Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
August 31, 2009
Franciscan vocations come to fruition
PHOTO | SARA FRANCIS
Armand Mercier and Daniel Gurnick were ordained transitional deacons by Bishop Fred Henry.
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
COCHRANE - Daniel Gurnick traded his house, car, paintball business, and the promise of a wife and children to wear a brown robe. And he said the decision was easy.
"I went from one extreme - wanting to live very rich to very poor," said the 36-year-old sitting in a patio chair outside Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre in Cochrane on Sunday, Aug. 23.
Hours earlier he had been ordained a transitional deacon alongside Armand Mercier, 38, during an outdoor Mass on the retreat grounds that attracted several hundred people.
A double ordination seemed to be the most fitting way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre and 800th anniversary of the Franciscan order founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209.
"It's very significant in that the last ordination would have been 20 years ago," said Brother Gerry Clyne, vocations director for the Franciscan Friars of Western Canada.
Currently, six other men are in various stages of formation en route to taking up the brown habit and become Franciscans. This is good news for the aging friars of Mount St. Francis who average about 70 years of age.
With no intention of selling the 200-hectare property in Cochrane and a five-year plan underway for the retreat centre with a focus on youth and ecological programming, it is youthful faces like Gurnick and Mercier who are the hope for the future.
"I just hope and pray we continue getting newer guys and branching into new ministries - more work with the poor and with the youth," said Clyne.
He points to secularization, competing options and Second Vatican Council for the vocation drought of the past two decades.
"There's a lot of people that left the order after the Second Vatican Council, all orders experienced the great bail out. . . . So not only did new guys stop coming, you had guys already in the order leave," said Clyne.
"We're climbing out of it. The fact that we've got six is an indication it's a slow climb, but I think at least the tides have turned a bit.
"Once we had some younger guys that stuck, then the next guys coming in, it was encouraging for them, they saw some younger guys under 40. Youth attract youth."
What attracted Mercier was the hospitality of the Franciscans whom he befriended during his studies at Newman Theological College.
"They had me over a few times for supper and I really got to experience their hospitality, which I think is an expression of that Franciscan spirituality - that real openness to others and letting people be free to be who they are.
"It was only after that I began thinking about joining the order," said Mercier, who holds a commerce degree and has worked in merchandising and the automotive industry.
Gurnick was transformed after a 2003 mission trip to an orphanage in Peru that the Franciscans were a part of. It was there he felt drawn to Franciscan poverty - giving up all personal possessions and living communally.
Gurnick and Mercier made their solemn vows to the Franciscan Order Thursday, Aug. 20 at St. Mary's Church in Cochrane.
Days later when Calgary Bishop Fred Henry presided at the ordination Mass, he said when Franciscans take their vow of poverty they lead by example.
CALLED TO BE POOR
"(St. Francis) encourages material poverty, something which the world says to avoid at all costs, but it requires of the disciples of Jesus something that we ought to cultivate, an ideal to be followed. . . . Not only are we called to be for the poor, but we are called to be poor," Henry said.
The next step for the two deacons is to start serving in various roles in the Edmonton area.
Gurnick will work at Edmonton area prisons as well as Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park and Mercier will be stationed at St. Thomas d'Aquin Parish. Their priestly ordination is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 23 in Edmonton.