All of those factors led the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit to visit Detroit and see Sacred Heart for themselves.
“We absolutely fell in love,” said Father Anthony. “The whole time, we felt very welcomed. We felt very much at peace. Looking at the program, we said, ‘Wow, this is academically strong, this is spiritually strong, and this is really a place where we can send our men.’”
The community was honored to then receive an invitation from Archbishop Vigneron for the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit to send their men to study at Sacred Heart.
Father Athanasius arrived first, last July, and immediately found himself surrounded with other young clergy in the Licentiate in Sacred Theology Program. “It felt kind of like being at priest’s camp,” he said with a laugh. “A lot of what’s enjoyable about the STL Program has to do with the camaraderie and the fraternity, and that welcomed me first and foremost.”
He was also invigorated academically and spiritually from the get-go. “I just was in awe of my classes—intellectually, they’re pretty rigorous, but really exciting,” said Father Athanasius, noting that instead of being mentally exhausted after class, he’s “ready to go and preach on the street corner and pray over people.”
The program specifically supports the charism of the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit, and has exceeded their expectations, according to Father Athanasius. “We’re not just evangelists, but we’re also trying to develop the intellectual underpinnings of how we evangelize in the modern context,” he said.
Brother Peter Teresa joined Father Athanasius in August. The two settled into the rectory at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Corktown, making Detroit the second friary of their young community.
“One of the first things I was able to do when I got here was to go on retreat with my classmates,” said Brother Peter Teresa. “I really have just thanked God for the class that I’ve entered into, the guys in third theology. They’ve been really welcoming, and they’ve become really fast friends, and they’ve definitely been like a brotherhood and a support for me in this time that I am away from my religious community.”
In addition to his classmates, he has also bonded with seminarians from the Companions of the Cross and Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) communities and Chaldean seminarians preparing for the Chaldean Rite Church, as well as men working toward ordination to the priesthood for Detroit and other dioceses. Knowing Brother Peter Teresa is part of a “family” at Sacred Heart is a relief to Father Anthony, who was concerned about sending only two members so far away from the others in their small community.
“It’s good to have community with each other, but it can’t be limited to that,” Father Anthony said. “It’s been, really, a family, which has been such a blessing. We try to build family in our community down here, in every house that we have, so it’s a blessing to hear that there’s also a family at Sacred Heart.”
Brother Peter Teresa also was able to spend one-on-one time with the seminary rector after he ruptured his Achilles tendon ten minutes into Sacred Heart’s first basketball game of the season. “Monsignor Lajiness took me to the ER and stayed with me,” he said. “That was really great, but it stunk that I injured myself.”
While his future basketball career remains up in the air, Brother Peter Teresa is confident that his formation at Sacred Heart is preparing him to serve alongside his community members in the Diocese of Phoenix on the Gila River Indian Reservation or at the Grand Canyon University Newman Center when he is ordained to the priesthood in 2019. “With the emphasis on the New Evangelization, I feel like the professors really approach things in trying to make this applicable for a future ministry,” said Brother Peter Teresa. “I feel like I’m in touch with what’s happening in the Church, what challenges the Church is being presented with, and then being equipped with the tools to go out and serve and minister and meet the needs of the people.”
Given all that he and Brother Peter Teresa are gaining, Father Athanasius hopes the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit are adding to the evangelical and mission spirit at Sacred Heart. “The seminary is very dynamic in its formation and education,” Father Athanasius said. “We’re really happy to be a part of that.”
Fr. Stephen Burr, Sacred Heart’s vice rector and dean of formation, is pleased to have the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit at Sacred Heart, especially given the energy the community brings to the New Evangelization.
“They have a real vibrancy to them and a newness of re-establishing themselves within the Spirit of St. Francis and the Franciscan’s understanding of the Holy Spirit in the Church,” said Father Stephen.
Although Father Athanasius and Brother Peter Teresa are busy with their studies, Father Athanasius often assists on weekends at St. John Neumann Parish in Canton. The two also enjoy exploring downtown Detroit and interacting with people on the streets of the Motor City.
“Sometimes it’s just ministry of presence,” Father Athanasius said. “We’re wearing our habits and talking to people, blessing people who ask for prayers.”
The Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit is a growing community, with five novices and three men in application. “They’re the fish that have multiplied,” said Father Anthony. “Just like Jesus broke the bread, and the bread and the fish multiplied.”
Once men are ordained for the community, he adds, “they’re the bread that’s been multiplied.”
Father Anthony hopes that as new men enter the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit, the community can send them to Sacred Heart for formation. “As long as the Lord continues to allow us to grow, I hope this relationship that we’ve begun, that’s been so healthy and so beautiful at the beginning, continues to expand,” he said. “And the men we’re able to send can be part of the family at Sacred Heart.”