Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 29, 2008
The Franciscan resurgence
New friars mean new life . . . and new expenses
- Photo by Maurice Fritze
Edmonton's Franciscan community strives to live like brothers.
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The Franciscan Friars, currently celebrating 100 years in Western Canada, are experiencing a resurgence of sorts.
Even though their numbers have been in decline since the late 1950s, they now have eight young men from across Western Canada studying for the priesthood in Edmonton.
And according to Father Dennis Vavrek, the principal of the Franciscans of Western Canada, three or four more men may join next year.
“At one point, in the late 1950s, we had 118 men in Western Canada; now we are down to 46. Like all religious communities we had this decrease in numbers but now all of a sudden in the last five years we have had a resurgence in the interest in our way of life,” Vavrek said.
Next year three of the eight men now in formation will take solemn vows and will be ordained Franciscan priests the following year.
But the religious formation of friars is expensive. Because friars live out of a common fund, a Franciscan candidate has all his expenses covered by the Franciscan community, including housing, food, travel and transportation, insurance, clothing, computers and personal expenses and entertainment.
That’s about $20,000 a year per candidate. With eight candidates preparing for six or more years, the cost is about $1 million.
That’s why the Franciscans are marking their 100th anniversary with an Oct. 3 fundraising gala.
“We are asking the people in this 100th anniversary for support for the formation of our students,” Vavrek said. “Because of the cost (of formation) and our diminishing income we are asking people to help us to form these young men for the future.
“We are asking for people’s support in our efforts to have a strong Franciscan presence in Western Canada and in Edmonton.”
As to what has sparked this vocation boom Vavrek mentioned several factors, including the Franciscans’ strong fraternal identity and its strong sense of community.
“We live as a community of brothers and within that is a strong sense of hospitality,” he said. “We do that well. We open up our house to the community for visitors, family and friends; we share our prayer, we share our table.”
The Franciscans also offer a wide variety of service opportunities for those who join them. In Edmonton, friars teach theology at Newman Theological College, participate in the St. Vincent de Paul Society, serve meals to the inner-city poor, and provide prison chaplaincy and assistance to recovering alcoholics.
Strong community life
Father Don MacDonald, who has taught at Newman for 40 years and has been college president twice as well as dean, agrees the Franciscans are doing several things right to attract new members.
“The major thing is that we have a strong community life,” he said. “Our spirituality is very Christ-centred and we treat each other as brothers, like St. Francis taught.”
The reputation of St. Francis of Assisi, who founded the Franciscan order 800 years ago, also helps. He is regarded as the most popular saint in history and is well known for his simplicity, his love of animals and of the environment.
The Franciscans of Western Canada, properly known as Christ the King Province, also have retreat houses in Cochrane and Lumsden, Sask., a friary in Victoria, two parishes in B.C. and two priests working at a mission in Peru.
“We respond to the needs that are there in our world, around us. Even at the time when St. Francis founded the order, the Friars have been involved in a multitude of kinds of work, whether working in leprosariums, in parishes or teaching,” Vavrek said.
“The Franciscans right from square one were involved in the early days of the University of Paris.”