St. Peter’s young cantor is as inspirational as her voice
Our #FaithInWV feature stories, showcase Catholics who are rising above the odds, giving hope, and leading by example. After reading today’s relatable story about Franchesca Aloi of St. Peter’s Parish in Farmington, we hope she inspires you to also choose to be a blessing.
If you ask the 20-year-old junior at Fairmont State University about herself she is likely to talk more about how amazing her grandparents are; how her parish is super small, but very close; and how fun and genuine her pastor Father Vincy Sebastian Illickal, T.O.R., is. However, there is a great lesson this young lady teaches through her example – how to be both humble and hungry.
“God has blessed me by placing me with a beautiful family,” Aloi said “Jesus really took care of me and continues to do so. My grandparents are my world and have set the perfect example of faith, family, and caring for others.”
Since the age of seven she has been a cantor for the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass, following in her grandfather’s footsteps, after being encouraged by her grandmother. Aloi lives with her grandparents Diane and Donald Aloi in Farmington. She affectionately refers to them as “Nunna and Pops, the most caring people I know.”
Once she reached middle school, she filled in at church leading the Rosary before Sunday Mass. By high school she was teaching catechism for the first holy communicants, and then parish school of religion for all ages between their communion and confirmation years.
When it was possible for the priests to have an organist and cantor at the Masses, they were recording during the pandemic for parish websites and social media pages, Fr. Illickal, asked Aloi and grandmother to help him. The videos were livestreamed on the Facebook pages for the parishioners at St. Peter and St. Patrick in Mannington, where he is also the pastor.
Her favorite songs to sing at Mass include Be Not Afraid, Taste and See; and Eagles Wings. The lyrics of these songs reflect her faith: Be Not Afraid gives us the confidence to follow God to find rest and peace; Taste and See reminds us that if we call out to God, he will set you free from trouble; and Eagles Wings echoes that we should not fear for God holds us in the palm of His hand.
Aloi said it is her grandmother who has the greatest influence on her life.
“She is a leader and a very good one – she leads us at church as our organist, she leads me as a person, she leads so many people that she cares about,” she said. “She has a beautiful heart. When I catch myself doing something I know would mirror her I feel so proud. If it weren’t for my nunna, I wouldn’t be close to God,” she said. “I get strength from her and the prayers she offers for me and I know that for sure. It is through her I know Jesus and the Church.”
That doesn’t mean the journey that led her to her faith was easy. In fact, she shared that 2020 was difficult for her.
When restrictive regulations from the pandemic first hit, she, like her peers, was excited for the escape from her college workload. It was almost like a spontaneous vacation, but then days turned into weeks, and weeks to months.
“No longer was I living the college life, being with friends constantly, and ‘testing my independence’ as they say,” she said. “Socializing stopped. It got to be stressful and depressing. Then I struggled spiritually. It was rough. It wasn’t until I literally found myself at a very low point and cried out Jesus’ name that I was able to start building myself back up. I remember almost instantly feeling my head was cleared and a total sense that I could be confident in His love. It was like he was telling me, ‘Follow Me and everything will be okay.’”
Aloi said she realized she already had everything she needed – her family and her Catholic faith.
Recently, she discovered that there is a St. Francesca – St. Frances of Rome, who lived from 1384-1400. In an article by Word Press we learn that St. Francesca was “no dried-up prune of a saint.” She was very active and dynamic. “She suffered struggles, endured sorrows, and bore with every manner of disappointment and hurt.” However, her life reveals “that the plan of God for our holiness unfolds in ways that often contradict our own projects and desires. Our endless planning can be no more than an attempt to control life, to manipulate people and events. (Saint) Francesca challenges us to detachment from life as we would have it be, and to the acceptance of things as they are.”
“Ironically I wasn’t named after her, but my birthday – March 9 – is her feast day,” she said, noting she considers that a blessing and feels a connection to her.
Like the saint with her name, Aloi knows she is to use her Catholic faith to learn from everything life throws at her. The compounded stress of the pandemic, the loss of what were “norms” can weigh heavy, Aloi said.
“It’s easy to push God away and think we can pick and choose what we need spiritually,” she said. “But our faith teaches us to trust Him to get us through our troubles and let Him in.”
She believes that people and circumstances are put in our lives for a reason, whether good or bad it is up to us whether those encounters turn into ones that strengthen our faith and character or break our spirit.
“Choices have consequences,” she said.
In prior years before the pandemic the parish held a community breakfast to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. When it was obvious that the gathering couldn’t take place, Aloi knew it would be an easy choice to skip the fundraiser, but her heart told her it was necessary. She rallied a few helpers and Fr. Illickal to conduct an appeal by posting a video on his parish’s social media page, requesting parishioners bring or mail donations to the church. It was a mini telethon of sorts. They set their goal at $1,500. Much to their surprise, $3,000 was collected.
“We were so happy,” Aloi said. “It took little effort but will make a great impact for children and families who need us.”
“I’ve already had many bumps in the road,” she said. “My life isn’t perfect, no one’s is. We just have to keep choosing the right path. We have to find a spiritual guide and a great example to follow. I’m so blessed that I have that built in support system with my grandparents, but we can all still find ourselves feeling alone, and that’s when we need to remember our spiritual guide is Jesus,” she said. “We should talk to God like we would any father figure in our lives. He is our true Father, and His love and presence are right there for us always – it doesn’t get any better.”
She said on her bad days she finds energy in Catholic podcasts, books on the Catholic faith, singing sacred songs, and making her surroundings quiet so she can wholeheartedly pray and further develop her relationship with Jesus.
“If you are longing for a godly presence in life, you have to pause and sit still,” she said. “Just breathe and wait for the Holy Spirit. Call upon Him. He is there waiting on us. The sense of peace may not come instantly but it will come.”
Father Illickal said Aloi is “a superb example to the young and old alike because of her giving nature, her kindness, her sincerity and her love. She is an inspiration.”
“Franchesca puts her heart and soul into everything she does for St. Peter’s,” he said. “She has a heart that is all on fire for the love of Jesus. She loves God with all of her being. She is a charming, kind, personable and energetic young lady. To know Franchesca is to love her!”