The 2011 Annual Regional Chapter in April turned into a weekend retreat, with several on-going formation presentations, thanks to regional executive council members who stepped up when the featured speaker couldn't make it to Stella Maris Retreat Center in Skaneateles, NY.
Sr. Mary Beth Ingham, CSJ, chair of the Philosophy Department at Loyola Marymount Univeristy in Los Angeles, Calif., and author of books and articles on Franciscan Philosopher-Theologian John Duns Scotus,was to lead a day-long formation workshop, but weather-related flight cancellations kept her from making her connection to Syracuse.
Regional Spiritual Assistant Fr. Richard Trezza, OFM, kicked off Saturday morning with mass and then a talk on the Lenten Gospels and the insights they provide for the Secular Francsican way of life. That was followed up with a second talk on keys to a better prayer life (with the observation that praying can occur anywhere, anytime, and involve one's experiences in life).
The afternoon continued the prayerful theme with a presentation by Regional Secretary Joanne Lockwood, SFO, and Formation Director Mary Stronach, SFO, on St. Clare's approach to gazing at a religious image, considering what's in the image, contemplating on something that stands out, and then looking at ways to immitate Christ from the contemplation and prayer. The images they chose for reflection were pictures of several stations of the cross.
Then Mary Stronach wrapped up the afternoon with a presentation entitled, "Highway to Heaven." While Italy has a "Valley of Saints," she said, New York has its own corridor of saints, blesseds, venerables and servants of God -- along the New York State Thruway. She focused on the corridor starting just south of Albany and heading west to Auriesville, Fonda, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and Niagara Falls. (See story at left.)
On the previous day, the chapter took care of regional business, including hearing reports from the regional council and unanimously approving a 2012 budget of $35,000. Treasurer John Sanborn, SFO, provided an update to the 2011 budget before submitting the 2012 budget -- with the biggest change being the Formation Workshop scheduled for October to introduce the new National Formation Manual (which was being unveiled at a national workshop for regional formation teams in May).
In her "State of the Region," Minister Mary Frances Charsky, SFO, offered some regional statistics showing a little growth over the previous year. There are 28 fraternities in the region, with plans to reactivate a fraternity in the Eastern area to work with youth and young adults. As of December 2010, the region boasted 440 professed members, 37 candidates and 29 inquirers. Those numbers are up from the previous year's tally of 438 professed members, 33 candidates and 26 inquirers. The growth is in spite of 15 professed members embracing Sister Death in 2010.
Mary Frances reported that another Secular Franciscan has joined the ranks of regional lay spiritual assistants delegated by Father Richard to conduct pastoral visitations. Mary Smith, SFO, joins Bill Geary, SFO, Karen Szczesniak, SFO, and Anne Thomas, SFO, in that capacity.
Nineteen of the 28 fraternities, she noted, have spiritual assistants. They include 11 friars (one serves two fraternities), three sisters, three diocesan priests (one of whom is a Secular Franciscan) and one Secular Franciscan. That leaves nine fraternities without a spiritual assistant, an increase of two from the previous year -- which points up the need for fraternities to encourage qualified Secular Franciscans to train as spiritual assistants in order to meet the need, she said.
Mary Frances announced that she would like to see fraternities and members put a particular focus on Chapter 1 of the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order this year. Chapter 1 zeroes in on the Order's special role and secular character within the Franciscan family and church.
The chapter wrapped up Sunday morning with a roundtable discussion and an update by Youth/Young Adult Chair Rob Breen on his efforts to build Franciscan youth, or YouFra, groups. An active YouFra group is growing at Siena College, where he teaches, and they are in the process of launching a high school YouFra group in the Eastern area. Both groups will have a focus on Franciscan ecology.