“This is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter
and do the rest.”

Archbishop Oscar Romero

As their formation program drew to a close, the Franciscan missioners were all aware that the Commissioning Mass was actually a celebration of beginnings. On Sunday, November 17, at 5:30 p.m., the 29th class of Franciscan missioners was recognized during the commissioning held at Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America.

29th Class of Franciscan Mission Service

Valerie Ellis, Hady Mendez, and Nate and Mary Mortenson each read personal mission statements they wrote for the occasion. Vowing to love and serve God, the people in Bolivia, and each other in community, the missioners then made similar promises collectively before the congregation reciprocated with responses of affirmation and support.

The missioners were then presented with Franciscan Tau Crosses by their spiritual directors: Rev. John Ullrich, OFM, Joan Conway, and Br. Anthony LoGalbo, OFM. Casa San Salvador community members, who have been living in community with the missioners-in-training, wrote original Prayers of the Faithful and read them during Mass. The event was very joyful, and missioners commented on the similarities between their commissioning and the promises of wedding vows. Fr. John was the celebrant and Caitlin G’sell was the cantor. Caitlin is a missioner-in-training for Society of African Missions and formed a connection with the Franciscan missioners as they all participated in the Collaborative Formation Gathering a few weeks ago.

Hady receiving her Tau cross from Fr. John as Natalie supports her

A reception with refreshments at Casa San Salvador followed the Mass.

“Franciscan missioners follow in St. Francis’ footsteps by living simply as brothers and sisters to those in poverty. Missioners help delineate Franciscan identity…reinforcing faith in the midst of the world they live in,” Fr. John stated at the reception.

“The Commissioning Mass marks the end of the missioners’ formation training, but it really is a ‘sending-forth,’” Kim Smolik, FMS executive director, said, “It is also a recognition of how much time and work the missioners have invested in their training.”

Their 13-week formation training program consisted of studying subjects such as scripture, Franciscan spirituality, and cultural sensitivity, as well as volunteering in direct ministry, and participating in spiritual direction.

“Being a spiritual director for [the missioners] has been a great opportunity to share Franciscan discernment with people willing to consider serving abroad. It’s been inspiring and has given me a lot of hope,” Joan Conway, spiritual director, said, “It’s been an honor and privilege.”

Mass at Franciscan Monastery Chapel

Approximately 50 people were in attendance, including former domestic volunteers, board members, and instructors during missioner formation. Many friends and family members also attended the commissioning and subsequent reception in support of the missioners. Lissette Mendez Roman made the journey with friends from New York to be with her sister, Hady, and noted that Hady had really flourished throughout her discernment to mission.

“If this is what she wants, and it makes her happy,” Lissette said, “I’ll keep supporting her.” Traveling from Springfield, Virginia, Sean Mortenson, brother of missioner Nate, also expressed enthusiasm.

“It’s just exciting for this awesome opportunity for [Nate],” Sean said, “He just loves exploring the world, interacting with people. He really loves learning their stories.”

Receiving a blessing from the congregation

The Commissioning Mass for the 29th class of Franciscan missioners recognized an important stage in the missioners’ story: the conclusion of their formation and their re-dedication to future service in Bolivia.