Society of Saint Francis, San Damiano Friary

Submitted by: Desmond Alban SSF, Guardian at San Damiano and member of the Provincial Leadership Team

Submitted to: the 174th Diocesan Convention

There have been many changes in the life of the province over the past several years and that continues.  At our own Annual Chapter in May, we committed ourselves to a work of re-founding after much upheaval, and to an ongoing and practical discernment of what that will mean for our small group of brothers.    One tangible element of that has been our work on the Initial Formation Program.   That project will be ongoing, but it began where it needed to with the ‘Inquirers Path’ that several men have participated in over the past year and with a reworking of our application process.  Following our exploration together on that Path, it was a delight in early June to invite two new aspirants to come to San Damiano before the Feast of St Francis this year.  Our attention is now focusing on our welcome of them and on the Year One (postulancy) part of the program.

We were sorry to release one brother from Life Vows, but we also look forward to the return of an American Brother, or former Minister General, Cfollowing some sabbatical time for him after the completion of his time as Guardian of Hilfield Friary in the UK.  The care of our seniors, particularly in their health concerns, remains an important priority for our financial and human resources, but we also value their contribution, and assert that there has been a richer expression of our common life over these recent years, e.g., in their participation in our regular Community Meetings, both our weekly Group Lectio and our monthly discernment and decision-making meeting.

We are committed to encouraging each brother to develop and fulfil their vocations, responding to their own challenges and areas for growth.  As part of that, an August Chapter meeting agreed to reduce the Provincial Leadership Team to just two brothers for the time being.  However, we have not diluted our intentions for how we make decisions in the province: those two brothers continue in the work they have been doing as ‘Co-Leads’ in formation matters and as, in effect, a ‘standing committee’ for the Chapter, ensuring that all major decisions are made by the whole group of brothers, meeting together usually at least once each month.  With the imminent arrival of postulants, a Guardian has been elected to take a lead in pastoral and day to day matters in the Friary.  All the brothers in the province are resident at San Damiano except one who continues residential studies and training in New York.  We continue to receive inquiries about joining the brothers and we may have the happy challenge of finding new places for our life and work in the medium-term future.

One of the decisions we have made as a whole group is about the use of the funds principally from the sale of Little Portion Friary in Long Island, NY,  that had been sitting idly in an investment account. Whilst we have invested some of this to earn interest, we are also considering how to use a substantial sum for the support of other charitable projects.  We also set aside a sum for long overdue capital repairs and over this summer the roof was replaced and a thorough repair and repainting project on the exterior of San Damiano Friary completed, and we are exploring possibilities for other improvements, e.g., in the use of more ecological energy resources.  It is our intention to begin a conversation with the diocese about that, since we share an ‘interest’ in the building. More work is needed to balance our regular annual income and expenditure.

Our own Annual Chapter week was encouraging:  It is easy to feel preoccupied by daily practical tasks, but the Chapter helped us to gain perspective, particularly on the range of ministries in which our brothers are engaged.   Those ministries reflect the priorities of the Society worldwide, rooted in our common Principles and Rule.  At San Damiano Friary, they include: the care of our seniors (including cooking, errands, visiting one another); our common life of community and worship; ministries of Leadership, Administration (including in the worldwide SSF) and Formation.  External ministries include: those to the elderly and visiting; feeding the hungry, especially at St Anthony’s Foundation, but also sometimes among those we encounter on the streets, where we also have a ministry of friendship and prayer; engagement with parishes, and with an on-line congregation (including worship, vestry, choir, sacristy work and preaching); local community building and outreach, for instance through the stewardship of the Friary’s ‘Little Free Library’ in front of the Friary.  The Third Order representative at our Chapter added the perspective that San Damiano fulfils a role as a ‘beacon’ in the city, including informal encounters, friendship, reception of guests, and spiritual direction.

We are renewed in our vision to be people of service as well as prayer, as ‘active contemplatives.’  As we noted from our Policies, Norms and Precedents during our Chapter discussions,

‘Our aim and function must be to live the holy gospel wherever we are in this day and age…’

Respectfully submitted,

Desmond Alban SSF

Guardian at San Damiano, and member of the Provincial Leadership Team

September 2023