Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 29, 2008
Franciscan torch passing to a new generation
Fire keeps burning as followers of Francis celebrate 100 years in West
- Photo by Maurice Fritze
Brothers Dan Gurnick, Jean-Paul Ducharme and Bill Isenor are part of a new generation of Franciscans.
By WCR Staff
Like other established religious orders, the Franciscans of Western Canada have suffered from the vocations drought.
In fact, it has been 20 years since the last ordination in the community dedicated to living out the simple spirit of the Beatitudes that St. Francis of Assisi abandoned everything to find.
But now, as they celebrate their 100th anniversary in the West, the Franciscans are beaming. A rich abundance of new vocations has the men of the brown habit walking with a bounce in their step.
It is a sign that the labour of 100 years continues to bear fruit, not only in the broader Church, but among the Franciscans themselves.
Next summer, some of the eight men now in various stages of formation will likely make their final vows. A few months later, they may be ordained to the priesthood.
“With eight young people in our formation program there is hope for the future,” says Father Dennis Vavrek, provincial of the order in the West. “We have been here for 100 years; now there is hope that we’ll be here for the next 100 years.”
That first 100 years has meant a lot for the Church. The Franciscans have established and run parishes. For decades, they ran St. Anthony’s College in Edmonton. They still run two retreat houses . . . one in Cochrane, the other in Lumsden, Sask. They serve the poor and live the life of poverty themselves.
They have been a rock at Newman Theological College.
Fortunately, one will never know what the Church in the West would have been like had the Franciscans never come here. Certainly, it would not be as vibrant. Something important would have been missed.
But in recent years, the Franciscans have had to abandon or pull back from some of their ministries. They closed their friary in Winnipeg. The Edmonton Archdiocese closed St. Francis Parish in Edmonton; the Franciscans sold the massive friary next door.
Their numbers in the West dropped from a high of 118 down to 46.
But as the Franciscans became smaller, perhaps they also became more beautiful. For some reason – one the Franciscans themselves struggle to explain – young men were attracted to them.
Not a flood of vocations. But enough to know that something is changing. “Our reputation comes from St. Francis and that attracts people,” said Father Donald MacDonald, one of the Franciscan leaders. “St. Francis helps us attract people.”
The influx of new life into a congregation has created a problem – how to pay for the formation and education of all these men.
On Oct. 3, the Church of the Archdiocese of Edmonton will help out. More than 900 people will shell out $250 a ticket to attend a gala evening fundraiser at the Agricom. That will go a long way toward keeping the Franciscan spirit alive in the West.