Franciscan communities gather to commemorate St. Francis’ death

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Franciscan communities gather to commemorate St. Francis’ death

Franciscans from across archdiocese came together at St. Ita Church at Mary, Mother of God Parish on the evening of Oct. 3, 2021 to celebrate the Transitus of St. Francis of Assisi. The Transitus, from the Latin word for passage or crossing, commemorates the completion of St. Francis' earthly life, and his passage through death into eternal life. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of the Capuchin Franciscan community process down the aisle at the start of the service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A habit on a bier symbolizing St. Francis is placed before the altar. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Bob Lombardo, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, incenses the habit that symbolizes St. Francis of Assisi. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Franciscan of the Eucharist of Chicago Sister Macey gives one of the readings. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Franciscan of the Eucharist of Chicago Sister Jessica Lambert extinguishes a candle after each reading. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Lombardo gives a reflection. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Franciscans who minister across the archdiocese participate in the traditional service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Conventual Franciscan Father Robert Melnick lights candles for participants. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Franciscan of the Eucharist of Chicago Sister Jaime Mitchell helps participants light candles. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Participants place their lit candles next to the habit to symbolize St. Francis' light spreading down the centuries and inspiring their own vocations. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Franciscan of the Eucharist of Chicago Sister Alicia Torres prays during the service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Lombardo places a candle near the habit. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

On the evening of Oct. 3, women and men from Franciscan religious communities across the Archdiocese of Chicago gathered at St. Ita Church, 5500 N. Broadway, in Mary, Mother of God Parish to commemorate the Transitus, an 800-year-old service to commemorate the passing of St. Francis of Assisi into eternal life.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Lombardo, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, led the service and that is notable, said Conventual Franciscan Father Robert Cook, pastor of Mary, Mother of God Parish.

“In Bishop Lombardo, the Franciscans of Chicago have a visible head,” Cook said. “He’s a uniting figure. This was the first citywide Transitus that anyone can remember, or we tried to be citywide. It was really a chance for Franciscans to be united because one of our bishops is one of our own.”

The Transitus is held on the eve of the feast of St. Francis and commemorates not just his passing into eternal life, but his passing on of the Franciscan charism to others.

“It was probably the most powerful Transitus that I have attended that I can recall. It was done in such a beautiful way and was very quiet and recollective,” Cook said. “It was the most diverse in Franciscan attendance.”

He was also happy to see so many of his parishioners come out for the service.

“The church was full and half of them were Franciscans and half of them were parishioners,” he said.

While not a formal liturgy, the service is rich in symbolism. It started with Franciscans processing into the church with a habit on a bier, which they laid in front of the altar. The habit is a memorial to St. Francis.

Letters of St. Francis, Scripture readings and a narrative of his death are also part of the service.

At the start of the service, two candelabras were lit on the altar to represent Francis’ life. Each candle was extinguished at a different point, much like is traditionally done during Tenebrae services in Holy Week.

The candles being extinguished reflect the passing of St. Francis.

Then a new candle is lit to reflect the friars who were present at his death, explained Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist of Chicago Kate O’Leary, who helped plan the service.

“Then we all went up afterwards to light a candle from that candle, so as to depict our light and the result of the light that continues to exist because of St. Francis,” she explained. “It was really beautiful.”

They left their candles next to the habit on the bier.

Sister Kate said there were several highlights from the service.

“The impact that one person’s ‘yes’ has on the world. We never know by doing God’s will what that means or how lives will be changed because of our response,” Sister Kate said. “And just the Franciscan joy that still radiates in a room by people responding to their vocation and following Christ.”

Capuchin Brother Nathan Linton also felt the joy of the service.

“The service takes on both this solemn tone, but is always leading to joy because it is always a celebration of the example that Francis has given to us but also to the church,” Linton said. “It’s always an opportunity for us as friars to look at the example of St. Francis and to reflect on our own calling and our own gifts that we are supposed be for the church and for God.”

Linton, who is studying for the priesthood and attends Catholic Theological Union, said he enjoyed the camaraderie with his fellow Franciscans that evening, which began with dinner before the service.

“It’s always a lot of fun when the brothers and sisters can get together. It is in many ways like seeing family who you haven’t seen in a while, especially since we haven’t been seeing each other in classes because of the COVID pandemic,” he said. “It’s also a wonderful learning experience when we get to hear from each other how our Franciscan life is being [in-
carnated] in their own form of the Franciscan charism.”



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