A Philadelphia couple married for almost four decades recently headed back to the altar – but this time, rather than renewing their wedding vows, they promised to live the Gospel as St. Francis of Assisi did.
Betty and Frank Coyle, longtime parishioners at Holy Innocents in the city’s Juniata Park section, made their public profession as members of the Secular Franciscan Order during a June 28 Mass at the Padre Pio Prayer Center in Philadelphia’s Frankford neighborhood. The site of the former St. Joachim Parish, which merged with Holy Innocents in 2013, was acquired by the Capuchin Franciscan Friars of the Province of St. Augustine, and now ministers to the area’s vulnerable populations through partnerships with archdiocesan Catholic Social Services and other nonprofits.
Making their profession with the Coyles were Laura DeJesus and Marco Osuna, with Capuchin Father Reynaldo Frias presiding, assisted by Capuchin Fathers Kevin Thompson and Rafael Mendez, Holy Innocents pastor Father Thomas Higgins and permanent Deacon Andrea Carrillo.
The four professed – who, as laity, are part of a religious order directly founded by their patron saint and canonically established under Pope Honorius III in 1221 – won’t be moving into a monastery or traveling to an overseas mission now that they’ve received the distinctive Tau (T-shaped) cross that is the visible sign of the Franciscan order.
Instead, they’ll carry on with their everyday lives – and it’s there that they’ll follow St. Francis, and Christ himself, most closely.
“There really are no job requirements per se,” said Betty Coyle. “Each one of us, as part of the Franciscan community, gives what we can. We each have our own ministry, our own way of contributing to the community and of how we grow spiritually.”
For the couple, that means attending “Mass as much as possible,” since “Mass is the most important” spiritual activity, she said.
Frank, who works part-time at Holy Innocents, is a regular lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion at that parish’s daily and weekend Masses. Betty, who retired from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in March, hopes to return to the health care system’s pastoral team when Communion visits to the sick resume.
Rounding out the couple’s prayer regimen are Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, and the daily recitation of the rosary.
“We say all of those together every day,” said Betty.
Frank is also a member and promoter of the Holy Name Society, which fosters devotion to the name of Christ, evangelization and works of mercy. In November, he’ll head to New Orleans as the Philadelphia delegate for the society’s national gathering.
Betty added he’s “very active” in the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, which cares for one of Philadelphia’s five main watersheds that flow into the Delaware River. She herself works to improve Harrowgate Park, which fronts Kensington Avenue, and recently assisted with a public art installation there.
The couple’s spiritual and social outreach aligns perfectly with the Franciscan focus on prayer, contemplation, peace, justice and care of creation.
They’re also in good company: the Secular Franciscan Order has more than 300,000 members worldwide, about 12,000 of whom, organized into some 600 local fraternities, are in the U.S.
The order – canonically, an “association of the Christian faithful” — accepts both women and men, and members can be single, married or diocesan clergy who are Catholic and in good standing with the Church.
After a roughly three-year period of formation, professed members commit to following the order’s Rule of Life, attending monthly meetings and practicing daily prayer. Under the Holy See, the order’s pastoral care has been entrusted to the Franciscan Friars of the First Order and Third Order Regular.
The Coyles began to discern their call “about three years ago,” said Betty.
“We went to the (Padre Pio) center for a retreat, and then we attended lectures and presentations,” she recalled. “We’d heard of it before, but we really weren’t too sure what (the order) was.”
Despite their uncertainty, they felt “drawn to something very unique and very special,” Betty said – in large part, “a strong sense of community.”
“They had a unique gift of reaching out to others, no matter who are what they were,” she said. “They were always there for each other.”
Another factor was the Franciscans’ humility, she said.
“They’re not afraid to actually get out there and work among the poor and the people who really need to hear the word of God,” she said.
With the purchase of the St. Joachim property, the Franciscans are staying where they’re needed, Betty said.
And so are the Coyles, said Father Higgins.
“Their profession in the Secular Franciscan Order confirms their Franciscan charism to preach the Gospel always, and only use words when necessary,” he said. “Frank and Betty have done that their entire lives.”
As a married couple, entering into their Franciscan commitment at the same time was “special,” said Betty.
“We feel that we’re here to grow together and to bring others to know and to spread the word of God,” she said. “Just to reach out and touch other people in a very subtle way. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux said, it’s the little things, not the big things.”
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