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August 30, 2009

New Franciscan community starting Site of tragic fire in Humboldt Park to be home to order

By Michelle Martin

ASSISTANT EDITOR

For Alicia Torres, the call to enter religious life first struck her as a college student. The 2007 graduate of Loyola University Chicago began a process of discernment, looking into and visiting various houses of religious women.

Some of them were appealing — her time with the Sisters of Life in New York convinced her that she was being called to be a religious sister — but nothing felt like it was just the right fit.

“My heart would always be drawing me to Chicago,” Torres said, adding that new religious congregations often are rooted to a specific place, which she believes is God’s design. “He inspires people to fill a specific need in the church at a specific time and place.”

Eric Futterer, 34, has been engaged in some kind of youth ministry almost continually since he graduated from college, most recently at his alma mater, Joliet Catholic Academy. He has long been attracted to Franciscan spirituality, and had looked into joining the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, but felt God wanted him to stay in the Chicago area.

Torres and Futterer will join Kate O’Leary as the first three people to move into the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park neighborhood (where 50 years ago 92 children and 3 BVM sisters died in a tragic school fire) to continue an exploration of whether or not they have been called to be among the first members of new congregations of religious life — one for men, one for women — that would be based in Chicago and have a mission of devotion to the Eucharist and service and education in poor communities.

They are among a small group of people who began meeting with Father Bob Lombardo, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, to discuss the creation of new religious congregations.

Lombardo established the mission in 2005 at the request of Cardinal George, and is acting as an advisor to the young people who want to start their own congregations. He is helping them find their way as they figure out what God wants of them and communicating with Cardinal George, who must approve each step along the way, and the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Vicar for Religious, Sister Joan McGlinchey, a Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Mother Cabrini’s Sisters).

Eucharist-centered

So far, the small group has agreed to some of the basic characteristics of what such congregations would be like: Franciscan, Eucharist-centered religious communities organized around prayer, with daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours and eucharistic adoration, annual retreats and weekly days of recollection. Members would be consecrated religious, embracing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.

The communities would make their homes in neighborhoods noted for their poverty, so as to offer greater opportunity to serve the poor. Such service could take the form of food pantries and clothing rooms or running after-school programs. In addition, the communities would evangelize by offering days of recollection, parish missions, eucharistic adoration and retreats. Members also would teach, starting with religious education in poor parishes, working toward religion classes in poor Catholic schools and eventually administering Catholic schools in poor neighborhoods.

Desire for community

One of the main reasons Futterer feels he is called to religious life is his desire to live in a community of people all dedicating their lives to serve God and other people.

“It’s hard to do alone,” Futterer said. “We can’t live our faith alone. Being in something like this, your prayer life is a lot more structured. Really coming together to serve God and the community, that comes from your prayer life.”

The beauty of the mission is that all of its work is joined to — and comes from — its prayer life. All activities, such as the mission’s monthly food giveaways from the Chicago Food Depository, begin with a prayer, he said.

Chicago has no shortage of young adults willing to volunteer to help other people, Torres said. But if they are not grounded in faith, their efforts can seem futile after a while.

“We’re so busy doing that we don’t come back to being with Christ,” she said. “Then people get burned out.”

Torres has prayed and prayed over her vocation, trying to figure out what she is called to be. As she came closer to choosing to be part of what she hopes will be a new community, she said, “St. Francis kept showing up everywhere.

“The Lord calls you to do something,” she said. “But it’s something really weird, and people don’t understand. This is not about all the things you can’t do. This is about giving a gift of yourself to the Lord, and the Lord giving a gift of himself to you.”