FrancisCorps founder takes a sabbatical

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bro_himBy Connie Berry
Sun editor

Brother Jim Moore looked relaxed in a pair of baggy shorts and his Ol’ Miss. t-shirt, a gift from his niece. He wore a simple wooden tau cross around his neck bespeaks his Franciscan spirituality and membership with Franciscan friars who serve in the diocese. He met for an interview before heading back to help with this year’s FrancisCorps orientation. The Franciscans have been here since the 1800s — their residence on North Salina Street the oldest of their order in North America. The Franciscans, both the women and men religious, have been serving the underserved in the diocese for all that time. Brother Jim is a native of Syracuse and when it was time to develop and find a base for FrancisCorps, Syracuse was a natural choice. Now after founding the organization and being involved in every aspect, he is stepping away for a nine month sabbatical and leaving the organization in the capable hands of fellow friar Rick Riccioli. Brother Jim will help the new friar with the orientation and training of this year’s six Syracuse members. There are five members who will spend this year serving FrancisCorps in Costa Rica, another area where the Conventual Friars serve.

FrancisCorps, celebrating 13 years this year, is a faith-based Catholic volunteer service program that pairs a dozen young adults, ages 21-25, with sites such as the Refugee Resettlement Program, Dorothy Day House, Vincent House and other Onondaga County Catholic Charities sites. The young people put in a full year of service to the marginalized and in return they get a life-changing experience.

Brother Jim said the past 13 years have shaped his life in so many ways. He strived to make FrancisCorps different from other faith-based models. FrancisCorps volunteers live, eat and pray together when they aren’t working.

“Fifty percent of FrancisCorps is good, Catholic Chrisitian social work which is really no different than the other faith based volunteer programs,” Brother Jim explained. “The other 50 percent is in place so they can make a real difference in their communities. They must not only live simply and work with the underserved, but they must also come together and pray every night and share at least one meal every single day. They also have five opportunities for retreat and reflection throughout the year. We didn’t want to copy, but to create our own program.”

Brother Jim said the Gospel is the guide for FrancisCorps.

“Look at what Jesus did,” Brother Jim said. “He washed the feet of the disciples. He took care of them. They made up a community. They ate together — that meal was prayer. Then they went out to do the work. Our volunteers know this is what is expected of them when they come. They all come with different experiences and different ideas about prayer. And they blow me away.”

A good example, Brother Jim explained, was when he went to dinner at the FrancisCorps home one evening. The food was good, he said, despite the fact that each volunteer receives just $80 per month for groceries. They pool their resources, clip coupons and frequent the farmers’ markets. After dinner it was time for prayer so Brother Jim sat down in the living room. One volunteer lit a candle and they all gathered around. But, Brother Jim said, one member had his laptop computer open and was busy with it.

“I thought to myself, ‘What’s he doing? Checking his email. This is prayer time,’” Brother Jim said. “Then he turned the computer around and there was the FrancisCorps group from Costa Rica via Skype. They would provide the guitar music for that evening’s prayer. They were teaching me. I wasn’t teaching them.”

It’s a bittersweet good-bye for Brother Jim. He said after 13 years he felt it was time to move on and let the Holy Spirit guide the program and his own future.

“It is hard letting go,” he said. “But I’ve done this before in my life. You have to let God work in your life and I have to let the Spirit work. I don’t know what God has in mind for me.”

Brother Jim will leave Sept. 10 for a Franciscan study pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome. He’ll be in Assisi when Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace. He’ll also spend some time on retreat in the desert of Sante Fe, New Mexico, where he says he might get his answer as to “what is next.”

A Franciscan friar for 40-plus years now, Brother Jim grew up in St. Anthony’s Parish on the city’s south side. “Father Esposito is still one of my best buddies,” Brother Jim said. “We had the Sisters of St. Joseph serving there and they were excellent role models for living in community. I found the Franciscans and found out what a brother is. I’ve been a high school teacher, formation director, vocations director and just before FrancisCorps, I was in the Office of Residence Life at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. I got my master’s at Notre Dame. I’ve been around young people throughout my life. They keep me young.”

It was at a Franciscan Chapter Meeting several years ago when Brother Jim was inspired to agree that sharing the Franciscan charism with young people should be a priority of the order. He envisioned a program that would fit between a young person’s college years and professional life, and his religious community gave him the support to get the program up and running.

Funds for the FrancisCorps program include the money to sustain the volunteers with a very simple lifestyle, as well as money needed for recruitment trips at universities all over the country. Brother Jim explained that the volunteers in Costa Rica have to come up with their own money for travel. There is a network of FrancisCorps supporters and even “FrancisCorps Families” who provide a supportive family environment while the volunteers are in Syracuse. FrancisCorps has no significant fund-raising events and relies on gifts that come in through their newsletters.

The impact the experience has on the young people can be enormous. Many of them stay connected long after their FrancisCorps year. Some are married now with children of their own.

“I feel like the FrancisCorps Grandpa,” Brother Jim said. “This experience is life-changing for them. It is family.”

For more information about FrancisCorps or to help with the program, call (315) 426-0481 or email francorps@gmail.com.

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