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Adapted from an article in The Catholic New Yorker, May, 2002, with the permission of Father Thomas Francis Cacciola, C.F.R.

In Ohio, he found a road that led to New York and the vocation he sought

Father Thomas Francis Cacciola, C.F.R., was a 23-year-old lay volunteer at a parish in Boston when a nun who taught in the parish school told him, "You would make a good Franciscan."

"It was not something I'd thought of," Father Thomas Francis recalled. But he had been thinking about priesthood for a long time, so he decided to consider a vocation in religious life. Later he found the congregation that was a perfect fit.

Father Thomas Francis, 37, is the son of Madeleine and Frank Cacciola of Lancaster, Calif., where he was born and grew up. When he was a junior in public high school, he "began to have a greater relationship with the Lord," he said. By senior year he was thinking about priesthood. A priest who belonged to a religious order and directed a local youth movement helped by talking with him and answering his questions.

After graduating from high school, however, he put the idea on hold. He graduated from Antelope Valley Community College, earned a degree in psychology at California State University, Long Beach, and worked as a counselor at a psychiatric hospital for children and teens. During the years Father Thomas Francis studied at Cal State and worked as a counselor, he was a member of Our Lady of Refuge parish. He tells us that he grew much in his faith and vocation while part of our parish community.

The thought of a vocation persisted, so he decided to serve as a lay missionary. Assigned to St. Kevin's parish in the Dorchester section of Boston, he taught music in the parish school, was a substitute teacher and helped with maintenance. When the sister told him he had the makings of a good Franciscan, he found a Franciscan soup kitchen and started working there, too.

After finishing his volunteer service, he moved to Steubenville, Ohio, drawn by the strong Catholic environment at Franciscan University of Steubenville. While taking courses in theology and philosophy, he met members of the Franciscans of the Renewal, the Bronx-based congregation whose work is evangelization and service to the poor.

"I discovered that this was the order I wanted to join," he said. He remarked that he had been seeking "to live a life of greater poverty," and he said, "I have a great love for doing work with the poor." He entered in 1993 in the Bronx.

Looking back, he remarked that all along he felt drawn to give his life completely to God. The reason became clear: he felt a strong call "to be the instrument for God to bring the Body and Blood of Jesus to his people." He added that in the seminary he developed "a greater love and understanding" of the sacrament of penance and of "being able to bring people back into relationship with God," so that they can return to the Eucharist.

He studied for a year at St. John Neumann Seminary Residence before entering St. Joseph's Seminary, and served with the friars at Padre Pio Shelter in the Bronx and in parish missions, days of recollection and youth programs.

As a priest he is eager to satisfy the spiritual hunger he finds in today's society by preaching the Gospel and bringing people to the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist.

"As society becomes more and more secular, the need for God in people's lives is greater now than ever," he said.

He is convinced that the number of priests and religious is going to increase, and he said that the friars see true faith and commitment among young people in the Youth 2000 retreats which they present.

"We find many young people, both boys and girls, who are now considering giving their life to God as a priest or religious," he said. "We see a great hope for the Church with these young people."

Father Thomas Francis was ordained to the priesthood in May of 2002.


 

If you would like to know more about the  Franciscans Friars of the Renewal, the order to which Father Thomas Francis belongs, click on the following link:

http://www.franciscanfriars.com/

If you would like to know about the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, click on the link below:

http://www.franciscansisterscfr.com/