October 30, 2020

2020 Vocations Awareness Supplement

Conventual Franciscan vocations director journeys in faith with young adults

Conventual Franciscan Father Mario Serrano, vocations director for his order’s Our Lady of Consolation Province, which is based in Mount St. Francis in the New Albany Deanery, preaches during a March 8 Mass on the campus of the University of Texas El Paso in El Paso. (Submitted photo)

Conventual Franciscan Father Mario Serrano, vocations director for his order’s Our Lady of Consolation Province, which is based in Mount St. Francis in the New Albany Deanery, preaches during a March 8 Mass on the campus of the University of Texas El Paso in El Paso. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

St. Francis of Assisi has become a beloved saint through the centuries. Although he lived 800 years ago halfway around the world in central Italy, thousands of men and women around the globe continue to embody his love for Christ, the Gospel, all people and all creation.

Conventual Franciscan Father Mario Serrano is one of them. A member of his order’s Our Lady of Consolation Province, based in Mount St. Francis in the New Albany Deanery, Father Mario currently serves in El Paso, Texas, in campus ministry, in addition to being his community’s vocations director.

For him, campus ministry and promoting vocations dovetail well. He enjoys seeing many of the young adults he ministers to at El Paso Community College and at the University of Texas in El Paso deepen their faith through their college years.

“Their faith is part of their identity,” Father Mario said. “So, when they go off into the world, they seek out a place where they can work and talk about their faith. They look for a place where they can live out their vocation in regard to their gifts.”

Before serving in campus ministry in El Paso, Father Mario ministered to Catholic college students in Terre Haute at Indiana State University and Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, and at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

Bobbie Jo Monahan, an education professor at Indiana State, collaborated with Father Mario at St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute, which serves as a campus ministry hub for the western Indiana city.

“He had the ability to individualize what each student needed,” she said. “Sometimes a student needed a shoulder and a hug, and sometimes a student needed a bit of reality.

“He had a knack for getting to know students and taking students to that next level of responsible religion. He promotes not only self-awareness for students, but a global lens through religious responsibility.”

Sandra Anderson, who ministers with Father Mario in campus ministry in El Paso, agrees.

“He is selfless and puts students and their needs first,” Anderson said. “He takes the time to sit and attentively listen to the students, something that many students need. One can truly see that this is his calling. Everything he does comes from the heart, with such humbleness and compassion for others.”

This openness to and valuing of the needs and gifts of each individual person that so helps him in campus ministry, Father Mario said, is part of his identity as a follower of St. Francis.

Pope Francis recently highlighted how the saint was open to relationships with others, including those at the margins of society, in his new encyclical letter “Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship.”

“Human belonging is something I promote within campus ministry,” Father Mario said. “We belong to each other. There is a sense of relationship that we need to become aware of. I long for brotherhood beyond borders.”

Anderson has seen this Franciscan quality of Father Mario on display.

“Friar Mario is open to all, treating every student and community member the same regardless of their social status, race, and even religion,” she said. “He journeys with all regardless of their situation. As St. Francis did, Friar Mario reaches out to those who are marginalized in our society. Those who are seen as the least, he treats as equals.”

Building relationships far and wide with people from diverse backgrounds is a big part of Father Mario’s ministry in promoting vocations for his community. He makes connections with men across the U.S. who are discerning possible vocations as Conventual Franciscans.

Such communication means that he has often lived out of his suitcase as he traveled to Michigan, Louisiana, Florida and elsewhere to meet with men interested in learning more about the Franciscan vocation.

The coronavirus pandemic has made such travel more difficult, although Father Mario said he is exploring ways to make that possible now.

However, the pandemic has not kept him from promoting vocations.

“I can’t simply wait this out,” Father Mario said. “There are people who are discerning and want to meet. How do we go about that?”

It still happens in one-on-one meetings when possible. He also shares information about his province through videos posted online.

“We were already starting to do that prior to COVID,” Father Mario said. “We’ve put together videos of who we are as Franciscans, where we minister and what the hopes are for the young friars.”

He’s also organizing vocations retreats that take place virtually.

“We’re calling in friars to be present with us for those who aren’t ready to travel, but are discerning,” Father Mario said. “Some are coming here [to

El Paso] from Michigan and Florida. But we’ll plug in others who will join us through Zoom.”

No matter the varying ways he journeys with young adults in college or those discerning their vocation, Father Mario said prayer is at the heart of his ministry.

“We friars pray for vocations daily,” he said. “We pray daily for those who are discerning and are being called to our way of life. Prayer is powerful.”
 

(For more information about the Conventual Franciscans’ Our Lady of Consolation Province, based in Mount St. Francis, visit franciscansusa.org.)

 

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