Finding "The Way" through relationships, Franciscan tradition
By Elizabeth Allen, affiliate (spring 2021)
Over 15 years ago, I became an affiliate of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration by way of relationships. Since I was a young girl, relationships with the sisters were deeply entwined into my life. I can remember Sister Laura Schreck at family dinners and gatherings, passing pieces of cake to all the guests at my first communion celebration. After college, when I began to search for my fit in ministry and life, knocking on FSPA’s door seemed as natural as visiting family back home. They embraced my spiritual questions and searching with open arms and grounded guidance. I have many fond memories of Sisters Dorothy Dunbar and Laurice Heybl providing the support and presence I needed to help me find my way. They introduced me to affiliation, and many new relationships were made as I was welcomed into their Franciscan family.
Times are different now. Fewer families are connected to parishes, and the number of vowed women religious serving in those ministries is smaller. As director of FSPA affiliation, I wanted to somehow emulate the gifts that I had received by being a part of the community. And I kept coming back to FSPA’s core values: Franciscan spirituality speaks of the values of contemplation, poverty, minores and conversion rooted in the lives and writings of Saints Francis and Clare. But what does this mean for you and me? Where do these virtues show up in our daily lives? Are they exclusively Franciscan values or is there a common thread and universal story to be told?
The FSPA community taught me that when I have serious questions, it’s best to first begin with prayer. And so I stayed at a Franciscan Spirituality Center hermitage nestled on FSPA land at Villa St. Joseph in complete solitude for several days with my laptop and various spiritual resources. I wanted to write about “The Way” I was shown through the Franciscan tradition, how it blended with my professional background of counseling and chaplaincy (a ministry setting with significant religious and spiritual diversity). My hope was to build bridges in our relationships together, emphasizing unity in our diversity.
The first draft of what surfaced there, “The Way in the 21st Century,” was something I needed to do in solitude, but the continued evolution of the guidebook was truly done in community. I want to recognize the three people in particular who come to my mind. As a Franciscan theologian, Sister Jean Moore provided review of the work and was genuinely excited about the message. In fact, Sister Jean made a declaration at the 2018 FSPA Mission Assembly, “I proclaim A Revolution of Goodness … by building bridges through writing and teaching that bring people together to learn ways to express and share our inherent goodness.” As Sister Jean is no longer with us, “The Way” is dedicated to her memory.
FSPA communications staffer Jen Pick and graphic designer Terry Tobin spent countless hours with me in the editing phase. I couldn’t have asked for any better talent and support, yet what stands out to me is the relationships that were made. Terry said something to me recently that I will always hold close: “You know, for as many unknowns that this project included, we actually lived out these values in working together along the way. That means everything.” It really does. That’s the spirit of ministry.