The Queen of Peace Regional Fraternity of Secular Franciscans held their Spring Gathering at the Sisters of St. Francis motherhouse in Little Falls on April 29th. The Secular Franciscan Order is a worldwide association of laity and religious, with local fraternities organized into regional fraternities and national fraternities. It is one of the several orders that make up the Franciscan family. The Queen of Peace Regional Fraternity includes local fraternities in six states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. The gathering was especially important for those of us in the St. Cloud fraternity of Secular Franciscans as the 100th anniversary of our fraternity. The Secular Franciscan Order itself was established by St. Francis of Assisi more than 800 years ago. Anywhere and everywhere, every Secular Franciscan seeks the same thing in their daily life, work, family and community: “Our purpose is to bring the Gospel to life where we live and where we work. We look for ways to embrace the Gospel in our lives and try to help others to do likewise.”
The Spring Gathering was organized to include guest speakers, celebration of mass by recently installed Bishop Neary, a communal meal, dedicated time for quiet reflection and prayer, as well as plenty of time for the joyous fellowship that characterizes a Franciscan community gathering. The guest speakers for the day were Sr. Michelle L’Allier and Shawn Colberg. Sister Michelle L’Allier is one of the Franciscan sisters at the Welcoming House located in St. Cloud, where she is involved with youth ministry, conducting programs in spirituality, and host of the podcast Engaging Franciscan Wisdom. Shawn Colberg is the Dean of Theology at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary, where his studies and courses particularly focus on the theology of another Franciscan, St. Bonaventure, as well as St. Thomas Aquinas.
Sister Michelle L’Allier and Shawn Colberg partnered in their presentation, “Bringing Forth Franciscan Wisdom: Agents of Healing and Peace.” They set the focus of the day with a story about St. Francis of Assisi originally authored by hagiographer Thomas of Celano. The story relates how St. Francis recognized his calling when a section of the Gospel was explained to him, with its admonition of poverty, preaching the Kingdom of God, and penance. Thomas of Celano relates that St. Francis joyfully declared, “This is what I seek, this is what I desire with all my heart,” and immediately put into effect what he had heard.
The focus of the day was very timely, as so many in our contemporary society, especially with its technological capabilities and conflicting messages for anyone and everyone at all hours night and day, still struggle to know “What am I looking for?” and “What is it that I really want?” Secular Franciscans intentionally place themselves directly into the world, with all of its clamor, chaos and confusion, and seek to bring the healing and peace of the Gospel wherever they are — especially the times when, and places where, people are struggling the most. When St. Francis was seeking direction in life, he was blessed to have someone at hand to read and explain the Gospel to him, in a way that brought him lasting joy. In that same way, Secular Franciscans are at hand to bring the joy of the Gospel wherever they go in life. As the Secular Franciscan motto goes, “Going from Gospel to Life, and Life to the Gospel.”
This tradition and charism is shared between Secular Franciscans and the Sisters of St. Francis, who also attended the Spring Gathering. A highlight of my day was swapping stories with a sister about our work to serve marginalized people in hard circumstances. My stories came from my work here in Minnesota for children, youth and young adults with disabilities and behavioral health disorders, and Sister Shirley Mueller’s stories came all the way from McAllen, Texas, where she made morning tacos and coffee for the homeless. Did I mention that I sure like tacos – a lot? A fellowship was forged, and before the morning was over Sr. Shirley gave me a copy of Fratelli Tutti and a homework assignment. The afternoon was just as eventful, as after mass I stood admiring the chapel and received an impromptu explanation of the chapel’s Italian architecture and handcrafted décor from the Community Minister and President Sr. Carol Schmidt. I am sure Sr. Carol always has plenty of business to attend to, but her love for her community and good sense of humor was apparent in her choice to help me really see the chapel. She also shared a funny story about the chapel’s Umbrian architecture, a visiting theologian with a penchant for free association, and Italian cuisine. Did I mention that I sure like Italian cuisine too – a lot? I laughed at the story as well, and yet at the same time I appreciated that if you know a little about Italian, Mediterranean, or maybe any and all home cooking, it’s really about loving what is most human in all people and feeding them with that love. Remember the tacos and coffee? That’s what I’m talking about.
On the heels of a winter that lasted much too long, the Spring Gathering of Secular Franciscans was right to invite Bishop Neary, who himself came along in time to catch a winter that lasted much too long. Bishop Neary spent the morning with us, at the table, elbow to elbow. Earlier in the month, Bishop Neary had penned a column in the Central Minnesota Catholic in which he gave voice to the charge, “Each of us is called to be about the work of resurrection in our daily lives…In a world where there is so much loneliness, let us be people with hope to bring!” Although Bishop Neary may call the Congregation of the Holy Cross his spiritual home address, it was clear from his presence, homily, and encouragement, that it would not be a stretch to call Bishop Neary a Franciscan with a small but mighty “f” in his ability to see Christ resurrected in work for the poor, sick, wounded and despairing. Bishop Neary was definitely in the right place, and he fit right in with the rest of us. We were, and remain, deeply grateful for the time with Bishop Neary in Franciscan fellowship.
When you come home from a meeting of Secular Franciscans, there are usually a few surprises. Books on various faith and spirituality topics, the history of the Church, and the Franciscan saints, are ceaselessly circulated and handed from Secular Franciscan to Secular Franciscan, and it really takes effort to come home without a book tucked under your arm. In my case, Sr. Shirley made sure of that, and it is a homework assignment that I know she thinks will help me be a better Franciscan – and she’s probably right. It’s an invitation that came home with me with me from Little Falls, and I am accepting it. God also likes to keep me aware of my…let’s call them good ol’ managerial “areas for growth.” To that end, everyone had a chance to win the small pot of pansies at the center of their table. As a longtime “black thumb” saboteur of neglected office plants and high desert vegetable gardens, my inner voice made its plaintive cry: “Not me, not me, not me…”
As I came through the door, I explained to my wife, “I have to take good care of this one, this is my Franciscan plant.” The Lord never misses a chance.
Tom Delaney, O.F.S., M.A.Theo.
About the Author: I am a Secular Franciscan with the St. Cloud Fraternity of Secular Franciscans. I work in the field of government policies and programs to ensure social inclusion and human flourishing for children, youth and young adults with disabilities and behavioral health disorders. I reside with my family on our “one-horse ranch” and beekeeping spot just down the road from Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge and Dunes State Forest. We attend St. Henry’s in Monticello. I picked up my Master of Arts in Theology with a Concentration in Spirituality at the University of St. Catherine, studying the origins of monastic spirituality in medieval Irish hagiography. I write content for the website of the St. Cloud Fraternity of Secular Franciscans at www.stcloudfranciscans.org.
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