment weekend retreat hosted by the vocation team of the new Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Socializing, meals, prayer, and a tour of the novitiate, the grand bell towers and a Mass at the historic Old Mission Church were among the highlights of the Jan. 12 to 14 discernment retreat that provided candidates with the opportunity to experience a slice of Franciscan life. They also learned about the personal vocation journeys of the friars, including the novices, men in their second year of initial formation, or training.
Discernment weekends give men the opportunity to speak with and pray alongside the friars.
Throughout the weekend, friars share their personal vocation stories. Discerners are invited to ask questions and discuss their hopes and fears.
Discernment weekends allow men to experience life at the places where the friars serve, such as the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara.
Discerners are also encouraged to take time for personal prayer.
There are more than 70 friars across the country who are ready to support men who have questions about becoming a friar.
“It was inspiring to meet friars who have surrendered everything to serve God. This experience gave me immense peace, and the discernment stories shared by friars provided clarity that this way of life is possible,” said discerner Joshua Weinerth, an Oxnard, California, native.
“The friars are kind and generous. It amazed me how they integrate community and personal prayer into their day,” added Joshua, a third-generation beekeeper who recently established a commercial beekeeping business while attending college, and who was excited about the prospects of being able to continue his passion and gift of producing honey as a friar.
The novices were eager to answer the candidates' questions, said Novice Master Br. Gene Pistacchio, OFM.
"The novitiate is an ideal place for nurturing potential vocations through discernment, prayer, and a hospitable, welcoming fraternity," he said. "We look forward to hosting these discernment weekends in the future for more talented inquiring men who are attracted to the life and ministry of a Friar Minor."
“It was great to have our vocation team engage with these discerning men, each friar bringing his own talents and personality. The weekend was enhanced by the welcome and hospitality of the Old Mission fraternity – their joy, laughter and conversation, and praying and sharing meals with discerners and the vocation team,” said Br. Greg Plata, OFM, national vocation director.
“Men considering our life appreciate the invitation to discernment weekends, but sometimes they’re a little hesitant. The apprehension disappears once they meet the friars and other discerners, realizing they are not alone in this,” Br. Greg added.
One of the weekend highlights was an extraordinary tour of the Old Mission grand bell towers and archives-library led by St. Barbara Province friar Br. Joe Schwab, OFM, who shared letters from renowned Spanish Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra.
The first in Santa Barbara, which predating the Mission, is a death register signed at the bottom by St. Junípero Serra.
A choir book from the 1770s, made in Mexico and brought to the Old Mission here in Santa Barbara in the 1800s for use by the friars at Mission Santa Barbara. It is open to the prayers for the feast of St. Francis, hence the illustration of Francis in the initial "F".
The photograph of the papal document with the "Bulla" or Papal Seal attached by a ribbon to the bottom of the page is the formal appointment of Franciso Garcia Diego y Moreno, OFM, as the first bishop of the Californias (both Baja and Upper California).
The friars were eager to share their own stories of discernment.
“There are challenges and doubts at every stage of discernment. That was my situation. I kept postponing my decision to join the friars, but the words of my spiritual adviser changed everything. I hope that offering my lived experience helped the discerners relate to my story,” said Br. Henri Djojo, OFM, a Western Region Vocation Director.
“It’s important that we show men in discernment that our Franciscan life and the work of God is real, and not just something they read about in a book. The arc in this journey is when we think we know when all the pieces are coming together, and then God surprises us,” said Br. Ryan Thornton, OFM, a Western Region Vocation Director who was inspired by the diversity of the men attracted to friar life.
“The discerners, quite possibly, are contemplating the same thought I had more than 65 years ago – do I really want this! I had planned to get married, I had questions. But spending time with friars helped me realize this Franciscan life was for me,” said Br. Angelo Cardinalli, OFM, a local vocation director stationed at Old Mission Santa Barbara for the past 15 years. “I was fascinated by the stories of these discerners, and that there are still men who love the Franciscan tradition as much as we friars do.”
Br. Greg and Br. Basil Valente, OFM, executive director of the National Vocation Office, offered welcoming remarks and shared their personal stories. Br. Jeffery Jordan, OFM, Eastern Region Vocation Director, and Br. Tony Luevano, OFM, made formal presentations. Novitiate team members Br. George Camacho, OFM, and Br. Gene Pistacchio, OFM, and novices Br. Richard Gaunt, OFM, Br. Jason Peterson, OFM, and Br. Dan Rey, OFM, rearranged their schedules so that they could be present for the discerners throughout the weekend. Guardian Br. Mark Schroeder, OFM, and the solemnly professed friars were gracious hosts and welcomed the discerners for prayer, meals, and enriching conversation.
"All the friars here at the novitiate were pleased that the vocation team asked if they could come to the novitiate for this ‘Come and see’ weekend," remarked Br. Gene. "The response was a resounding 'yes' because there is no formation without vocations and no vocations without formation. These ministries are mutually supportive and are a lifeline for each other! Because of the intricate connection between the two ministries, the discernment weekend was very successful as there was tremendous collaboration and effective communication between our vocation and formation personnel.
"By the end of the weekend, it was as if the vocation friars and staff, along with the novitiate and the mission friars, had been working these weekends for years. Incidentally, it was the first time that this discernment weekend was held at Old Mission Santa Barbara since we have become the new Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe!"
Are you interested in attending one of our upcoming vocation events? Contact our Franciscan Vocation Ministry to begin your discernment with the friars.
(From left to right) The discerners with Brothers Richard Gaunt (novice), Basil Valente (vocations team), George Camacho (formation team), Jeffery Jordan (vocations team), Henri Djojo (vocations team) and Jason Peterson (novice).