From right to left, Secular Franciscans Veronica Willand and Iris Sanford break and share bread as part of a Transistus at St. Joseph’s Church in Hayward. The ceremony – held by Franciscans worldwide – remembers the passing of St. Francis of Assisi on the eve of Oct. 3. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Each year, on the eve of Oct. 3, Franciscans around the world congregate to remember their beloved founder’s “transistus” – Latin for passage or crossing – to eternal life.

Transistus memorials for St. Francis of Assisi were held at Our Lady of the Lake, Ashland, and St. Joseph, Hayward.

Fifteen persons participated in the Transistus hosted by the St. Junipero Serra Fraternity of Secular Franciscans in Hayward. With solemn simplicity, narratives of St. Francis’ life of St. Francis and his own words were shared, interspersed with song.

Veronica Willand, OFS, began with words of St. Francis’ first biographer, Thomas of Celano: “We tell the story to remember our heritage, to renew our Christian faith and to invoke of Christian hope.”

Candles were lit from the Easter candle. It was said that Francis had asked for the Gospel of John’s account of The Last Supper be read while he was on his deathbed.

Willand narrated, “After these things, Francis raised his hand to Heaven and praised his Christ because, freed now from all things, he was going free to his Lord … He soothed those present with comforting words and exhorted them with fraternal affection to love God.”

Another professed Secular Franciscan, Iris Sanford, then proclaimed Francis’s words: “I have done what was mine to do, may Christ teach you what you are to do.”

After a song and another short reading, Willand and Sanford approached the pews. They broke and shared bread as Francis himself had done as a last act, “in reverent memory of Jesus and as a witness of his own love for his brothers.”

The narration continued, “Francis then commanded that a hairshirt be put on him and he be sprinkled with ashes for he was soon to become dust and ashes … His most holy soul was freed from his body and received into the Abyss of Light and his body fell asleep in the Lord.”

The lights of the sanctuary were switched off and the candles extinguished, one by one. A moment of silence followed.

Louise Heim and Roberto Palombi, both professed Franciscans, led the American folk hymn “What Wondrous Love is This.” The final words were especially pertinent to the ceremony: “And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on … I’ll sing His love for me, and through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on.”

A final reading shared words of Br. Elias, one of Francis’s first followers, as tribute to Francis’ life and work, to “make ready for the Lord a new people,” encouraging his followers to hold fast to his memory, thank God for the holy grace of sharing in his mission.

An invitation to share in a sign of peace was the final act of the Transistus, after which participants shared refreshments in the adjacent church hall.

The Hayward group of Secular Franciscans was initiated by Willand, who moved to the area after having professed with a group in Chippewa Falls in 2007. She traveled twice a month for meetings and invited others to join her.

Iris Sanford was one that Willand reached out to, telling her, “You’re Franciscan and you don’t know it.” Sanford’s husband, Bob, is currently a candidate for profession.

The two women shared that qualities of a Franciscan encompass being practical, willing to give of oneself, loving and honest, and dedicated to penance and prayer. Willand clarified that the lifetime commitment at the time of profession carries with it the call to be loyal first to one’s primary vocations – including as a spouse, parent and breadwinner.

“While doing that, it’s just prayer. I don’t take a step without prayer,” she said.

Sanford commented on the spiritual poverty Franciscans are called to exemplify, the need for God they can call others to by example.

Commenting in the Oct. 7 Catholic Communities of Ashland Cluster church bulletin, Franciscan Fr. Duc Pham called St. Francis “a man of the Church.” He referenced the restoration of the physical church of San Damiano and others, but also the spiritual restoration of the souls of believers.

He said, “Many would see his love for nature, poverty, humility, joy, peace, reconciliation, and artistry as inspirational. I too find much material for contemplation and imitation in these virtues that St. Francis embraced … I (also) wanted to focus on those aspects of Sr. Francis that many people overlooked – he was a man of God, of the Church, and for others. May we continue to celebrate the life of this remarkable and timeless saint who continues to speak to our times.”