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Newest Family Members

Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit find northern family at Sacred Heart.

by Darci Swisher

When the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit were formed in 2016 in the Diocese of Phoenix, they were seven men—five priests and two brothers who refer to themselves fondly as the five loaves and two fish—led to evangelize in the Southwest as Franciscan missionaries.

Now the two original “fish” are in school at Sacred Heart Major Seminary: Fr. Athanasius Fornwalt, FHS, who was ordained last summer and is studying for a licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL), and Bro. Peter Teresa McConnell, FHS, who is completing his final two years of seminary formation before ordination to the priesthood.

According to the community’s superior, Fr. Anthony Tinker, FHS, they were discerning where to educate their seminarians when Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, who had received the franciscans into the Phoenix diocese, suggested they consider Sacred Heart. The bishop thought the Charismatic community would benefit from professors connected and open to the renewal movement as well as from the seminary’s focus on the New Evangelization. Bishop Olmsted also spoke highly of Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, “and said it would be just a wonderful diocese to be in, with a wonderful shepherd,” Father Anthony said.

by Darci Swisher

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.” 

About the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit 

The Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit began when seven men were received by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in the Diocese of Phoenix.

They arrived in Phoenix on May 13, 2016, led by the Holy Spirit to evangelize anew in the southwestern United States as Franciscan missionaries. They presented themselves to Bishop Olmsted, who blessed them and sent them to inhabit an abandoned convent on the Gila River Indian Reservation. They spent their first Arizona summer in the convent, praying and bonding as a community to prepare for the work ahead.

The old mission church where they now live was still attended by a handful of faithful people who were ardently praying for Franciscan priests to return to the parish and to once again be their spiritual fathers. Once Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit began offering the Mass in the mission church that autumn, the people came in crowds, smiling and applauding because “the padres have returned!” They were greeted similarly at the other nine mission churches that Bishop Olmsted entrusted to their care.

The Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit began their apostolic works on October 1, 2015, when Fr. Antony Tinker, FHS, was made the administrator of Native American Ministry in the Diocese of Phoenix. That same day, Fr. Joseph Francis Lepage, FHS, began to develop a Catholic Newman Center at Grand Canyon University, a private Christian university which is rapidly expanding in Phoenix.

The Statutes of the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit were complete in May 2016, promulgated on June 29, 2016, and the community was established as a Clerical Public Association of the Faithful. The five priest friars were incardinated into the Diocese of Phoenix, and the seven members of the Franciscan Friars of Holy Spirit made promises of poverty, obedience, and chastity to Bishop Olmsted on July 2, 2016.

Darci Swisher

Darci Swisher is a freelance writer who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a Christ-centered Catholic community of faith and higher learning committed to forming leaders who will proclaim the good news of Christ to the people of our time. As a leading center of the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart serves the needs of the Archdiocese of Detroit and contributes to the mission of the universal Church.