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‘The work is hard but the life is beautiful’

Franciscans of Life community established in Archdiocese of Miami

Brother Jay Rivera, founder of the Franciscans of Life, is program director of Project Joseph for the Respect Life Ministry of the Archdiocese of Miami.

Photographer: TOM TRACY | FC

Brother Jay Rivera, founder of the Franciscans of Life, is program director of Project Joseph for the Respect Life Ministry of the Archdiocese of Miami.

HOLLYWOOD | When it comes to rolling up their sleeves and doing some of the hard, unsung, pro-life work of the Church in South Florida, the Franciscans of Life sometimes think of themselves as “The Marines.”

Established locally in 2009, the Broward County-based group is a brotherhood of laymen consecrated to living the Gospel in the manner of St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century Italian saint and founder of all Franciscan communities.

The Franciscans of Life community now numbers eight, including brothers living in community at a residence in Pembroke Pines and “extern” brothers who may be husbands, fathers and single men.

In addition to working with the Archdiocese of Miami’s crisis pregnancy centers and teaching Project Joseph classes for dads, members are involved in hospice work with the terminally ill and outreach to migrants and immigrant poor.

“This kind of work doesn’t necessarily require priests. In fact most of this is work that priests can’t do” because of their liturgical, sacramental and administrative duties managing parishes and Catholic schools, said Brother Jay Rivera, the community’s founder.

He started out as a Capuchin Friar up north, but was dispensed from religious life after 14 years. He then met the woman who would become his wife. After she died, and once their two children were grown, he rejoined the Franciscan family through the Franciscan Third Order. 

He later moved to Miami to work with autistic students, and founded Franciscans of Life with encouragement from Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, along with guidance from Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Bishop Felipe J. Estevez, now of the Diocese of St. Augustine.

“St. Francis never intended to found an order. He started following the Lord’s call to rebuild churches, to preach and to serve the lepers,” Brother Jay said. “He was also not a social worker. He was interested in the salvation of souls. All the material help he gave to the poor was his way of preaching the Gospel to them.

“Had he wanted to become a traditional religious he could have joined any number of communities. Instead he decided to pick up his Bible and go on the road,” he said.

To bolster their ministry, the brothers take private vows and pray daily, as would members of other monastic communities, although they often do so on the road as they go about their respective jobs.

To stay focused on their mission, they turn down offers to help staff universities, colleges or hospitals.

And to maintain their so-called “cloister on the road,” the brothers also generally shun television and most media, with the exception of the Catholic press, according to Brother Jay.

“Basically we are very selective about what we pay attention to. Right now everybody is talking about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump,” he said. “For our brothers that is not the issue. We have families in this country experiencing hunger and unemployment; children being aborted by the millions; we have older people being euthanized, older people with no one to serve them.”

“The work is hard but the life is beautiful, and prayer is the center of our lives,” Brother Jay added. “If we don't pray, nothing else happens.”

 This article was corrected to clarify Brother Jay Rivera's timeline as a Franciscan.

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