Young adults pledge yearlong commitment, joining Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit in ministry to west side Detroit community
DETROIT — “If you will, you can become all fire.” This quote from one of the desert fathers inspired the tagline for the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit: “Become Fire.”
Fr. Athanasius Fornwalt, FHS, is a member of this order and serves at St. Mary of Redford Parish on Detroit's west side. He tells the story this way:
“The young monk Abba Lot asked the Elder Abba Joseph how to grow more deeply in the spiritual life. Abba Lot had mastered all the ascetical practices and wanted to know what more could be done. Abba Joseph extended his arms, and his hands became like lamps with fire on his fingertips. He said, ‘If you will, you can become all fire,’” Fr. Fornwalt said.
“To ‘become fire’ doesn’t mean everything we do is holy or perfect,” he said of the friars. But the goal is to allow the Holy Spirit to live in and work through them.
It's a concept that's not limited to the friars themselves. Three years ago, the friars started a missionary program for young adults to spend a year living and serving at St. Mary of Redford, assisting the friars in various ministries as catechists, youth and young adult ministry leaders, pro-life volunteers and other forms of outreach.
Two young women will be completing their #BecomeFire Mission Year at St. Mary’s of Redford at the end of May. Both gave up promising careers to be part of the program.
“I was a children’s book editor for several years,” said Czeena (pronounced Zeena) Devera, one of the missionaries. “For the past two years, I felt a pull to work in ministry. I just didn’t know what that meant.”
Devera had been involved in young adult leadership teams and started her own ministry for Catholic singles. “But it wasn’t enough,” she said. “I wanted to do more.”
Devera first encountered the friars — who are based in Phoenix — at her cousin’s wedding while she was living in Arizona two years ago. “I didn't really even know the friars existed until I recognized some of them at the wedding. My cousin married one of the friar’s brothers,” she said.
When Devera moved back to Michigan, she discovered St. Mary’s at the urging of a friend, and before long, was asked to consider the missionary program.
“I was like, 'Absolutely not,'" Devera recalled. "I’ve been in the workforce for years. If it was right after college, sure. I kept saying no, but my heart just kept getting pulled here. And there was a lot of confirmation after confirmation. So I just kind of took a leap of faith.”
Teresa Knauss also worked in the “corporate world,” as she describes it. “But I had that pull that it would be awesome to do some sort of mission work,” she said.
Knauss had been looking for a parish to join when she found St. Mary’s and “fell in love with the church and the community,” she said. Knauss became part of a growing group of young adults who enjoy the Mass offered at St. Mary’s in both the ordinary and extraordinary form, and one of the friars told her about the missionary program.
“After they brought it up to me, the Lord kind of tugged at my heart. And things just kept opening up,” Knauss said.
Devera and Knauss both lead catechesis programs for children and teens, as well as various other "odds and ends" for the parish, Knauss said. The pair also coordinate monthly praise-and-worship events and programming for young adults, as well as the parish's social media.
Fr. Fornwalt said the friars greatly benefit from the missionaries' work and ministry.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for us to work alongside young adults and introduce them to ministry in the church,” Fr. Fornwalt said. “We consider it a great gift to work with them and help them develop skills and mindsets. We hope we help them discern where God may be calling them, and discover themselves more deeply in the context of service.”
In addition to their ministry work, Devera and Knauss attend daily Mass with the friars, as well as a weekly holy hour every Thursday.
“The friars are really cool,” Devera said. “They are so normal. They do a good job of blending the charismatic and the traditional really well. My faith has grown immensely.”
While Knauss said she's gained a lot from the #BecomeFire Mission Year, she's aware that's not her primary goal.
“You have an idea of what it will be like when you go into ministry,” Knauss said. “You are excited about it. I had a lot of excitement about the things I would receive. But God is asking me to continuously give of myself, versus receiving. I think that’s where it’s been different. We’ve had a lot of unique opportunities to continuously give. My faith has grown to have a deeper dependence on God, to really rely on him in those harder moments.”
Both women believe much fruit has been born from their experience.
“So many different opportunities have come from this,” Devera said. “I’ve been walking with so many people from the parish who just randomly come here. I am able to walk with them through their suffering. ... People are just more open to share because they know that you work for the church.”
Knauss remembers a particular encounter during the parish's fall festival that stuck with her.
“We had the event out on the front lawn, with a barbeque and food truck all provided by the parish. It was a big event for people from the neighborhood. I was the photographer, so I was looking for photo ops. I turned around and right on the front steps of the church were Brother Andre (Beale) and another friar with a group of five young boys, and they had given them all rosaries," Knauss said. "They posed for a photo with the rosaries, and I thought it was really beautiful."
The next day, Sunday, Knauss was teaching catechism with Brother Andre, and the friar began to tell her about the group of boys.
“He said the friars gave them a tour of the church and told them about the Blessed Mother and about the Mass, and invited them to come to Mass. Lo and behold, after our catechism class ended, right before Mass, this group of boys was sitting in the very front row of the church just waiting," Knauss said. "Brother Andre joined them. You could see him pointing and explaining different parts of the Mass. He showed them how to cross their arms to receive a blessing during Communion. It was really beautiful. After Mass, the friars played football with the boys in the front yard for three or four hours.”
With the mission year ending in May, Knauss said she's not sure what her next step will be. “I’m still in the process of praying about where the Lord wants to take me," she said.
Devera’s experience working with young children might lead her in a new direction. She's applied for a camp counselor position this summer, but after that, "I'm not entirely sure," she said. "I think I still want to stick with ministry."
Both women encourage others who might feel called to serve to investigate the #BecomeFire Mission Year for themselves. The program is open to both women and men, and there is space for two women and two men to live in apartments on the parish campus.
#BecomeFire Mission Year at St. Mary of Redford
The #BecomeFire Mission Year is based at St. Mary of Redford Parish in Detroit. The mission team lives within the compounds of the church grounds and serves the different apostolates of the parish. These apostolates include catechesis, youth ministry, young adult ministry, men's/women's groups, pro-life ministry, and more. The mission team works closely with the parish team, the pastor, and several friars in formation.
To learn more, visit St. Mary of Redford's website.