10-17-2021Pastor's LetterFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

I write this on the Feast day of St. John Leonardi (Oct. 9). And why is that important? Well the saint, quite unexpectedly showed up in my life about 8 years ago. Saints are like that, they have a way of insinuating themselves into our spiritual journey, connecting ours to theirs.

I was in Rome, celebrating my 25th Anniversary of Ordination and staying at Casa Santa Marta in Vatican City. Celebrating Mass that October 9th, it was the feast of St. John Leonardi and in Rome it was an obligatory memorial unlike in the US where it is optional. I admit I knew little about the saint. Later that day I headed out to make a stop at a certain tailor in Rome and as I was wandering around trying to find the place it started to rain. I wasn't happy about the rain since I had no umbrella and really dislike being wet and cold. I noticed across the street a small church that had its doors open and bunting and flowers decorating the entrance. So, to get out of the rain I popped in the Church. After I entered, I looked to my left and there was a side altar all decorated and candles lit. Then I noticed under the altar was the body of somebody, probably a saint, as you often find in Roman churches. Upon closer inspection, it was the body of St. John Leonardi.

Coincidence? Did God send the rain so I would stop in that Church and meet my newest patron on his feast day? I didn't need much convincing and so afterwards I studied the life of the saint. He started out in Lucca, near Florence and founded a small religious community which quickly got him exiled by the secular government and he lived and worked the rest of his life in Rome. He had studied to be a pharmacist before becoming a priest. In Rome he first started working with young people who were getting themselves in to trouble and becoming rather delinquent. He wanted to keep them close to the Church and show them how the way of Christ could lead them to happiness.

And so here was I, living far from my hometown, having stared a program (FullCircle) for young people who were getting into all sorts of trouble, often with drugs, including pharmaceutical ones. So, it seemed to me that the saint showed up to help me continue my work with young people. I added him to my arsenal of saintly intercessors and patrons.

Around the same time, we were getting requests to open programs in other cities. That of course would take the proper funding and staffing. I kept asking the saint to help. And then about a year later the funding showed up in a very big way to help us open programs in Denver, Kansas City and Atlanta.

I never started out to start a national program. I was trying to find ways to help our parish young people who were being expelled from Catholic High Schools because of their behaviors or drugs usage. I always thought we could do better than expulsion and had a moral obligation to try to find a way to help them and in doing so help our schools deal with some of the problems they were encountering. The principal at the time of Seton High School in Chandler agreed with me and so it started.

Since then FullCircle operates in four different cities and currently serves about 400 families. Parents in those towns have a resource to turn to and teens have a safe place to meet and form peer groups that will support them in their new way of life. We hope someday to be able to meet the requests from other cities to start a Program for their families and teens.

What differentiates FullCircle from other youth programs? First, we are a God centered program. I believe strongly that while our problems are mainly emotional the solutions are always spiritual. We use a modified version of the Twelve Steps for young people as the backbone of the FullCircle Program. Secondly, we also offer the program at no cost to families. Too often cost is the deciding factor for a teen to get the help needed. And very often parents have already expended large sums on other attempts to help their teen. I never want money to be the reason families can’t find the assistance they need.

This year we are holding our Annual FullCircle Banquet at OLL for the first time. The Banquet is our biggest fundraiser of the year. You are all invited to participate, learn more about the Program and celebrate with some of our young people and their families who have benefited from the Program. You too, like St. John Leonardi can help our broken, confused and suffering young people come “full circle”. Who knows it may one day be your grandchild or great grandchild or niece or nephew, neighbor or colleague’s child that needs help? When parents contact our Program it is usually the worst day of their lives. You can help turn the worst day into the best day for them. St. John Leonardi, Pray for FullCircle!

Love, Fr. John B.

P.S. You can learn more about FullCircle at www.fullcircleprogram.com. You can also purchase tickets or be sponsor for the Nov. 13 Banquet or make a gift to the Program by Adopting a Teen.