On March 4th of 2010 I took my first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. I wear a gray religious habit with a coarse rope as a belt or cincture. A wooden rosary hangs from the rope. I love being a religious brother in New York. The Lord used many things to prepare me for religious life, including Saint Paul’s Outreach.
During my time at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, I received intellectual and spiritual formation, but also had a desire planted in my heart to be a Franciscan priest. I was asked to wait a couple of years before entering the community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, so I dedicated myself to service. First, I was on a team with NET Ministries to share the Gospel around the country for a year. Then I joined SPO for a year of service, prayer, spiritual direction, formation, exercise, meals, conversations and more! It was a year where I strove to enter into the life of college students so that I could be a witness to them about Christ and the Church.
During that year with SPO, I learned how to pour out my life to others in service and entered into a life not that unlike that of a religious life. For example, in living in an SPO Household, we prayed together at 6:30 in the morning, had meals in the evening, worked on chores, and had much joy! We prayed often together—at Mass, with students at prayer meetings, with friends and with staff members. We entered into the presence of the Lord and we were transformed. There is so much to be thankful for and to reflect on from my time with SPO. It prepared me for religious life by stretching me in pouring out my life to others in service.
Now in my religious community, we live similarly—we get up, we pray, we eat, we work or clean, we pray, we sleep. Sometimes very ordinary, and other times it’s very exciting. Our outward appearance gives witness publicly to our ultimate goal in heaven. We often walk into great hopelessness, and are trying to bring hope and meaning. As St. Francis said, “In giving we receive.” I have received an abundance through my formation with SPO and hopefully, with God’s grace, I can give in return.
My mother died of cancer just before I came to SPO. She bravely endured her cancer journey, faithfully carrying the cross that was placed upon her shoulders by our Lord. In her struggle, she said many times, “It’s only my cross. It’s only my cross.” She responded to what the Lord wanted her to do even though the pain was great. Because of my mom’s life and inspiration I took the name Simon Marie. Simon is to honor Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry the cross, and Marie in honor of my mom, since it was her middle name. My mother and father’s faithfulness was not only a witness to me but to hundreds of others as well. My petition to you is that you pray that I will be faithful and faith-filled in the journey towards Christ, imitating the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. I pray in thanksgiving for the way the people in Saint Paul’s Outreach have blessed me in preparation for religious life!
God bless you,
Simon Marie Dankoski (Matthew Dankoski)