The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement have begun the pivot towards the future.
From March 7 through March 11, the Friars held their Atonement Franciscan Assembly at Our Lady of the Atonement Chapel at Graymoor, a weeklong examination of the future of their ecumenical, social and pastoral ministries, as well as the future and formation of religious life.
From the Friars’ motherhouse in Garrison, N.Y., dialogue was facilitated among experts in response to Pope Francis’ call for a “Synod on Synodality,” an open and earnest exploration of the life and mission of the Catholic Church.
The assembly began with an evening ecumenical prayer service on Monday. Its celebrants included Reverend Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith, Baptist minister and Senior Associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World; Father Walter Kedjierski, Executive Director of the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Nathan Smith, Director of Catholic-Evangelical Relations at Glenmary Home Missioners; Sister Denise Robillard, SA, Councilor of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement; Father Jim Loughran, SA, Vicar General, first Councilor and Director of Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute (GEII); and Dr. Aaron Hollander, Ph.D., Associate Director of GEII.
In her sermon, Reverend Angelique posed the question, “How do we bring Jesus’ prayer for unity – that ‘they all may be one’ – to life in this moment?”
Reverend Angelique spoke about a Catholic friend, who showed her she could be a great liturgical dance performer. She challenged the congregation to do as her friend did: to create an invitation for those different than you, find places of frailty and struggle, and keep company among those with different backgrounds, perspectives and beliefs.
On Tuesday, the second day of the assembly, the Friars discussed the future of their ecumenical ministry. Ecumenism is central to the Friars’ charism of “At-One-Ment,” with its focus on the reconciliation of Christians, their churches and unity. The Friars agreed that extending the hand of friendship to people of all backgrounds and faith traditions, including and especially those that are different from your own, is the crucible through which ecumenism is forged.
The future of ecumenical ministry presentation featured a keynote address from Father David Couturier, OFM Cap., a noted Franciscan scholar, author and Dean of the School of Franciscan Studies at St. Bonaventure University. A panel discussion followed, led by Aaron Hollander, Ph.D., Associate Director of GEII, with panelists Nathan Smith; Father Walter Kedjierski, Executive Director of the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Margaret Rose, Deputy to the Presiding Bishop for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, The Episcopal Church.
The Friars next explored the future of their social and pastoral ministries, on Wednesday, the assembly’s third day. Saint Christopher’s Inn is but one example of the Friars’ dedicated work in the area of social ministry. The Inn is not just a place where people can come for addiction treatment and recovery. It is a home where they can come to heal, find spiritual hope and renewal, and rediscover their true selves. Spirituality, the Friars found, is the key to recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol.
The social ministry panel was co-moderated by James Schiller, Ph.D., Executive Director of St. Christopher’s Inn, and Connie Wille, Chief Executive Officer of Champlain Valley Family Center. Panelists included Robert A. Kent, General Counsel of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; John A. Darin, President and CEO of NADAP (National Association for Drug Abuse Problems); Wilfredo Morel, Vice President of Immigrant Health at Sun River Health; and Tom Caracciola, Housing Program Supervisor at Champlain Valley Family Center.
In examining the future of their pastoral ministry, the Friars were reminded of how important it is to bring their charism to the world. The founder of the Society of the Atonement, Servant of God Father Paul Wattson, SA, encouraged the Friars to leave Graymoor and go out into the neighboring communities, bringing the spirit of the Holy Mountain to one and all. Conversely, when people flock to Graymoor for a retreat, there is always a Friar prepared to help – whether answering the call to hear a confession, celebrating Mass or being there for liturgical support. The word that came up frequently while assessing the pastoral ministry, was “relationship,” and the ministries at Graymoor and around the world are committed to reaching out and staying in contact with the needs of diverse people from all around the globe.
The discussion began with a message from Father James Mallon, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, founder of the Divine Renovation Ministry and author of the best-selling book “Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission.” The session featured a forum led by Andrew D’Angelo, Executive Director of the Holy Mountain Franciscan Retreat Center at Graymoor. Panelists included Deacon Thomas Rich, TSA, Vocation Director of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement; Laura Graeber, Registrar and Retreat Coordinator, Holy Mountain Franciscan Retreat Center; and Brother Paul Roach, a professed Tertiary candidate in the Society of the Atonement, who ministers at the Chapel of Our Savior, the Friars’ parish in Brockton, Massachusetts.
On Thursday, the Friars looked at the future and formation of religious life. There are still a great many who strive to carry out the work of Father Paul and fellow founder Mother Lurana, SA, and walk in the footsteps of Saint Francis and Saint Clare. The Friars recognized their six novices in Lima, Peru, who were called to discernment and to bring others to Jesus Christ. A willingness still remains to answer the call to vocation, and people are still attracted to the Friar’s charism. “If we live it,” the Friars concluded, “people will come to it.”
The future and formation panel discussion was led by Deacon Thomas Rich, TSA, and Paul Lipowski, Ed.D., Vice President and Special Advisor of the Partners in Franciscan Ministries. Panelists included Brother Paolo Nicosia, SA; Father Jose Delgado, SA; Brother Fabrizio Szymanski, NSA; and Brother Eunan McMullan, OFM.
Hours after the future and formation panel, Grammy Award-winning musician Amy Grant performed a night of stories and song. In front of a packed congregation, Grant sang some of her hit songs, including, “El Shaddai,” “Every Heartbeat,” “Mountain Top,” “Father’s Eyes,” “I Will Remember You,” and “Baby, Baby,” which was written about her daughter.
Friday, the final day of the assembly, featured a reading of the “Mind of the Meeting,” the fruit of the week’s discussion and reflection. The Mind of the Meeting will be presented to His Eminence, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, for submission to the Office of the Synod at the Vatican in Rome on behalf of the Archdiocese of New York.
His Eminence was unable to join the Friars for the closing Mass. Auxiliary Bishop Gerardo Colacicco celebrated in the Cardinal’s place.
The assembly concluded with the Friars celebrating their 2020, 2021 and 2022 Jubilarians. Honorees were Father James Gardiner, SA (60 years); Bro. Alan LeMay, SA (60 years); Bro. Timothy MacDonald, SA (60 years); Fr. Elias D. Mallon, SA (60 years); Fr. Emil Tomaskovic, SA (60 years); Fr. Charles Sharon, SA (60 years); Fr. Robert Mercer, SA (50 years); Fr. Dennis Polanco, SA (60 years); Fr. Robert Warren, SA (60 years); Bro. Denis Burgelin, SA (25 years); and Fr. David Poirier, SA (50 years).