By Jim McIntosh, OFM
CHICAGO – A group of solemnly professed friars, ranging in age from their early 30s to mid-80s, met here recently to discuss the General Secretariat for Missions and Evangelization’s document, Ite, Nuntiate…Guidelines for the New Forms of Life and Mission in the Order of Friars Minor.
Between April 6 -8, 2017, eleven friars from five US provinces spent time in contemplative prayer, discussed the document, reviewed the history of inserted communities since the Second Vatican Council, shared meals together, and dreamt of future possibilities. Friars from the other two US provinces expressed an interest in joining the discussions but were unable to do so due to scheduling conflicts.
Matt Tumulty OFM, of the St. Barbara Province, said, “The depth of the sharing exceeded all of our hopes and expectations. The Spirit’s power is very evident in this process of realignment and revitalization.“
Fifty years ago, Vatican II mandated that religious communities return to their biblical roots and founding charisms and to develop a greater measure of engagement with the modern world. In response, friars around the world began experimenting with different forms of fraternities. In France, some friars became worker-priests – these were priests who took up work in such places as car factories in order to experience the everyday life of the working class. With permission, friars joined the Taize community, living with non-Catholics. Some small fraternities were formed jointly with sisters and laypeople.
In the US, the first small fraternity was formed in1966 when three friars in Chicago lived with members of the Taize community. Bob Pawell OFM, of the Sacred Heart Province, spoke at the meeting here about his journey from Taize (1966-1971), to Beacon Street in Chicago (1971-1976), to the Tau Fraternity in New Orleans (1976-1990s), and finally to Holy Evangelist Friary back in Chicago where he now lives.
In a 1978 survey, Paul Lachance OFM, of the Quebec Province, and Alain Richard OFM, from France, counted 36 friars living in eight intentional OFM communities and one such community of Capuchin friars. Almost all lived in rented houses in urban areas. Most were located in poor or very poor neighborhoods.
In 1991, David Buer OFM, of the St. Barbara Province, and Alain Richard found the number of inserted fraternities in the US had risen to 25. The survey concluded that although some friars worked in traditional ministries such as parishes, schools, hospitals and retreat work, many participants were freed of traditional ministry demands in order to be able to respond to the “signs of the times” in creative ways.
By their nature, these small intentional fraternities were themselves itinerant, some existing only for a few years, others existing for 2 or 3 decades. For those who participated in them, however, the impact often was an enlivening of one’s Franciscan vocation, even after returning to a more traditional lifestyle and ministry.
Some of the longer lasting fraternities included the formation houses in Oakland and Berkeley; the East Boston community; the Las Vegas Fraternity; the Pleasant Street and Zacchaeus Fraternities in Cincinnati; and the fraternity attached to St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia.
Today, only a few small inserted communities remain in the US. These include Mt. Irenaus, near St. Bonaventure University in upstate N.Y.; Pleasant Street in Cincinnati; East St. Louis, Ill.; St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia; and the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C. In Sacramento, Calif., the friars recently pulled out of a parish but remain in the friary to ministry to the poor.
Ite Nuntiate is a reawakening of the renewal efforts in the order after Vatican II. During Giacomo Bini OFM’s term as minister general, friars from small inserted communities in Europe met annually. For 10 years, after his term as minister general and until he died, Giacomo lived in a fraternity he helped establish near Rome and was joined by numerous friars. Before his death in 2014, he wrote the concluding chapter of Ite Nuntiate. This fraternity continues to host periodic meetings of friars interested the in the new forms of Franciscan life described in Ite Nuntiate. A new international community was established last year in Turkey.
Ite Nuntiate listed seven characteristics of such communities of friars, to which Minister General Michael Perry OFM added an eighth. These characteristics are:
- The primacy of prayer and of active listening to the Word
- The promotion of deep, authentic fraternal relationships that will give clear witness to life in brotherhood.
- A lifestyle characterized by moderation and simplicity, minority and witness.
- Welcoming people and sharing lives with them – above all with the poor.
- Ensuring that the evangelizing mission retains characteristics such as: openness to mission ‘inter gentes’; itinerancy; being present in unknown, difficult and risky locations; being close to those who are poor, suffering, and excluded; having a pioneering approach to new forms of evangelization; being involved in inserted fraternities.
- Being in communion with the local church.
- Having a willingness to actively collaborate with lay people and with other members of the Franciscan Family.
- A commitment to the transversal values of Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation; and to working for the social transformation of the structures in society and the reconciliation and healing of the social and natural world.
During the meeting here, some time was also spent talking about future possibilities. David Buer OFM spoke of his provincial’s invitation to consider opening a new house this fall on the US side of the Arizona-Mexican border in order to bring a contemplative Franciscan presence to and offer humanitarian aid in the border region.
The friars set up an email mailing list to continue discussions about Ite Nuntiate. Any friar interested in participating in these discussions or wanting to learn more about the new forms of Franciscan life in the US are invited to join.