Q: What is Franciscan Passages?
A: In a nutshell: Hi! Franciscan Passages is a 501(c) non-profit educational
organization. My name is Julie McElmurry. I live in Charlotte, NC. I travel wherever invited to give retreats and presentations on the writings of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi.
With the help of four people who now serve on the board of directors, I started this non-profit in 2010 upon “retiring” as a campus minister from Wake Forest University. I’d served in that role for the Diocese of Charlotte since 1999. Thanks to a good spiritual director and many external indications pointing me in the right direction, I discerned that the proper time had come for me to leave that role in order to share what I’d learned in my studies about St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi. While a campus minister, I spent five summers studying at the Franciscan Institute thanks to a generous scholarship from the Conventual Franciscan friars. I traveled from NC to NY every June and returned to my campus ministry post every August for a total of nine summers, including my M.S. studies at Fordham University in NYC). I graduated with the M.A. in Franciscan Studies in 2009. Currently, the Franciscan Institute is not offering that degree because the numbers of enrolled students has declined over the years. I graduated with five fellow classmates. One of them joined the friars right after graduating and the other four were Franciscan sisters from India who returned to their amazing, colorful country to share what they’d learned. From my graduation, I went on to complete what would be my final year serving as a campus minister.
For the sake of keeping this post short, I’ll sum up the subsequent 5 years by saying that God has continually surprised me by the types and location of invitations that have come my way. I live in NC but am willing to travel anywhere that I am invited in order to share the actual writings of Francis and Clare, showing people that these are easy-to-read, accessible and relatable so they realize that these writings are theirs to discover. My husband and I are experienced low-budget backpackers who have been to over 40 countries between us. In 2013, I was blessed with the invitation to offer retreats at Farm of the Child in Honduras. I hope and pray for more international invitations. I already have a high level of Spanish competency and have been working for the past 5 weeks to improve my pronunciation and other skills. I am willing to go “to the ends of the earth” to talk about Jesus and to talk about two of his followers, St. Francis and St. Clare. I’ve been working on my Spanish because I have a feeling that I’m “supposed” to be doing that for some greater purpose. I’ve given retreats in Spanish in the U.S., a few presentations in Spanish and a Mission Appeal on behalf of Catholic Volunteer Network in Spanish a total of about 1500 people. They were kind and about 50 people responded when I could not remember a certain word and asked them for help (for the word for “pheasant”). That was a fun moment and helped me realize the listeners were on my side and wanted me to succeed. They were so gracious as I spoke my accented Spanish. I hope that native English speakers will be as gracious with others.
I have met a Korean Poor Clare sister and a Korean Franciscan friar. Their stories of Franciscans in Korea interest me and make me want to go there and learn more from them. I would like to go to Korea to offer these takes and to lead a retreat. My lack of Korean language skills is an obvious obstacle to this happening, but it is a desire I have had for about two years now. This is the first time I’m putting it “out there” and I will start looking into this as a possibility. In addition, if it turns out that God wants me to offer more talks in Spanish, I am up for that challenge. Accepting an invitation, the process of preparation and traveling to the destinations are challenging and made even more so with a difference in language.
How this relates to St. Francis. He had no idea at the outset of his conversion where God would lead him. He found himself on stormy seas in ships, walking the pilgrimage route in Spain, traveling behind enemy lines in the crusades, talking to fancy people in Rome, hugging lepers and preaching wherever they’d let him. He wasn’t stuck in his own tiny world of Assisi. In fact, it is ironic that we all flock to that beautiful town to learn more about him when scholars like David Flood remind us that he spent his whole life running away from Assisi!
Name a place you’d like to go to do ministry.
Do you think you may be called to go there?
How can you make some steps toward making that happen?