By Steve Mangione  

The friar community at Casa Guadalupe Friary in southwest Albuquerque, New Mexico, will extend Franciscan welcome and hospitality next month when they open the doors to their dining room and chapel to a group of men invited to a vocation discernment weekend.  

Discerners will not just hear about Franciscan life, they will also experience it. 

Awaiting discerners is a fully engaging weekend of meals, prayer and conversation. The centerpiece will be an off-site service experience alongside friars at an outreach ministry for the homeless and marginalized.  

Discerners will also experience other Franciscan communities – lunch and conversations with friars at nearby San Juan Diego Friary, and a vigil Mass with friars and the congregation at Holy Family Church. 

“We want them to come away saying – ‘wow, these Franciscans really know how to host a discernment retreat!’” Br. Greg Plata, OFM, national vocation director of the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said about the May 17 to 19 event where friars will share the joys and challenges of their own journeys. “It’s an opportunity for them to experience our life of fraternity, prayer and service.” 

“We are creating a new way of doing vocation discernment weekends, making these visits more organic for discerners and engaging friar communities across the country,” said Br. Basil Valente, OFM, executive director of POLG’s vocation office. 

Affirming experiences in Ohio 

Earlier this month, the friar fraternity at St. Anthony Shrine in Cincinnati, Ohio, welcomed discerners for a weekend of activities that featured a tour by Br. David Crank, OFM, of the outreach services at St. Francis Seraph Ministries, a visit to the Poor Clare convent for an introduction to the charism of these Franciscan sisters, and a festive (sometimes loud) family dinner with friars from three other communities.       

“It was such an affirmative experience for the inquirers. Meeting the friars further piqued their interest to delve more deeply into learning about Franciscan life and the discernment process,” said Br. Greg, who celebrated Sunday Mass and met individually with the men.

Three friars dressed in their brown habits and three men stand smiling in front of an altar.

In front: Brandon Pals, Jacob Polinksi and Efrain Bravo. In back: Br. Ricky Madere, OFM, Br. Tyler Harris, OFM and Br. Greg Plata, OFM

A friar speaks to a group of six men in the vestibule of a soup kitchen.

Br. David Crank, OFM, explaining to the three inquirers the various services offered by St. Francis Seraph Ministries in downtown, Cincinnati.

Three friars in habits, three men in street clothes, and four Poor Clares stand smiling behind a baptismal font

Friars and discerners visiting with the Poor Clare sisters at their monastery in Cincinnati.

Discerners were especially fascinated by the personal narratives of discernment journey and Franciscan ministry shared by Br. Tyler Harris, OFM, and Br. Ricky Madere, OFM, both simply professed friars in formation who are serving the poor and marginalized in the Franciscan mission in Negril, Jamaica, as part of the Brothers Walking Together program.  

“Ricky and Tyler shared with honesty the realities and some of the frustrations of mission ministry,” said Br. Greg, “but the discerners could also hear the joy and gratitude in their voice for the privilege of serving the homeless, hungry and medically underserved in Jamaica.” 

Finding family in Florida 

In January, the community at St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, Florida, hosted a discernment weekend for men contemplating Franciscan life. Inquirers and friars are still talking about the experience. 

“It felt like family the moment I walked in the door,” said Michael McLaughlin, a registered nurse and regional clinical director for a company that helps primary care providers navigate the Medicare program. “The friars were welcoming and generous with their time. The weekend was too short!” 

Michael, a serious volleyball player whose team competes in tournaments nationwide, said the opportunity to speak to older friars was the catalyst for him.

“Their stories were different, but every friar shared the same sentiment – they have lived full lives with no regrets, and they have experienced things that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible,” he said. “Being in healthcare, I have always helped people. Opportunities to help others are a big part of Franciscan life; this is the way the calling speaks to me.” 

Br. Thomas Gallagher, OFM, guardian of the St. Petersburg friary, said it was helpful for discerners to see friars whose active ministry centers on sharing wisdom and stories.

A friar prays over a discerner.

Friars prayed over discerners as they concluded the weekend.

A group of 12 men prays in a small chapel

Prayer and fraternity are central parts of discernment weekends.

A friar stands next to a man in street clothes. Both are smiling.

Spending time with simply and solemnly professed friars helps men deepen their understanding of the joys and challenges of Franciscan life.

Five men stand smiling in front of the San Damiano Cross.

The discerners who joined the retreat in St. Petersburg, Florida

“The discerners saw that the life we are inviting them to live is a way of life and a way of living even past active ministry – brothers eating and praying together, enjoying each other’s company, and taking care of one another,” said Br. Tom. He and Brothers Bill McConville, OFM, David McBriar, OFM, and Vincent Laviano, OFM, spoke on a panel about Franciscan spirituality, friar life, and ministries. 

The inquirers also heard the perspective of Franciscan life from Br. Matt Ryan, OFM, and Br. Tony Luevano, OFM, who are both solemnly professed.  

“I shared that our vows are life-giving and that this is a good life,” Br. Matt said. “Our vows aren’t about saying no; but rather, we are saying yes – every day. They free us to accompany people on their spiritual journeys. What a gift!”  

Basil said the discerners were captivated by the prayer life and genuineness of fraternal life and by the friars’ willingness to share stories about ministry and their personal discernment journeys. 

“The friars were so honest and open and had such diverse stories to share with us,” said another participant who is discerning a Franciscan vocation. “It was an inspiring and fun weekend. The weekend changed my life. I could see myself being a friar.”  

Br. Henri Djojo, OFM, a western region vocation director who left a lucrative career as an architect to join the Franciscans, said the discerning men were not afraid to ask questions.  

“They were surprised by some of the answers – particularly when I told them my own journey was filled with lingering questions,” Br. Henri said. “Was I choosing the right path, leaving a successful career? They were surprised, too, that I was able to continue architectural design work as a friar. It was appealing to them that friars are encouraged to bring their talents to ministry.” 

Br. Daniel Kenna, OFM, a resident of the St. Petersburg friary who helped plan the discernment weekend, said there is value in providing candidates with the opportunity to step inside friar life. 

“It gave them a chance to interact with friars who have persevered for the long haul and served the Church in a variety of ways at a variety of places,” said Br. Dan, who celebrated the vigil Mass and delivered the homily. “The exchanges and storytelling, the meals, and conversations, were just as meaningful to the friars because it provided the opportunity to rekindle the fervor we had in our early discernment journeys. 

“I told them that I didn’t hear the call just once; it continued in my ministries and the people I encountered along the way,” he added. “I invited the men to hear the Lord’s call every day.”