Catholic Herald staff
On a quest to bring St. Francis of Assisi’s compassion and servant leadership into secular society, Secular Franciscans are a growing presence in the Diocese of Superior.
Fraternities exist in Rhinelander and Woodruff; last September, two Secular Franciscans began exploring the idea of forming a fraternity in Hayward. One of them is Veronica Willand, a parishioner at St. Joseph, Hayward.
Less than a year into the process, the group has already attracted Catholics from Sheldon, Rice Lake and Stone Lake, as well as locals from around Hayward.
“We have approximately eight inquirers,” Willand added, and it isn’t due to a lot of active evangelizing.
“It’s not me pulling them,” she explained. “It’s just the Spirit …. doing what the Spirit does.”
Fraternities must have sponsoring communities. Willand was formed by and professed with the Chippewa Falls-based St. Elizabeth of Hungary Fraternity, sponsor of the burgeoning community.
The third Sunday of every month is their time for studying, snacking and socializing. The Secular Franciscans and inquirers meet from 1-3 p.m. at St. Joseph Church.
Thus far, the regular attendees are all women.
“We started out with a mix, but our gentleman had to back out due to health and work reasons,” Willand said. “Hopefully, he’ll still have time to come back.”
Sunday is a sports day, which Willand thinks tends to lure men away. But the Secular Franciscans are following in the footsteps of a man – St. Francis – and his original followers were all men, she observed.
“This is meant for anyone,” she said. “Anyone who wants to have a closer relationship with God, Jesus. That’s what this is for.”
Volunteering in the community is another of the group’s ambitions, although they haven’t gotten that far yet, according to Willand. They’re seeking projects.
“We’re keeping an ear open,” she said.
As are many parishes in the diocese, St. Joseph is in a leadership transition. The new parochial administrator is Fr. Gerard Willger, who replaced Fr. Phil Juza.
The Secular Franciscans want to offer Fr. Willger their support.
“If he wants to do outreach, if he wants to do something, we’re willing to help,” she said.
They also plan to reach out to the new bishop after he’s installed, to “let him know we’re here.”
The group has been fortunate to gain a spiritual advisor in Franciscan Sr. Kathy Salewski, the evangelization director for the Bayfield cluster parishes. Sr. Kathy recognized Willand from her photo in the newspaper, and they began to chat.
Sr. Kathy was a Secular Franciscan when she was around 20 years old, before she joined the Joliet Franciscans.
“She’s just dynamite,” Willand added
Willand asked her, “You’ve been a professed sister for a long time. Is there anything left for you to learn?”
“She said, ‘There’s always something for me to learn.’”
Learning – about St. Francis’ life, his wisdom and his way – comprises much of the forming fraternity’s activity. They are reading a biography of St. Francis and a book about the Franciscan journey, and leaders of the group will add different levels of formation as more people join.
Willand invites anyone interested to attend the July meeting.
“Anyone looking for a closer relationship with Christ, a direction for their life, this would be something to check out,” she said. “It’s not for everyone, but it would be a shame not to check it out because you don’t think it’s for you.”
Editor’s note: Contact Willand, 715-469-9259 or , for information.