How do you get twenty-six young men religious, none of whom has met all the other men, who come from all over North America, Puerto Rico, Guam, and Great Britain, to live together for a year in a place none of them has ever been before?
The answer: make them live together for two months in another place none of them has ever seen before.
To paraphrase the mother of all reality shows:
"This is the true story ... of twenty-six brothers ... picked to live in a house ... work and pray together and have their lives consecrated ... to find out what happens ... when people stop being secular ... and start getting religious...."
The Friar World.
Before beginning novitiate in California, all the Capuchin postulants are going to Kansas to participate in a program known by turns as pre-novitiate and post-postulancy. It is known officially the Interprovincial Postulancy Program.
According to the North American and Pacific Capuchin Conference, the purpose of the program is to give the brothers the "time and structure" to
"a. meet and interact with their peers from other provinces who will comprise their novitiate class;
"b. experience and refine their interpersonal skills as they seek to form a common fraternity with brothers who have had different formational training and experiences in their own province;
"c. deepen their personal and communal spiritual life in further preparation for their novitiate;
"d. develop a personal sense of having a new, public 'Capuchin ministerial identity' which is experienced in their service to the poor."
With 26 friars in this year's formation class from the provinces and vice provinces of the North American and Pacific Capuchin Conference, and perhaps more brothers next year, achieving these outcomes becomes ever more critical. That's why there is a program before the novitiate program.
But why Kansas? (Aside from having enough space to house the friars, that is.)
It has to do with tradition, basically. St. Fidelis Friary and Center for Spiritual Life is in Victoria, in a part of the country with a strongly Catholic identity. I am told the Capuchins founded many churches and institutions in that area of the heartland over a century ago. St. Fidelis Church is a state historical landmark and one of the so-called "8 Wonders of Kansas."
It probably also has to do with detachment. The program manual states, "To enter more fully into the experience of living a simple, common life and to be freed of material preoccupations that could interfere with this unique period of time set aside for their spiritual development, it is essential that the Brothers are no longer involved with and/or preoccupied by any material or financial concerns." I have already noted the restriction on Internet usage. We are also to let go of possessions like credit cards, money, checks, cell phones, computers, PDAs, and other consumer electronics. Not that these things do not exist in Kansas, but perhaps it may be easier for us to first practice detachment from these material things in a rural environment.
One of the formators in novitiate has written the following to the postulants: "We cannot stress enough the need for you to give of yourself totally to the novitiate formation program and discernment process. We realize this may be for some a major struggle after years of independence in all matters especially concerning financial and personal freedoms." The journey into novitiate is a migration both physical and spiritual, and it requires a real surrender. The interprovincial postulancy is structured to help the novices-to-be make the transition into a new kind of spiritual space, one that will "allow the novice to become completely attentive to the whisper of God in his heart."
Going to Kansas, where few if any of the brothers have been, sounds like a good way of gently leaving life as you have known it and arriving to life as it will be, especially when you're making this pilgrimage with a big group of people.