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Franciscan Faces
Vocations Director Sees Social Media as Tool to Attract New Friars

When St. Francis of Assisi looked for followers, he found them among his friends. Centuries later, the Franciscan vocations still hear the invitation, but are more likely to do so via social media. It’s up to Fr. Greg Plata, OFM, vocations director for the nationwide Our Lady of Guadalupe Province, to respond with a touch of gratitude.

“I say thank you to being open to God’s will in this difficult time. It takes a lot of courage,” he says.

While in church circles the dearth of vocations to religious life has been a concern for decades, Fr. Greg, while acknowledging the real problems, sees reason for hope.

“I am starting to see an uptick,” he says. There are about 120 young men in some stage of discernment with the Our Lady of Guadalupe Province, formed late last year, unifying the OFM community across the United States.

Fr. Greg has long experience with vocations work, having served in that role since 2017 with the former Assumption Province. He spent 16 years as a pastor for four churches in and around Greenwood, Mississippi, seeing for himself the challenge of ministering where there are few priests.

He’s found that modern communications make the Franciscan brand well-known, as young men seek out the friars from what they see on You Tube, Instagram, Facebook and other channels.

Based in a friary in Gary, Indiana – the hard scrabble city “is where a Franciscan ought to be,” he says – Fr. Greg, 

Accepting each other as brothers Father Gregory shares a sign of peace with brothers witnessing a rite of investiture at the novitiate in Santa Barbara (top). Religious vocations were more common in the past when Father Greg (opposite page), joined over 60 years ago.

besides his national role, covers the Midwest region assisting those discerning vocations. He is assisted on the East Coast by Fr. Jeffery Jordan, OFM, and on the West Coast by Fr. Ryan Thornton, OFM, and Fr. Henri Djojo, OFM. The administration work takes place in New York City and is handled by Br. Basil Valente, OFM, and two layman, Jorge Martin and Will Bernal.

“We see ourselves as a team,” says Fr. Greg.

They have found that vocation seekers are attracted by the Franciscan online presence, including a new logo, featuring the image of the sun and the cross, identifying the Our Lady of Guadalupe Province. Inquiries also come from Fr. Casey Cole’s You Tube presence, a popular chronicling of a young friar’s vocation.

“They may not know anything about us,” says Fr. Greg. Yet, he adds, “our job is to inform them and journey with them on their discernment.”

Zoom meetings exploring Franciscan life brings young inquirers together. They hear from friars, who describe their ministries and community life. One recent Zoom vocations segment was led by Bro. James Lockman, OFM, a San Diego-based friar who has long worked on environmental issues. From Bro. James, the potential friars learned about the commitment of the Franciscans to the environment.

Prospective friars are also invited to Come and See weekends, where they experience what life is like in Franciscan communities.

It’s an updated approach to meet today’s potential vocations, different from that experienced by Fr. Greg, 68 years old, when he first experienced the call to vocation.

“I was marinated as a Philadelphia Catholic,” he recalls, noting how parish life and Catholic school was the center of the neighborhood at the time. Today is a different kind of atmosphere, not so much buttressed by Catholic communities, yet appealing to individual seekers. The seekers are more ethnically diverse, including those from immigrant families, Latinos, and Asians.

Fr. Greg attributed the Franciscan vocation appeal to a winning brand.

“St. Francis has the universal draw,” he says.

Another strength is the vitality of Franciscan communities visited by the young men during Come and See weekends. The weekends consist of five to seven young men who pray with the friars and enjoy discussions about discerning vocation.

“They are impressed by how we relate to one another,” says Fr. Greg.

He emphasizes that the work of Franciscan vocation requires help. Young men who take the risk of attending Come and See weekends are giving of their time. Some – college students or

Father Greg (left) shows Brother Ricky Madere, OFM, how to tie the cord moments after he received his first Franciscan habit at the novitiate in Santa Barbara, 2022. In Los Angeles at the Religious Education Congress Father Greg (opposite page), is seeks vocations.

low-wage workers – need assistance subsidizing travel costs (food and lodging with the friars is provided free of charge).

For those Catholics who want to see a thriving church, vocations will require both monetary support and prayers, says Fr. Greg, who adds, “We are in a crisis. But crisis can be good. It wakens us up to the reality of what is going on.”

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