In his Testament, written towards the end of his life, St. Francis mentions, almost casually, “…and the Lord gave me brothers…” As remarkable a personality as St. Francis was, his vocation, his whole life was about fraternity, about brotherhood and sisterhood. St. Francis was a brother, among the Lesser Brothers and Poor Sisters of Assisi. More than that, he became a brother to all those he met, and to every creature.
The Franciscan story isn’t the story of a great philosophy or a great idea. Being a Franciscan is about experiencing life as a brother or a sister of Jesus Christ and through Jesus, becoming a brother or a sister to all men and women and to every creature. It is both very simple and very profound!
Have you ever wondered about the vocation to priesthood or the Religious Life? Have you wondered what kind of people hear and respond to the call? If so, you may be interested in the reading some of the profiles on this page.
Here is a selection of short testimonies of Irish Franciscan Friars. They are short introductions describing in a few words how they heard the call to become Franciscans, what they discovered on their vocation journey, and why today they are still living that original call.
Meet the brothers…
I met an Irish friar while working as a Civil Engineer in the humanitarian field in El Salvador in 2009. I was trying to live out my Catholic faith by helping bring about a more equitable and fairer world. However, even though I had been doing good work there already, building houses for poor people, I realised that the deep inequalities in the world will never be fixed by humanitarian work alone.
This friar impressed me by the way in which he walked humbly with the people as a brother and was always brimming with joy and spreading it to them. I thought, this is how I want to live my life. I then realized that this is how the Lord’s prayer ‘that they may all be one’ is answered – by spreading the real joy of the Gospel. It is accessible to all, especially the poor – something I was experiencing.
I entered the Franciscan postulancy in September 2012 after completing the various projects I was working on in El Salvador and I completed my formation, being solemnly professed in Sept 12 of this year (2020).
The Franciscan spirituality is of joy and fraternal fellowship and I am drawn to accompanying young people on their life journey in this way, giving them the gift of faith in Christ’s love, something that will enable them to become truly alive.
My name is Br. Vincent, and I have been with the Franciscans for 10 years. I was ordained a priest in 2019. My vocational story began when reading a book on the life of St. Francis. I was so moved by his story, that I wanted nothing else in the world other than to do what Francis did in his imitation of Christ, and to live in fraternity with nothing of our own, but to live the Rule and life according to the Gospel. High ideals, and ones we as friars struggle with daily!
As part of my training, I did a course on hospital chaplaincy, and as a result was blessed and privileged to work in 2 hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic. I recognized how much of a team we were in the hospital, all wearing the same medical scrubs and facing into the unknown. My work as a chaplain was as much about walking alongside the staff, as it was the patients. Some of what I did was Sacramental, but a lot of the time was being available and providing a listening ear. Also liaising with families who couldn’t visit their loved ones and to assure them of my presence with them and for them before the Lord.
I learnt that as a friar, we are tasked with many situations and ministries that we feel are outside our ability, but a reliance on God to equip and provide is essential in our trust of Him who calls us forth in His name.
I remember growing up in Waterford and we would frequently visit the local Franciscan Friary for Mass and confessions. The one memory that I can highlight from these visits is the feeling of being at home in the friary church. This feeling always stayed with me and as life progressed and the presence of a vocation began to emerge, I always found myself returning to the feeling of being at home.
Priesthood was the vocation which was always had the strongest pull for me and when I entered the national seminary, I quickly realised that something was missing – this feeling of being at home was tugging at me from within. I knew at that stage that my vocation had to exist within the context of a Franciscan Spirituality.
And so, the journey began!
Since joining the Franciscans in 2013, I have enjoyed the gift of many opportunities: living and studying abroad, experiencing the universal nature of the church, and meeting people from all over the world. In pastoral ministry too, the opportunities have been both rich and challenging.
One such ministry that I have found to be deeply enriching is that of hospital pastoral care. Initially, I had huge reservations about my ability to work in this area. I had a strong awareness how I was entering onto hospital wards filled with healthcare professionals who were trained and qualified to deal with sick people.
As a chaplain in training, my awareness had been of how untrained I was in comparison to the professionals with whom I share the patients. In truth, I felt inadequate standing there in my habit, looking like some guy who had just walked off the set of the latest Star Wars film! However, I persevered, and God certainly surprised me during this time. I found in myself an ability to connect in some positive way with people who were at their lowest and most vulnerable, particularly around end of life. Connecting with the most vulnerable in our lives is a key aspect to our Franciscan Spirituality. It is really a grace and it does bring a real sense of fulfilment and joy.
So, if you are thinking about looking at the Franciscan way of life, be open and allow yourself to be surprised by God. It really is a wonderful journey.
When I was growing up, I volunteered to serve Mass when I was in primary school. This for me had been a great joy and privilege. However, as time went on, I felt the pressures of my peer group and fell away from my faith and stopped practicing my faith in my early teenage years, especially when I attended secondary school. After finishing school, I was lucky to secure a full-time job with Tesco Ireland and worked there for twelve years.
Looking back, when did I decide to turn back to my faith? It had to be when I went traveling around in Australia for two years. During this time, I had an opportunity to reflect on the wonder creation. It was during my stay in Australia that I really began to think about my faith more deeply and how God had helped me through my life. I started to attend Mass again and the sacrament of confession.
During my time in Australia Pope Francis was elected to the chair of Saint Peter. Little did I know then, that within two years, I would be joining the order of the Saint whose name the Pope had adopted: Saint Francis of Assisi.
When I came back from my travels, I began to look a lot deeper into my faith by attending different prayer groups. Spending time with our Lord in adoration and praying the rosary. I really felt a strong sense that our Lord Jesus Christ was directing me into a new and radical way of living as a Christian. During this time I had a great sense of peace in my journey and great joy.
