By Lexi Palma ’13 and Ken Jubie ’04
The College celebrated its Franciscan Tradition by honoring Saint Francis of Assisi, the friar who launched the order more than 800 years ago, with academic, spiritual and community-focused programming surrounding Francis’ Feast Day, Oct. 4.
Francis Week 2012 began with the 19th annual Clare Center Lecture. During her presentation, “How Does Franciscan History Matter? Hagiography, Letters and Chronicles in the Convents of Medieval Italy,” Marquette University Associate Professor of History Lezlie S. Knox, Ph.D. brought the audience on a historical journey.
Saint Clare devoted herself to following Francis’ lead in living a life of total commitment to the person of Jesus Christ. As Francis aged, Clare cared for him and, after his death, she helped to carry out his mission of serving the poor and marginalized. In her speech, Knox recounted some of the historical reports, writing and anecdotes about Saint Clare of Assisi and her followers.
“The important thing about Lezlie’s lecture was that she showed the Franciscan sisters trying to make sense of their own history. The sisters were trying to make their collective past relevant in the context of their present,” said Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Holly Grieco, Ph.D. She added that there is a parallel between what engaged Franciscan sisters in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries and what engages the Siena College community. “We take the Franciscan story—like they did—and retell it, in order to make it relevant to our own time,” Grieco said.
Junior Pamela Townsend ’14 was moved by the stories about Saint Clare because she said Clare broke social norms. “Coming from a Franciscan background and wanting to go into Franciscan studies in the future, this was really inspiring,” Townsend said.
The documentary “Francis and Clare for Us: Siena College’s Pilgrimage to Italy” premiered and aired throughout Francis Week. The documentary is about the journey taken by members of the Siena community who traced the steps of Saint Francis and Saint Clare through five Italian cities. In the process of seeing Catholic and Franciscan sites in Rome, Greccio, Assisi, Siena and Florence and reflecting on their importance, the pilgrims learned more about how the tradition impacts their everyday lives and shapes their values.
During Francis Week, Visiting Professor of First-Year Seminar Fr. Michael Blastic, O.F.M., Ph.D. explained contemporary British artist Jennifer Gay Holmes’ “Francis Tavola.” Holmes created the Tavola in 1992, but employed the 13th-century artistic genre and technique of the painted wooden altar piece to retell the story of Francis. In the Tavola, Francis is at the center and surrounded by eight scenes chosen to emphasize his engagement with others at different moments in his life – from lepers, to the Sultan and ultimately to Jesus Christ in his incarnation and passion.
“As one follows the scenes of the Tavola, one comes to understand how Francis was a person of dialogue and authentic encounter: a person who pays attention to others, who engages with others in honest conversation and who responds to others with active compassion, values of Francis that are the heart of the Franciscan mission of Siena College,” said Blastic.
College Chaplain Fr. Greg Jakubowicz, O.F.M., J.D. hosted an event to explain more about how Saint Francis lived. He told students that Francis found the good in everything and wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. Jakubowicz also explained why the Franciscan tradition makes Siena unique and encouraged students to embrace and embody the values it represents. “We have great academics at Siena, but we also have something different, something more,” said Jakubowicz. “You want to be the person who sees something hopeful every day and that is something unique we hope you will get at Siena.”
Students found his talk both interesting and inspiring. “I learned a lot about St. Francis’ life and why we celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis,” said Commuter Life President Alexis Benedetti ’14.
The eve of Francis’ Feast Day was marked by the celebration of his Transitus. Through a candlelight prayer service and community reception, the College honored Francis’ passage to eternal life. The Transitus is a ritual retelling of the story of the last days of Francis’ life on Earth.
Francis Week dovetailed into the College’s Family Weekend and culminated with the annual Blessing of the Animals ceremony on the academic quad. “This year, families brought animals to be blessed including dogs, cats, turtles, lizards, hedgehogs and fish,” said Director of Campus Programs and Student Activities John Dierna. “Fr. Greg Jakubowicz, the College Chaplain, led the gathering in prayer, conducted the blessings and helped to remind us of our connection to those around us and our relationship with God.”
While Siena College celebrates its 75th Anniversary, the school’s heritage extends back more than 800 years to the life of Saint Francis of Assisi and Francis Week is Siena’s opportunity to remember and celebrate that tradition and reconnect with the teachings that are at the core of the College’s mission.