Once a stronghold for the Franciscans, northern New Jersey used to be place with dozens of churches run by the friars. As the demographics began to shift in the middle of the last century, Holy Name Province began returning churches to the diocese, freeing them up to hold posts in areas with greater need. Of the locations left, we visited Church of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in Wodridge, NJ, Saint Anthony’s Church in Butler, NJ (both parish and retirement home), Saint Bonaventure Church in Paterson, NJ, and finally Saint Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, NJ.
Despite the relatively close proximity of these churches (within an hour), there was a distinct character to each that I’m sure is a reflection of the congregation and its needs. The activities varied considerably from church to church, ranging from youth ministry to drug counseling, adult education to elementary schools, outreach to contemplation, even ranging a bit between traditional and progressive. It was really interesting for me to see how much of a difference there can be, even in the same ministry (parish) led by the same people (friars of Holy Name Province).
One of the inevitable things I find myself wondering when we visited each new location was, “Can I see myself here in a few years?” (This is often compounded when each community attempts to “woo” us so that we will request placement there one day.) For each of the New Jersey houses, there was at least one thing that was very familiar and interesting, as well as at least one thing that was very off-putting or disappointing. I found both of these aspects to be very helpful: It helped me to remain open to new possibilities, new ministries, and new friars, offering an aspect of comfort along with a strong motivation to improve the aspects I found lacking.
Certainly it’s a long way away, (and trust me, I’m in no position to critique, especially not here) but I found the whole experience to be a great exercise in discernment. It allowed me to think about God’s call to me within a real, concrete possibility. It’s one thing to think in abstracts and to let my mind entertain a world of infinite possibilities, but it’s also helpful to look at already established ministries run by actual friars and discern the my life in each. Overall, I was affirmed once again in my Franciscan vocation and continue to look with eagerness as what lies ahead.
More pictures to come soon!