Friars’ Spirit of Community Elevates St. Francis of Assisi Parish

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Maria Hayes and Benjamin Simpson are relative newcomers to New York City feeling at home as part of the community at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Manhattan.

The parish, staffed by the Franciscans of the Order of Friars Minor, completed its 175-year celebration on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4, with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Dolan. A commemorative book was published to look back at the parish’s long history.

“We’re really lucky to have a strong sense of community, and it’s in large part because of the friars. They encourage us to grow and be a full part of the Church,” said Miss Hayes, a 29-year-old native of a Buffalo suburb who came to New York seven years ago after graduating from St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan university in Olean.

Simpson, 29, who is originally from South Carolina, is in his first year of law school at Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in Manhattan.

“They do a really good job creating a welcoming environment for everyone. It’s not just showing up and praying. The friars know who you are,” Simpson said.

“The music is wonderful, engaging and the congregation gets into it. The friars have good messages (in their homilies). The Mass is beautiful when you can bring all of those elements together.”

St. Francis of Assisi was founded in 1844 under the leadership of a Hungarian Franciscan, Father Zachary Kunz. The current church, which opened in 1892, seats about 425 people and holds about 600 with standing room. It is located on West 31st Street, just a stone’s throw from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.

The current building went through five years of renovations, culminating in the dedication of three new marble altars in the upper church in 1961.

There are 2,000 registered parish families and 2,500 people attend weekend Masses. While the parish has no English-speaking religious education classes, a Korean-speaking religious education program enrolls 30 children.

“A lot of our parishioners are from different parts of New York, looking for some type of place they feel at home and receive Franciscan spirituality through homilies and programs,” said Father Andrew Reitz, O.F.M., pastor of St. Francis of Assisi for nine years.

The nearly two-dozen parish ministries include bereavement, music, young adult, Korean, immigration assistance, Filipino and the Franciscan Bread for the Poor Inc./St. Francis Breadline. The St. Francis Breadline has been serving meals to the hungry people of New York for 90 years and remains open 365 days a year, feeding about 250 people each day.

Having so many ministries makes good organization a priority, and “you have to have good people in charge,” Father Reitz said. “We meet every other week as a parish staff to review and to plan what’s for the future.”

Father Reitz is one of 12 friars on staff at St. Francis of Assisi. He is joined by parochial vicars Father Michael Carnevale, O.F.M.; Father John Felice, O.F.M.; Father Brian Jordan, O.F.M.; Father David McBriar, O.F.M.; and Father John McVean, O.F.M. Other friars are Father William Beaudin, O.F.M., parochial vicar and director of adult education; Father Joseph Cavoto, O.F.M., who serves the counseling center and in spiritual direction; Father Julian Jagudilla, O.F.M., parochial vicar and director of migrant center; Father Michael Kim, O.F.M., director of Korean ministry; Father Timothy Shreenan, O.F.M., parochial vicar and director of liturgy; and Father Brian Small, O.F.M., parochial vicar and spiritual direction.

Two friars are in residence, and there are eight pastoral associates and administrators.

Masses are offered at 4 and 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, and 8 a.m., 9:15 a.m. (Korean), 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. on Sunday.

On weekdays, Masses are at 7 a.m., 7:45 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., and Saturday morning Masses are at 8 and 11 a.m.

A first Friday Filipino community Mass is offered at 6:15 p.m. each month, and the sacrament of penance and reconciliation is offered each day, four hours on Monday through Saturday and for two hours on Sunday.

“In today’s Church, you come across a lot of people who are either alienated, in irregular circumstances or wonder where they belong, I think we try to make them know they can make a home here,” Father Reitz said.

Miss Hayes has been working in the Franciscan Friars’ Holy Name Provincial Office since 2012 and was named director of marketing last year. She travels from Queens to attend Mass on the weekends.

“The thing that always strikes me is it’s a welcoming community. It’s our hallmark,” she said. “You can always come home to St. Francis. It has that openness. When I moved to New York and needed a community, I definitely found it there and met my friends there.”

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