Br Bernard on his new ministry in Chicago: “The Lord has my back” 

By Mary Brazell, 28 May 2024
Br Bernard Fonkalsrud OFM Conv at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents in Kellyville. Image: Mary Brazell/Diocese of Parramatta


Br Bernard Mary Fonkalsrud OFM Conv, a familiar face in the Diocese of Parramatta, feels a deep sense of calling as he takes on a new ministry on the other side of the world. 

Br Bernard, who has been part of the Franciscan community at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Kellyville, since 2019, has been appointed as the Vocations Director for the Franciscan Province of St Bonaventure, in the United States.  

The province is based in Chicago, and has communities ministering in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, with plans to outreach to the other Midwest states under their jurisdiction. The province also has general custody of all Conventual Franciscans in Australia. 

In September 2023, Br Bernard was recognised for the work he had been doing in Kellyville with the parish’s youth and young adults by the Minister Provincial, Fr Paul Langevin OFM Conv, who was in Australia for a national assembly of the friars. 

“After seeing what I’d been doing here in Australia in engaging with the young and young adults and acting as the vocations promoter in Australia, Fr Paul started to feel that I might be a good fit for the role,” Br Bernard explained. 

“It wasn’t an obedience, he didn’t force me to do it, because he realised it was a big ask to leave my life, family and friends in Australia, but he asked me to think and pray about it. 

“The more I thought and prayed about it, the more I thought I do feel a sense of calling, a pull and excitement at the prospect of this new ministry in America. 

“To have been tapped on the shoulder for this role is a great, humbling experience that the province has seen something in me that they think can really do this role well. 

“I just have to be open to the Holy Spirt to lead me and trust that despite my frailty, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, that the Lord’s got my back.” 

As Vocations Director, Br Bernard will be the point of contact for men who are discerning a religious vocation with the Franciscans as either a priest or a brother and will be walking alongside the men as their guide and support. 

“It’s not an overnight thing. It takes time to discern,” he said. 

“We encourage the men to meet with the friars face-to-face, but to also give them their own time to discern, inviting them to ‘come and see’ retreat weekends, giving them a taste of communal life and learn about our spirituality, our history and our traditions. 

“It’s a two-way street – they’re discerning whether they are called to be a Franciscan, not just a priest or another brother, but I’m also discerning if the men are suited to being part of the order and to help them along the way. 

“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t passionate about being a Franciscan – our life, our traditions, our spirituality and history. Being able to share my passion and my love with men that are on the doorstep of thinking about this vocation and being able to share with them what I love about this order – this sense of mission excites me.  

“It’s a big responsibility because the men that are coming to discern with us are going to look to me as the vocations director to be a good example to them, to be a face of the order, to answer their questions and concerns and queries.”  

Br Bernard said he was “blessed” to have been able to serve the parish community in Kellyville as part of its sacramental and RCIA teams, accompanying the youth and young adults, and serving as the Director of the Shrine of the Holy Innocents. 

Br Bernard Fonkalsrud OFM Conv at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents in Kellyville. Image: Mary Brazell/Diocese of Parramatta

“It’s been a ministry of presence here in Kellyville – just being present to people and being a ‘part of the furniture’. 

“I’ve been invited into people’s homes and into their lives, and I think that’s why the people here love the friars because we always try our best to be available and present to people in whatever situation they’re in. 

“I’ll miss the friendships that I’ve made here, particularly with the young adults. I’ve gone from seeing some of our young adults when they were in high school to now being the leaders and seeing their progression to really deepening their faith and seeing how they are growing to be inquisitive, courageous and passionate people for their own faith. 

“I really thank my friar community here in Kellyville for their support and encouragement of me – seeing me grow from a simple student to making my perpetual vows. 

“I thank the parish for their love and support and adopting me as one of their own. As much as they feel I have made a contribution to their experience in the parish, they have really enhanced my time here. 

“I do pray that this isn’t goodbye, and I hope to one day return to Australia and continue my connection with the friar community here.” 

In his advice to young people discerning their call to vocation, Br Bernard said it was important that they never stop listening to the voice of God in everything they do. 

“We often allow His voice to be drowned out by distractions and by what the world is trying to tell us, so it’s important to make time to really stop, pray, listen and allow ourselves to put aside our stresses, anxieties and busyness and tap into the voice of God. 

“The thought of a vocation can be daunting, because it will mean a real shift in my life. When we’re discerning is when we start to realise that we are being called to something.  

“We need to listen and ask ourselves, ‘what does this all mean?’ and think how do I need to start moving towards this calling, this vocation that God is calling me to.” 


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