BY FR. MARK SOEHNER, OFM
Interprovincial collaboration has been happening throughout our U.S. provincial histories with the appointment of various General Visitators. There have been sharing of professors in our formational training. The year 1993 brought the Interprovincial Novitiate, which quickly moved to an Interprovincial Post Novitiate. This year three men on sabbatical spent some of their time in other provinces. And during visitation this year I met a number of our guys who are living with other provinces in Tucson, Ariz., Washington, D.C., Greenwood, Miss., and Orlando, Fla.
One of my recent visitations during May was with Fr. Luis Aponte-Merced, who is living in the new parochial undertaking by Holy Name Province in Florida. St. Joseph/St. Maximilian Kolbe is a busy parish community with approximately 2,000 families. It’s located on what has become a busy street as Orlando continues to expand. Luis lives with three friars: Todd Carpenter, the pastor; Steven Pavignano, the associate pastor; and Paul Santoro, who works in another nearby parish as Director of Religious Education. Luis expressed wonder that all of them with their different gifts are able to work together. "It all comes down to communication." Certainly it would be a lot to attempt to coordinate. Luis credits their regular house chapters and just general check-ins after Morning Prayer.
One of the first things that I noticed when we went to a breakfast restaurant was that most people were entirely bilingual, with Spanish being the other language. Luis is pleased to have the opportunity to work again in a Latino culture which features a high percentage of those who, like him, have Puerto Rican roots. Even the hurricane that blew through Florida did not bother him. On this day, Luis was swarmed with people at the parish trying to get an appointment with him, thanking him for his latest homily, or trying to give the friars some fresh-baked goods. Clearly happy in this new initiative, he expressed his gladness, generally, for the weather of Florida, the goodness of the friars with whom he lives and an opportunity to minister to people from his own island. I can’t remember how many times he told me, "Mark, I’m home!"