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Friars looking for a few good men

Ashley Milne-Tyte Feb 10, 2009

Friars looking for a few good men

Ashley Milne-Tyte Feb 10, 2009


Bill Radke: Are you worried these days about losing your job? Or your savings? Your lifestyle? Well, you could fight harder to keep it all. But reporter Ashley Milne-Tyte saw a different idea while riding the New York subway: a recruitment ad for Franciscan friars.

Ashley Milne-Tyte: It’s not often on the subway that your eyes come to rest on a bunch of men in habits. But I’m on the N train crossing the Manhattan Bridge, and I’m looking at a group of smiling friars. The tagline to the ad reads, “Day shift, night shift? How about a life shift?”

I asked Father Brian Smail about the ads. He’s vocation director for Holy Name Province, the group of Franciscans that mounted the campaign.

Brian Smail: We’ve always had to advertise for vocations. You know we’ve never had like a multitude of people knocking at the door, but let’s face it, today it’s more difficult to attract vocations because people have so many choices now.

In 1979, Holy Name Province had 830 members. Today, it has fewer than 400. Father Brian says it was time for a new tactic.

Smail: I think these days to reach people, you have to be creative, and you have to go where people are. Think of all the numbers of people that travel the subway every day.

Including the Franciscans’ target audience, unmarried men in their 20’s and 30’s. Father Brian says he’s had a lot of calls from prospects, including a teacher, a TV producer and an accountant. He says the campaign, which includes some YouTube videos, was planned long before the economy soured.

But Mara Einstein, author of the book Brands of Faith, says the timing couldn’t be better.

Mara Einstein: Given sort of the self-reflection that’s going on in our culture right now and people are reassessing their values, and what they think about in terms of how they want to spend their life, this is actually a wonderful opportunity for this.

She says the enormity of that life shift is tough to convey in a print ad. Friars take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Everyone lives together. And, Father Brian says, they carry on the work St Francis started in 1223 of ministering to the dispossessed.

Smail: So embracing someone that doesn’t measure up, quote-unquote in terms of what society believes — whether it’s somebody that’s poor, somebody with AIDS.

It’s very different from his previous life as a systems analyst at Bank of America. He says so far, he hasn’t come across any former bankers interested in such a radical change in their lives. But if there are any out there, he’d be glad to hear from them.

In New York, I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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