Celebrating discernment, diversity, family and Francis

By Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA on Friday, October 11th 2019


In Chicago, Franciscan formation families came together to honor St. Francis 



Residents of the FSPA formation house in Chicago include Sisters Helen Elsbernd, Sister Michele Pettit (novitiate), Sister Julia Walsh, Sister Corrina Thomas, FSPA novice director, and Sister Meg Earsley, novitiate (photo courtesy of Sister Julia Walsh, taken by Sister Eileen McKenzie).

It is vital to celebrate people and events that shape our culture. For Franciscans, October 3rd and 4th of every year serve as reminders of the life and death of St. Francis of Assisi. Each Franciscan congregation celebrates in a unique way, and our community held a celebration at our motherhouse, St. Rose Convent, in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Those of us living and ministering in the area gathered on the evening of Oct. 3 in Mary of the Angels Chapel for Transitus — a special prayer service honoring the passing of St. Francis from death into eternal life, followed by a reception. The celebration continued the next day as we honored the life of St. Francis at a Mass commemorating his death. Sisters and FSPA staff then gathered to share fellowship over lunch.  

Simultaneously, Transitus and Feast of St. Francis celebrations were held wherever FSPA live and minister. Adding to the joyfulness this year is a new community formation house in Chicago, Illinois, where our canonical novices are living and studying, guided by Sister Corrina Thomas, FSPA novice director, and other members of the community. The novitiate phase of discernment is two years, a time in which novices learn more about the church, the community’s constitution, and vows of celibacy, obedience, and poverty. Novices spend time integrating Franciscan values into their lives.

Show me a sign was curious to find out how our formation house members celebrated the Feast of St. Francis, so we caught up with Sister Meg Earsley, an FSPA novice who recently moved to Chicago to live and discern as a there.  

Show me a sign: 
How did you celebrate Transitus and the Feast of St. Francis — your first Franciscan feast day away from St. Rose?  

Sister Meg:
Our formation house decided to join other Franciscan communities to celebrate. Here in Chicago, there are several religious congregations that we attend classes with at Chicago Theological Union. We also attend classes with others in the Inner Community Novitiate. It’s a collaborative learning endeavor established to educate women and men who are in the process of becoming members of religious congregations. We were invited to several celebrations through our connections with them.

We honored Transitus with the formation community of the Capuchin Franciscan Friars. The prayer service was incredibly moving: they carried a Franciscan habit laid across a stretcher as if it were the body of St. Francis and sang some of the ancient chants from his canonization. The church was filled with Capuchin Franciscans, our formation house community, other religious community members and parish members. After the prayer service, we all went to the parish hall for food, fellowship and the opportunity to meet others.

Show me a sign: 
How did you celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis?

Sister Meg: 
We began with our daily morning prayer in the chapel space of our formation house and continued in a unique way: we invited Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, to come and meet with us about the possibility of having the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel. He toured the space and granted us permission. We are really happy to have this blessing in our formation house.  


Traditional St. Francis Day almond cookies, baked by Sister Meg (photo by Sister Meg Earsley)

After the departure of Bishop Perry, we visited the Order of Friars Minor’s formation house. We know these novices and their formation community because they also participate in our classes. I baked almond cookies, a Franciscan tradition, to share. (There is a story about St. Francis: as he lay dying, he asked his friend Lady Jacoba to come for one last visit and bring the almond cookies that he liked.) We celebrated Mass and enjoyed dinner, including the almond cookies, together. One of the OFM novices was a chef before entering religious life and continues to use his gift by cooking for his community.  

Show me a sign: 
It sounds like you had a great celebration with many friends and new acquaintances. What a blessing it is that you are experiencing the diversity of the Franciscan family. I think St. Francis would be happy, as many stories of his life are about companionship with people and the centrality of prayer. You honored both in your two-day celebration in Chicago!

Here are some questions for all of us, including discerners, to ponder:

  • What are some of the traditions that your local parish community celebrates?
  • Is there a particular saint that has been inspirational in your faith life? 
  • How do you celebrate their feast day?  
  • What are some of the traditions that your local parish community celebrates?

Are you discerning religious life? Walking with someone who is? We invite you to share this link, www.fspa.org/showmeasign, and join the conversation.

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