Cultivating the Seed

As young friars progress in their journey from vocation to formation. Formation directors friar Gary Johnson OFM Conv. and friar Paul Schloemer OFM Conv. share what they do and their experiences tending to young friars as they watch them grow and mature.

By Friar Gary Johnson OFM Conv.

My co-director friar Andy Martinez is known for saying that in his experience, “Formation works.” Formation is the ministry that we’ve been called to, helping new members of our community in their vocational and ministerial discernment of our life. He’s mentioned this in several homilies here at our formation house, San Damiano Friary here in San Antonio, Texas. He’ll begin with how he noticed this growth taking place when he was a friar student years ago. He develops this concept with an invitation to us, his gathered listeners, to patience and perseverance in the process of our own continued growth and discernment.

Both Andy and I look back upon our gradual growth as friars, to remind ourselves that it was over time, and in response to God’s call in conjunction with the ministry of our formation directors, and their patience with us and challenges to us, that we moved to greater maturity as friars. We see this same process taking place in the men to whom we minister. Whether it be the greater openness that one of our friars in Formation begins to reveal by going deeper during faith sharing. Or, the greater sense of self-less giving of one brother to another in service while the other is in need, these men in our formation process give us hope. While there comes a time for decision making, vocational discernment indeed takes time; it cannot and must not be rushed. Our ministry as formation directors calls us always to find a balancing between encouraging our friar students toward a more formal commitment to our lives and giving them the space to grow in adult maturity as a reply to God’s call.

It is, indeed, a privilege for us to minister to these men sensing a call to our life. They give us hope great hope.

By Friar Paul Schloemer OFM Conv.

Peace and all good! When I was the Vocation Director for the Province, people used to ask me what exactly a vocation director did. I would even get this question from Diocesan priests who were the vocation directors for their diocese because their model of handling vocations tended to be quite different. They would generally accompany their seminarians from the moment they expressed interest in their eventual ordinations. I, on the other hand, would glibly respond (and if you know me, most of my responses tend toward the glib), “I just bring ‘em in and hand ‘em off.” And the Friar to whom I would “hand ‘em off” was the Formation Director.

Now, I am that guy that gets the handoff. And I love it.

All of us, beginning with good Catholic families, to good parishes and the excellent examples of many priests and religious, and through the work of the Vocation Director, are involved in the “planting” of the seeds of a vocation to ministry in the Church. But once that person (young man in the case of the Conventual Franciscans) makes that leap into the Call, it is the Formation Director that is primarily responsible for cultivating that seed. Through classes, mentoring, correction, and mostly example, that tiny whisper that the Lord uses to call us, can be formed into a conviction of a Gospel life as a Friar.

As the budding of new flowers belies the current Covid-19 pandemic and gives us Easter hope that life will always triumph over death, the fine young men I have the privilege to form also are a great sign of hope. They certainly have their challenges. They, like all of us, struggle to find their way in the world. But, like the other signs of Spring giving testimony to the presence of our Creating God, they continuously grow toward the light of Christ and offer themselves over and over to that light. Perhaps not all of them will end up as solemnly professed Franciscans. Perhaps, God will call them to some other way of life. But I, as should we all, thank God that their willingness to say yes, is proof that Christ is still active in our Church, and hope “Springs” eternal!