A leap of faith
BY TONI CASHNELLI
After Saturday, life will never be the same. And that’s just fine with three young friars who understand the impact of ordination.
June 11 at St. Clement Church, Deacons Clifford Hennings and Roger Lopez will become priests. Br. Colin King will be ordained to the Diaconate. They have shared so much in their journeys as friars, it seems fitting that they share this transformative moment.
For Br. Colin, "There’s a certain amount of the unknown, walking into the future. I don’t quite know what to expect. There’s a lot of excitement, joy."
Clifford’s year as a deacon has been "very helpful in preparing me for this." In church, "People presume [I have] a certain authority to solve issues or give answers." At a young adult retreat he led, "I felt blessed people wanted to have that connection. I shared something with that group you wouldn’t do in any other setting." Baptisms have been incredible. "I love it. Everybody’s excited to be there and all dressed up." Moreover, "They help you learn to be able to manage chaos. You become more comfortable with leadership and presiding."
In the past year Roger has noticed "my relationship has changed with the community at church. It’s not better or worse, just different. It’s given me a wonderful opportunity; people open their hearts quicker. I try to go out of my way to find out how they’re doing. What I found is that people responded to that with great affection. It’s powerful but humbling. I realize in those moments I represent the Church."
Along with excitement, Br. Colin says, "There’s also a certain amount of fear. What does this new expression of Franciscanism mean to me? As a friar, it’s somewhat private. As a deacon or priest, it’s a public reality." Ordination was a decision Br. Roger did not take lightly. "When I entered I had an image of priests. Being a Friar Minor clouds everything – what I do, how to spend my time. It really did call me into examining my whole life. I fell in love with the friars and realized this is the life I want to live, fashioned by our minority. With this as the primary lens, priesthood comes out of the lens of minority to serve. It’s a great gift that I can serve as a priest as a Friar Minor. It will enable me to approach people and ministry in a different way because it’s connected with our father, St. Francis. That’s the gift we can give the Church."
Br. Clifford’s discernment was incremental. "In small steps, I’m getting closer" to the priesthood. A former altar server, "I started the process at 20, working at a burger place while I was in college. I was in formation in my 20s while other friends were getting married and having kids." Over the years, "I had great formators who encouraged me. That’s very helpful."
Finding their way
In his former life Br. Colin was a special ed teacher. After he joined the friars, "I wondered, what does it mean to be a Franciscan who is a priest? It was really my experience in Jamaica [during his time in the province] that confirmed for me the call to ordination. I kept waiting for a blinding light, a blaring trumpet" to show the way. Instead, "Friars helped me discern," especially Fr. Jim Bok and Fr. Max Langenderfer.
Last year during his CPE training at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, Br. Colin sat with patients and families during "some of the most profound moments in their lives" as they experienced healing and reconciliation. "To me that’s very attractive."
"The human connection" is what drew Br. Clifford to serve. "It has to do with relationships: ‘Love one another as I love you,’" whether that leads to a life in retreat ministry or chaplaincy, two appealing options. In July Br. Clifford will become the parochial vicar at St. Monica-St. George Parish & Newman Center. "It’s a good parish. I’ll have a good network of support with the friars in Cincinnati."
Br. Roger is joining the faculty at Roger Bacon High School. "I felt called to education before I went to Bacon" during his year in the province, he says. "It’s like the artist who has the gift of painting, so they paint. The reality is that God has given me that gift, to be a teacher."
Br. Colin will prepare for his ordination to the priesthood, scheduled for next summer. And after that, he’ll do what he’s always done. "Trust God. God will let you know. Just keep walking through open doors."