Order of Friars Minor in Great Britain

Entering the Noviciate

  I first became enamoured of him when a teacher in my primary school spoke of him and his love for animals. Much later I came to the Franciscan Novitiate in Chilworth, Surrey. At that time, it was a strict regime, not at all to my liking, getting out of bed at five twenty to come to a cold church. Once a month we stood around a catafalque and sang dirges. At night the Rules and Customs of the Noviciate said that when we went to bed we were to cross our chests with our arms and think about death and other restful thoughts!
While I was in the Noviciate I looked after the chickens. I spent a lot of time with the chickens. I became their best friend. Their hutches were as clean as a palace. I worked out all my frustrations in the chicken run. I stayed in the Noviciate three months and when I was leaving the novice master said to me, “If ever you want to come back get in touch with me”, and I thought, “Not on your nelly”.

National Service

  In those days there was a thing called National Service and every young man had to do two years in the military. I joined the RAF and signed on for four years. During the first twelve weeks of service we had to do what became known as “square bashing” which meant you marched up and down the parade ground, we were taught how to shoot the enemy, went over the assault course, all the time we were shouted at by the drill instructor. And our parentage was frequently called into question. For my friends it was all very irksome but for me after three months in the Noviciate it was liberation.
God spoke to Francis of Assisi. He gave him a Rule. He told him he would have brothers. He spoke to him from the crucifix and told him to go “and repair my church for you see it is falling into ruin”. Francis started building up the tumbled down little churches around Assisi. One church he had a particular liking for was the chapel dedicated to Saint Mary, Queen of Angels. This stood on a little plot of land which we now refer to as the Portiuncula. He said nowhere on earth did he experience the presence of God so much as in this church of the Portiuncula. When Francis was the dapper man around town he hated to see lepers, men with open sores on their hands and feet, but after what he called his conversion he went and kissed a leper and he then began to build up not tumbled down churches but to build up a temple of living stones.

Assisi doves nesting in arms of statue
Francis Conway OFM (2)