May 12, 2006

Franciscan friar embodies qualities of priests from the ‘JP II generation’

By Sean Gallagher

In his April presentation at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, Franciscan Father Francis Mary Stone spoke about many of the qualities of priests and religious who have emerged from the “JP II generation.” (See also:
A ‘new breed’ of priests and religious: Vocations from the ‘JP II generation’

Father Francis’ own vocation story embodies several of these qualities.

He grew up in suburban Detroit with no interest in his Catholic faith, let alone the priesthood.

“I was bored stiff at Mass,” he said.

He later attended Michigan State University and there “broke away from even going to Sunday Mass.”

While there, he was a roommate of an evangelical Christian who was up front about his faith in Christ.

“He planted a little bit of a seed there, even though there was no conversion there in my life at that point,” Father Francis said.

After his college graduation in the early 1980s, Father Francis moved to California, where he later earned a Masters of Business Administration.

It was also in California where he became engaged. Although they broke off their engagement about four months before their wedding, Father Francis credits his former fiancée with his moving closer to the Church.

“She was Catholic, and she wanted me to go to Mass,” he said. “And though that was really not an ultimatum, it was something that I had to really do. Otherwise, it would be something that would bring about a certain rift in our relationship.”

Soon after breaking off the engagement, Father Francis decided to return to Michigan. On his way back, he stopped in Texas to visit a sister who had suffered a miscarriage and was finding much consolation in her Catholic faith.

He was shocked to find that she was going to daily Mass.

“For me, daily Mass was like, ‘Who would go to daily Mass?’ ” he said. “Sunday was hard enough, but you mean every day? To me, it seemed fanatical. If you’re going to daily Mass, you’re crazed.”

However, his sister began to have an influence on him. She gave him the book True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort, and he read it.

Father Francis was surprised when he found that the radical life of faith described in the book appealed to him.

“My natural personality, which was leaning toward obsessing in sports and women and partying, turned over into my faith,” he said. “It was like I couldn’t read enough or pray enough.”

Although Father Francis has hosted the Eternal Word Television Network’s youth and young adult-oriented show “Life on the Rock” for the past three years, he said that in the late 1980s—when he began to discern his vocation—the network’s programming didn’t appeal to him.

Still, he saw one show that laid out the various qualities in those who might be called to the priesthood. It resonated with him, and so he decided to visit the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, a community of friars founded by the network’s foundress, Mother Angelica, to minister there.

When he arrived, however, he found that actually going in was a hard thing to do.

“I just drove around saying, ‘This is crazy,’ ” Father Francis said. “This was like really bizarre for me. I loved praying. I loved reading Scripture. I loved going to Mass. But making this step with my background and the culture that I was really a part of, it was like you just don’t do that.”

He eventually did make his way in, liked what he saw and entered as a postulant two weeks later. Father Francis has been a member of the community for 15 years and a priest for eight years.

However, he said that he could have never foreseen, when he first visited his community’s friary in Birmingham, Ala., that he would several years later become a host of one of EWTN’s flagship shows.

Yet Father Francis said that God has helped him every step of the way.

“He’s not going to ask you to dance, and then tie your feet together and put your hands behind your back and say, ‘OK, go dance,’ ” he said. “He’s going to give you the grace. And I’ve experienced that.”

Father Francis also had advice on how Catholics might encourage priestly and religious vocations today.

“On the natural level, encourage people to look at [priestly and religious vocations],” he said. “Have that become an option that I think for the last generation or more maybe wasn’t. Say it. Speak those words. Be explicit.”

But Father Francis said that words aren’t enough.

“On the spiritual side, I’d encourage all people to pray for vocations,” he said. “I think every parish should have it as a constant theme.” †


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