Franciscan Professor helping students 'transform themselves and the world'
Brother Gregory Cellini shares his views on his college course on "viewing your career in a Franciscan way", reflects on his previous twenty-nine years working in the big pharmaceutical sector, and on his current dream of helping students "see the Good inside themselves to transform the world."
“Francis was all about freedom, and that’s what this book is all about: looking inside yourself and seeing who you are, and being free to bring your good into the world.” Brother Gregory Cellini, OSF, is the Director of the Office of Mission, Ministry and Interfaith Dialogue and an Adjunct Professor at St. Francis College, Brooklyn, New York.
For years he has been proudly (even if, according to him, proud “may not be the right word”) offering the “Franciscan Career Transformation” course, a unique approach for students whose goal is to look at their career path “in a Franciscan way.”
His one-of-a-kind approach received so much positive feedback that it evolved into the book, “Transform Yourself – Transform the World: A Franciscan View of Career,” published by Tau Publishing.
Brother Greg’s story
The course has much to do with Brother Greg’s (as everyone calls him across the school corridors) peculiar life trajectory, first working for almost thirty years in the pharmaceutical sector and, then, radically changing its direction, joining the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn congregation.
“My story goes way back to senior year in high school,” he recounted. “I was part of a program where you went to school in the morning and worked in the afternoon.”
It was his introduction to the big pharmaceutical industry, where he worked, with various responsibilities, for twenty-nine years, until May 5, 2006. “That day, I received the news I was downsized. The good news was I had a sense it was going to happen.”
Reflection and vocation
For the prior year, as Brother Gregory was exploring potential internal opportunities, the company kindly provided coaching from Gallup. “I took Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment and my coach said to me, ‘Greg, your profile, your strengths, are much more geared towards religious life than the corporate world. Might you think you have a vocation?’ This question initiated deep interior reflection.”
The downsizing turned out to be “critical to give me that final push God was trying to give me.” He started his formation as a Franciscan Brother in September 2006 and professed Vows in August 2009. In February 2010, he joined St. Francis College in the Department of Student Affairs.
To many, career aspirations and Franciscan values are two contrasting concepts, impossible to be condensed into one specific area of study. However, probably due to his unique standpoint and life path, these suppositions have resonated in Brother Gregory’s mind and dreams since becoming a Brother.
The journey to Assisi
"The key event took place in October 2013. The College had sent me on a pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome. In St. Francis' hometown, Mary Beth Wisniewski of Cardinal Stritch University and I were supposed to visit Santo Stefano church for an hour and then tour the rest of Assisi. However, a terrible rainstorm forced us to remain in the church for a couple of hours."
While rain was pouring outside, Brother Gregory realized he had to make that vision of a class regarding Franciscan transformation come true. "I have no doubt God wanted me to walk down this path," he affirmed, “but I was lacking certain knowledge and skill to proceed.”
When the weather calmed down and they could finally move to Piazza del Comune, he shared his idea with Mary Beth, whose "background was in counseling and career coaching. At that moment, I realized Mary Beth had the knowledge and skill I was lacking. When I asked her to collaborate on the class, she immediately agreed to do such."
It took a couple of years to put it all together and get the course approved. But, once we did, it was well-received by the students. I could readily see transformation occurring during each semester.
Franciscan career transformation
The course follows in St. Francis’ footsteps, focusing on the Saint’s personal conversion during which he increasingly discovered who God intended him to be. “I chose not to use the word conversion only because today many people associate conversion with shifting from one religion to another,” Brother Gregory reflected. “The word ‘transformation’ is much more familiar.”
Parallel to his activities at St. Francis College, Brother Gregory hosts “Thank God For Monday,” a weekly radio talk show about the workplace. “I have had many guests say to me, ‘College students are not aware. They have lots of knowledge, but they don’t really know who they are.’”
Career is all about finding and sharing the good inside of us to maximize our contribution to a world desperately in need of our good.
“A combination of beauty and brokenness”
A world that seems more and more inclined to emphasize negativity, especially among young generations. “They have difficulties seeing their good,” Brother Gregory observed. “We look at someone’s Instagram and think how perfect their lives are… and I am a mess. While, in reality, all of our lives are a bit messy. I like to tell students we are all a combination of beauty and brokenness.”
Coming back to St. Francis, Brother Gregory recalled the famous episode where the Saint, prostrated in front of the San Damiano Cross, heard God’s voice saying:
““Francis, rebuild my Church which you see is in need of repair.” Today young people are being challenged to “Transform the world, which you see is in need of repair.””
The course, practically speaking, is divided into three parts. “The first is dedicated to discovering who you are. Then we get into some career ownership aspects, such as resume building, networking, and interviewing. We complete the learning by reviewing Franciscan values.”
“Fraternal feedback, inclusiveness, gratitude, courage, right relationship. These Franciscan values are so critical in today’s 21st-century workplace.”
The students’ response
Students leave Franciscan Career Transformation much freer than when they enter. A subtle but very effective technique used by Brother Gregory is to – at the beginning of each class – have the students place all of their electronic gadgets into what is called “the basket of freedom.” “At first, students are a bit reticent to let go of their phones; however, by the third week of class, they cannot wait to do such. They look forward to the detachment!”
The book features many highlights from students who took the course and saw their lives turned upside down, not only from a career perspective but, also, from a day-to-day one. Specifically, Brother Gregory fondly recounted the story of a student who, at the end of the course, came to appreciate much more of herself and, consequently, her brother, with whom she previously hadn’t had a healthy relationship.
“Franciscan love transformed their relationship and the impetus was her taking the class.”
Share your own good
The foreword of the book, penned by Brother Richard Contino, OSF, reiterates that same concept of freedom related to St. Francis, who, on his deathbed, “freed” his brothers, saying: “I’ve done what was mine to do, may Christ now teach you what you are to do.”
“Francis didn’t want his brothers to try to imitate him. They had their own journeys, their own good that they needed to share in the way God intended each of them to be.”
Brother Gregory’s ultimate hope for the course is to see it adopted by universities worldwide. “Who we can’t teach in person, we can reach remotely - just as we did at St. Francis College during the pandemic. I am convinced that – regardless of whether in-person or remote - the nuggets introduced in the course can really help people at a much earlier age get on the path God desires for them.”