Recently professed, 13 August 2016 at Woodford Green Franciscan Friary
I am 22 years old and was born and raised in the north east of England. For much of my early years, religion sadly wasn’t much of a feature in my life. I had been baptised in my local Anglican church but in our house we didn’t attend church as a family.
Although both my grandmothers were Catholics, I knew very little about their Catholic faith – I could never quite work out why grandma kept rosary beads and a statue of Our Lady on her bedside-table!
When I was nine years old I stepped foot into a Catholic church for the first time on a trip with the Cub Scouts. It was the church of St. Francis of Assisi and, not long after that, a neighbour took me to say a prayer for a sick relative in a local Catholic church dedicated to St. Clare of Assisi. Thus the Franciscan saints appeared in my life from a young age!
Although we weren’t a religious family there was a sense of God in our house and as a child I would read my children’s Bible and say the odd prayer here and there. After going to secondary school we were all given a pocket Bible which was a source of great nourishment during my teenage years. I can see now that God was asking me to have a relationship with Him but I simply didn’t know how to respond – I figured I would ‘do God’ one day in my later years.
After leaving school I became very involved in politics where I made friends with some practicing Catholics. I was searching for a way to deepen my relationship with God and I was inspired by the practice of their faith so I asked if I could go to Mass with them. My first Mass was an eye-opener for me because I felt this was a way that I could practice my faith too. Soon after I was attending Mass every week in St. Francis of Assisi parish and after some time asked to be received into the Roman Catholic faith. Surrounded by family and with the support of the wonderful parishioners and friends I became a Catholic aged 19.
Because our parish is dedicated to St. Francis and St. Clare I felt some affinity to them and I wanted to know more about them. I was fascinated by their lives and how they sought to follow the Gospel through minority, fraternity and love of God through love of the poor and Creation. When I was on a trip to the Holy Land I saw Franciscan friars for the first time and I hadn’t realised that people still followed the way of Francis and Clare in the 21st century!
There was a feeling inside that I wanted to do the same thing and I wondered if God was asking me to become a Franciscan. I prayed, listened and then I contacted the friars in Great Britain to begin the process of discernment with them.
After journeying with the Vocations Director and going through the application process I was very happy to be received into the postulancy of the Franciscans at the Friary in Killarney, Co. Kerry, in August 2014.
The postulancy was a wonderful experience and one I remember fondly. For a year I had the opportunity to learn more about the Franciscan way of life by living in a Friary and through classes and work placements.
The postulancy allowed me to see the day-to-day life of the Friars and to experience all the joys and the struggles of living in a religious community.
It was a privileged time to get an introduction into Franciscan spirituality and religious life through classes on subjects such as prayer; human development; spirituality; music; the liturgical year and justice, peace and integrity of creation.
There were three work placements throughout the year – one at a local youth club, another teaching English to migrants and asylum seekers and another working with the Saint Vincent de Paul holiday home in north Kerry. This involved spending a few days each week with their guests – many of whom were local elderly people who would come for a break and also Irish emigrants who hadn’t returned home in many years.
They were all challenging in different ways but were thoroughly enjoyable and have given me some excellent experiences. They were a real learning opportunity and a good way to be of service to others.
After finishing my year of postulancy in Killarney I moved up to Ennis, Co. Clare, to begin my novitiate in August 2015.
The novitiate is a time for discerning a vocation in an intense way and to immerse oneself in religious life through a day structured around prayer, manual work, classes and work placements. This was also the year when I received the Franciscan habit which was a very special occasion.
Time is spent studying in an in-depth way the spirituality of the Franciscans, as well as our Rule and Constitutions to give a solid grounding in our identity. Study of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience is an important part of the year.
The daily routine follows the Liturgy of the Hours – the official prayer of the Church – and after morning prayer, classes and lunch I usually spend the afternoon working in the garden or doing work around the Friary. Once a week I go out to a local nursing home and hospice to spend time talking with the residents. I’ve also been able to visit local schools during the year to talk about the Franciscans which has been a brilliant experience.
In the evening I have some time to relax before we finish with Night Prayer and Grand Silence at 9.35pm.
The novitiate is a challenging year but a very important one for discerning the vocation by living it in a community for a whole year. It concludes with profession of simple vows which I hope to make this August, before going to Maynooth to study philosophy.
The Franciscan way of life has much to contribute to the Church and the world and I pray that any young men who hear the Lord’s call will – in the words of St. John Paul II – ‘say a generous ‘yes’ and do not be afraid’.
The best way to know if this way of life is for you is to ‘Come and See’ so, if you think the Lord is calling you to be a Franciscan, my best advice is to contact the Friars and to see where the Lord may be taking you!