However, I did not know where I would start and I found this was a bit tough at the beginning. I was surprised by the variety of religious orders, and the different types of charisms. So why did I pick the Franciscans?
I received support by talking to different spiritual directors. Even though I still did not know where to go I persevered, trusting in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. One day, I found a vocations card of the Franciscans in my father’s bible. I recognised the Vocation Directors name, Br. Pat Lynch. I had come across Br. Pat and the Franciscans when I was researching online. The internet is a big world, but I was always drawn back to the Franciscans when I was researching online. The moment I contacted Brother Pat I found him relaxed and friendly, and very easy to talk too. After a few meetings with him he invited me to a “come and see” weekend in Killarney. I nearly did not turn up to this weekend! This was due to nerves and not knowing what to expect. However, I said I would give it a go, and I have not looked back ever since.
Becoming a Franciscan has been great experience and I have loved every moment of it.
When I arrived in Killarney the one thing that always struck with me was the fraternity among all the brothers. This was for me the greatest moment, and I really felt at home with them all. This of course is not to say it has been easy all the time. In my four years in the order it has been a great journey with all the challenges and support of fraternity life that it brings through each individual brother.
I am now in my fourth year of studies. I am attending Angelicum University in Rome which has introduced me to an even greater sense of the universal Church and the international nature of our order. Saint Francis said that the brothers should always rejoice when they meet one another, and this happens when we see each other on different occasions.
Franciscan joy represents the joy of the Gospel. This is when we gather in the name of Jesus Christ in fraternity and work among the people of God in many different situations. This can take on many expressions: there are friars teaching, ordained priests, counsellors, etc. there are so many ways to work as a friar. This is the main reason why I chose the Franciscans: to be among the people of our society today, bringing the Christian message to everyone we meet, facing the unique challenges of our time. The call is spread the Gospel and life as a friar has given me the opportunity to do this.
Having just turned eighteen I made the brave move of leaving home for the first time and made my way to Killarney to enter the novitiate of the Franciscan Friars. Initially lonely and homesick I adjusted to this new way of life; this is what I wanted.
After the usual course of studies for priesthood with the Franciscans I was ordained to in 1982 in the Friary Church Athlone by the late Bishop Donal Cassidy. My first assignment was back here in Athlone for twelve months mainly giving school retreats.
I was transferred the following year to our community in Mountjoy St Dublin to take up a role as chaplain in the School of Trades DIT Bolton Street. This school provides courses for young people apprenticed to the construction traders. During my six years in the School I also worked as volunteer with Dublin Simon Community
For three years after returning from a sabbatical in London I was assigned the role of Director of Postulants. I filled that roll for three years before going to work in pastoral ministry in Limerick.
In 1996 I moved to our Fraternity in Merchants Quay Dublin, a house designated for justice ministry. Here I fulfilled various roles in MQI the Franciscan Drugs and Homeless Service.
In 2002 I was appointed Parish Priest in the now defunct Merchants Quay Parish for three years; from there I moved to the Abbey Galway as Guardian of the Fraternity for six years.
On completion of my term I returned to Merchants Quay to take up the role of chaplain to MQI, a role I continue to fulfil. Presently I am Guardian of the Fraternity in Athlone, coming full circle.
The opening words of our Rule written by St Francis read: “The Rule and Life of the Friar Minor is to live the Holy Gospel”. Pope Francis wrote a Letter with the title “The Joy of the Gospel’. Nearly fifty years on, I still find joy and fulfilment in trying to live a Gospel life with my brothers in community life, proclaiming the Good News.
“Praise and Bless my Lord and serve him with great humility” [St. Francis, The Canticle]
From an early age my dream was to be a religious priest; the only question was: under which banner? For some time, there was a tug-of-war between a contemplative call and a missionary one, but then God intervened when as a family we began to attend daily Mass at the Franciscan church in Limerick.
The friars were down-to-earth and friendly, joyful men who seemed to enjoy one another’s company and being with people and I found myself wanting to be one of them. It was like falling in love – this is what I wanted to be more than anything else.
Over the past fifty years I’ve engaged in a diversity of ministries: parish work (Chile); teaching seminarians and religious (Bolivia and in southern Africa); and in Ireland – pastoral work, formation, spiritual accompaniment, retreats and bits and pieces of other work.
What keeps me going? Among them: the joy I detected among the friars years ago I still find in my confreres and in myself; meeting many wonderful people along the way; the inspiring example of St Francis; and most of all the personal relationship with Jesus Christ, without which nothing would make sense to me.
My journey to the Franciscans was one by way of the Comeragh mountains, south of Clonmel. That is the place where I believe I found myself and found a call to do something different with my life than I was doing.
I was unhappy where I was, unsettled, and knew inside me I would not fix cars and trucks for the rest of my days. I knew I didn’t have the gift for it. As a young scout I hiked the Comeraghs regularly and knew them quite well.
So that’s where I spoke to God and he answered, “without the voice”, but yet He answered and gave me a strong desire to serve Him in the Church.
Over the last, almost 50 years, I have tried to live my life in service to Him both in Ireland and in Zimbabwe. Going to Africa was an immense challenge and yet it was a wonderful experience to work there. I saw a poverty and a dignity live side by side, the cleanliness of a rural African village and yet the simplicity and poverty was way beyond what I had seen in Ireland. My African years, as I call them, were by far the most influential for me and left a mark on my vocation for which I am truly grateful.
I believe God has walked with me and He guided me through the ups and downs of my life. I am eternally grateful to Him for His presence in this world and His walking with us all whether we realise it or not He is there holding us in the palm of His hand.