I am a proud graduate of St. Bonaventure University. People who know me even casually soon learn this fact and also understand that this school influenced my life. The campus ranks among the most beautiful places. The dedicated professors, administrators, and staff who have opted for life in extremely remote (and extremely frozen) Allegany, New York make the students’ experiences exceptional. Being part of the crowd cheering on the Bonnies basketball teams at the Reilly Center remain deeply embedded memories.
However, at least for me, a defining characteristic which makes St. Bonaventure University so special are the Franciscan Friars. St. Bonaventure University is a Franciscan university. You know the Franciscans. They wear simple brown hooded robes with a white rope belt which has three knots. Each knot represents their three vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience. They look like Friar Tuck from all the Robin Hood books and movies.
While the Friars at St. Bonaventure University will cheer on the Bonnies almost as loud as the student section fans, they more often promote a calmness and peacefulness. As a group, I found them as understated, sharp-witted, and determined. As a student, you could comfortably approach the Friars and feel immediately welcomed. You need not be Catholic or even religious to fairly promptly develop strong, lasting bonds with the Friars. They genuinely wanted to get to know you and help you.
Part of the charm for the Franciscan Friars is remaining well-grounded with a keen sense of humor. During my Freshman year at Bonaventure, at Halloween, a college buddy and I dressed up as a priest and pregnant nun. “Please meet the Sister, the mother” was our opening line. Some found the costumes as crossing the line. Nonetheless, by the end of the evening, the Friars invited us to sit with them in the campus pub where we shared pitchers of beer and stories. They thought we were daring and hilarious.
In the middle of the Summer each year, I am specifically reminded of St. Bonaventure — both the university and the man. July 15 is the feast day of St. Bonaventure. I do not have the dedicated feast days of Catholic saints memorized and would be lucky to name a few other feast days. I assume that February 14 is St. Valentine’s feast day and March 17 is St. Patrick’s feast day. Thereafter, I struggle to name other feast days.
Each July 15, I receive numerous social media messages from St. Bonaventure University, the Franciscan community and others calling out the feast day of St. Bonaventure. Many of these messages note the scholarly nature of St. Bonaventure and how his writings solidified the teachings and altruistic approach of St. Francis from one generation before Bonaventure.
This year, through these messages, I learned something new about St. Bonaventure himself. This relatively small episode from his life places much better into perspective the Franciscan Friars and St. Bonaventure University. I can take this vignette and apply it to my own life and even my mediation practice.
Giovanni di Fidanza, later better known as St. Bonaventure, was born in 1221 in Italy. His family was privileged enough so that Bonaventure attended the University of Paris. Bonaventure took vows as a priest and joined the recently formed Franciscan Order of Friars Minor. St. Francis of Assisi died in 1225 with this new group coalescing soon after his death.
St. Francis abandoned the well-established monastic monk approach in favor of a mendicant style. The monastic approach included life in community — monasteries — where all worked at a trade and all owned everything on a communal basis. This central, established community would then serve the religious flock which came to it. In contrast, the mendicant approach abandoned ownership ideas and included a vow of poverty, traveling to those in need, and ministering to the poor. The mendicant lifestyle would be funded by the goodwill of those who had been served.
The Church bristled at this new mendicant movement, in part, as wealth was not created for the Church as it was with the monastic approach. Tension grew within the Church between these groups during the 1200s. In the 1260s, the scholarly Bonaventure defended the Franciscan Friars and the mendicant approach from the anti-mendicant movement. Bonaventure established legitimacy and acceptance of the Franciscans and similar mendicant religious Orders (Dominicans, Augustinians, and Carmelites). After doing so, in 1265, the Franciscan Order elected Bonaventure as its Minister General.
By this time, Bonaventure had become a Bishop in the Church. Pope Gregory X recognized Bonaventure’s leadership and elevated him to Cardinal. The Pope’s delegation traveled to Bonaventure with this news of becoming a Cardinal. Upon their arrival, they discovered Bonaventure washing the dishes from the Friar’s dinner. The delegation announced his appointment as Cardinal and presented Bonaventure with the traditional red hat worn by Cardinals.
Bonaventure responded by instructing the delegates to place the Cardinal hat on the nearby table as Bonaventure was busy with the dishes. In Bonaventure’s view, serving his brother Friars with simple tasks rated well above a hat. I can only imagine the conversation over the dishes:
Delegation: “Greetings Bonaventure! With the grace of his Holy Father, we travel this great distance to proclaim the good news that you have been made Cardinal. Look. We brought with us a Cardinal’s hat which the Pope desires you to wear.”
Bonaventure: “A hat. How nice. Why don’t you place it over there on the table. Can’t you see I’m a little busy here with the dishes.”
Delegation: “But Bonaventure, this red hat represents so much. You have the blessings of the Pope. The Church recognizes you as a true leader. You have accomplished a great deal and have a platform to share your faith and wisdom. Please take the hat.”
Bonaventure: “Hat, schmat. Toss it on the table, grab some towels, and start drying the dishes if you really want to make a difference. Don’t leave any spots or streaks.”
Because of this encounter, portraits and images of Bonaventure often include a Cardinal’s red hat which does not adorn Bonaventure’s head, but rather rests near by Bonaventure. Bonaventure’s dedication to service remained paramount regardless whether he was a Friar, Bishop or Cardinal. As his positions in the Church advanced, Bonaventure apparently remained humble and mindful of his dedicated purpose.
Looking back at my time with the Friars at St. Bonaventure University, I recognize that there were never ego issues with the Friars. Whether that dynamic represented an innate characteristic within each Friar or developed with a life dedicated to vows, I know not. I think, however, that this humility demonstrated by St. Francis, St. Bonaventure and the modern Franciscan Friars allows them to easily serve others. The Friars are accepting and tolerant of the positions of others. They have not shown themselves to be judgmental, instead choosing to focus on their mission.
As a mediator, I can learn with a reminder to myself of being accepting of the settlement decisions by others. I admit that there are times when I question whether an accepted settlement offer is fair or even reasonable. The participants should fairly easily see that further concessions would most probably be made with a better settlement resulting. I have always, ultimately, respected the fact that absent fraud or lack of capacity issues, settlement decisions are vested in the participants, not the mediator. Those settlements bother me the most over time.
I must strive to be more like the Franciscan Friars. Absent extreme circumstances, the decisions rest with others and I should accept their positions. I may not know their personal dynamics and pressures to accept an offer. They may simply want finality at virtually any cost for their own peace of mind. They may have moved on to other ventures in life and this lawsuit once so critical has become a nuisance. They may need funds to satisfy other, more pressing obligations. They may have inexperienced attorneys who counsel them that the offer is quite good. The list of reasons driving their settlement decisions can go on. I need to place the red hat on table and just finish my job. I am there to serve the participants and guide them to an acceptable settlement.
I may move my Boston Red Sox red hat into my office as reminder of St. Bonaventure. I will not wear it in the office, but place it on a nearby table.