By Jocelyn Thomas
ALLEGANY, N.Y. — A dozen men in formation from around the country have returned to their home provinces after spending five weeks at a summer study program hosted at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, sometimes referred to as "Camp Bonaventure."
The 12 postulants from the seven U.S. Provinces participated in courses, prayer and other activities as part of their program at SBU in Allegany, Holy Name Province’s sponsored college.
From June 24 to July 26, the men, ages 20 to 52, prepared for their novitiate year in a scenic setting in what is often endearingly referred to by locals as the “Enchanted Mountains." They took their classes at SBU’s Franciscan Institute.
“This summer experience provided more reasons to love the Franciscan family in general,” said Abraham Joseph of Holy Name Province. “I am very grateful for this wonderful collaboration among the provinces."
The program has several purposes, said Ronald Pecci, OFM, the Holy Name's postulancy director, who with Fr. Carl Langenderfer, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province, based in Ohio, coordinated the program that precedes reception into the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington, Wisconsin.
“For the first time since we joined the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate in 2011, postulants from all seven U.S. provinces participated." HNP formation students have attended summer courses at the Franciscan Institute for nearly four decades — since the 1970s. In those years, they were novices. After the reception of novices was moved from June to August, the program became one for postulants — men about to begin their novitiate year.
Learning and Sharing
In addition to taking two courses — “Francis: His Life and Charism,” taught by Mary Meany, and “Survey of Franciscan History,” led by Dominic Monti, OFM — the students participated in community prayer as well as activities around the campus.
Because courses are condensed into short time frames, classes are fairly intense. For example, Dominic's classes were held all morning. A full semester's worth of coursework is condensed into just three weeks.
“Besides participating in the liturgical schedule of the Franciscan Institute, we also had prayer and Mass together in the garden apartment where we stayed,” said Ronald. “We also had meals together at least once a day in our apartment. The postulants sign up to lead prayer, prepare meals and do house cleaning. The program has turned out to be the most significant one for the interprovincial postulancy program and perhaps for all of our individual postulancy programs.”
The program also allows postulants to get to know each other, and the men enjoyed the opportunity to sit and talk.
“We had them here for study but also to allow them to come to know one another and begin to bond as a class before they get to the novitiate. The novitiate team has told us that getting the postulants together as we do has been a big help to them. It allows more substantial elements to be present in the novitiate a month sooner than before,” said Ron.
Abraham, a native of Haiti, said the summer was rewarding from many perspectives.
“As important as the courses, the life in fraternity with the other postulants, under the mentorship of Fr. Carl and Fr. Ron, was a source of enrichment for my vocation,” said Abraham, who spent the past year in Wilmington, Del. “We shared with each other our personal experiences. We expressed our visions, our hopes, and also our concerns. We learned to work, pray, and study together. We also have interactions with members of different branches of the family: Capuchins, Conventuals, and Third Order Regular, who are also students at the institute.”
"I started my journey into the way of life of St. Francis with a few questions in mind. What exactly is the Franciscan family, its history and members? What is its mission? The SBU summer session answered these questions."
Before classes began, the student friars had an orientation to the area. “It included volunteering at the Allegany Sisters’ Canticle Farm, and doing some sightseeing,” said Ron.
The postulants also got to know the Franciscan spirit of fraternity. Many of the men attended Mass together and visited the Mt. Irenaeus Franciscan Mountain Retreat.
Festivities and Fraternity
On July 4, the postulants were invited to a holiday cookout at the friary, also attended by the Franciscan Institute staff, and later enjoyed watching the fireworks. On July 15, the group celebrated the feast of St. Bonaventure with a festive Mass and dinner sponsored by the institute.
“We celebrated the feast with a special liturgy, followed by a delicious banquet in Doyle Hall for all the professors, staff, and students,” said Fr. Carl. “Dominic presided at the Mass, and F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, preached on St. Bonaventure's love of wisdom, and challenged us in our pursuit of wisdom.”
“There is a very good spirit of volunteerism in the group. They are good about washing dishes, volunteering to lead and aid the liturgical celebrations and a few are even willing to cook,” said Ron in one of the updates that he and Fr. Carl emailed every week to the postulant directors of the participating provinces. "They seem to be accepting of each other and, when we have our weekly 'house meetings,' most are exceptional in their sharing and honesty.”
In addition, the group had several parties. “We in the postulant house hosted the sisters on campus for supper one Saturday evening for approximately 25 people,” said Fr. Carl. “On Thursday evening, there was an impromptu party on our front lawn, with refreshments, singing and games.”
Fr. Carl provided several updates in a column that was titled "Letters From Camp" and published in the SJB News Notes newsletter. "Camp Bonaventure is our tongue-in-cheek name for summer school at St. Bonaventure University," he said. "It's like an extension of postulancy from the various provinces, except that all the postulants from the U.S. provinces are here with Ron and myself."
“We had Wednesday night 'community meetings' and I have to commend the guys on how honest and transparent they have been. I admire their honesty and see it as a great sign for their future in community.”
On Aug. 15, the men will be officially welcomed into the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communication for Holy Name Province