What is the Secular Franciscan Order?
From the earliest days of Francis of Assisi's ministry, secular people who longed to live a deeper life of Faith were drawn to his message of conversion and penance.
Francis formed these secular penitents into the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, later called the Third Order of St. Francis. From this Order the T.O.R. emerged in the 15th century. The Order continued as the Third Order of St. Francis, Secular. In 1978, its name was changed to the Secular Franciscan Order (S. F 0.)
Secular Franciscans, as their name implies, live ordinary lives in the world rather than in religious communities. They may be single or married, women or men, in all walks of life.
They live the Gospel as consecrated laity in a Franciscan manner according to their own Rule which they profess after a period of initial formation. Profession as a Secular Franciscan is a lifelong commitment. Formation and profession of the Secular Franciscan takes place within a local community called a fraternity. Life in fraternity is an essential aspect of the Secular Franciscan vocation. The fraternity is a community of love, the privileged place for the sisters and brothers to develop their sense of Church and the Franciscan call.
Although a self-governing Order, each Secular Franciscan fraternity receives guidance in spiritual matters from a spiritual assistant, usually a friar of one of the other Franciscan Orders. These relationships are particularly strong between Secular Franciscans and the T.O.R. friars with whom they share common roots in the Franciscan penitential tradition.
What does it mean to be a Secular Franciscan?
The Secular Franciscans commit themselves to live the Gospel according to Franciscan spirituality in their secular condition. The Secular Franciscan must personally and assiduously study the Gospel and Sacred Scripture to foster love for the word of the Gospel and help the brothers and sisters to know and understand it as it is proclaimed by the Church with the assistance of the Spirit. Secular Franciscans, called in earlier times "the brothers and sisters of penance", propose to live in the spirit of continual conversion. Some means to cultivate this characteristic of the Franciscan vocation, individually and in fraternity, are: listening to and celebrating the Word of God; review of life; spiritual retreats; the help of a spiritual adviser, and penitential celebrations. Secular Franciscans should pledge themselves to live the spirit of the Beatitudes and, in a special way, the spirit of poverty. Evangelical poverty demonstrates confidence in the Father, affects interior freedom, and disposes them to promote a more just distribution of wealth. They must provide for their own families and serve society by means of their work and material goods, have a particular manner of living evangelical poverty. To understand and achieve it requires a strong personal commitment and the stimulation of the fraternity in prayer and dialogue, communal review of life, and attentiveness to the instructions of the Church, and the demands of society. They pledge themselves to reduce their own personal needs so as to be better able to share spiritual and material goods with their brothers and sisters, especially those most in need. They should give thanks to God for the goods they have received, using them as good stewards and not as owners. They should take a firm position against consumerism and against ideologies and practices which prefer riches over human and religious values and which permit the exploitation of the human person. They should love and practice purity of heart, the source of true fraternity.
How is the Secular Franciscan Order structured?
The Secular Franciscan Order is a public association in the Roman Catholic Church. It is divided into fraternities at various levels: local, regional, national, and international. The SFO is governed by the universal law of the Church; and by its own: the Rule, the Constitutions, the Ritual, and the particular statutes. The interpretation of the Rule and of the Constitutions belongs to the Holy See. The practical interpretation of the Constitutions, with the purpose of harmonizing its application in different areas and at the various levels of the Order, belongs to the General Chapter of the SFO.The clarification of specific points which require a timely decision is the competence of the Presidency of the International Council of the SFO. The International Council of the SFO has its own proper statutes approved by the General Chapter of the SFO and confirmed by the Union of the Franciscan Ministers General. National fraternities have their own statutes approved by the Presidency of the International Council of the SFO. The regional and the local fraternities may have their own statutes approved by the council of the higher level. The fraternities at different levels are animated and guided by the minister or president, with the council, in accordance with the Rule, the Constitutions, and their own Statutes. These offices are conferred through elections.
The International Fraternity is constituted by the organic union of all the Catholic Secular Franciscan fraternities in the world. It is identical to the SFO. It has its own juridical personality within the Church. It is organized and it functions in conformity with the Constitutions and its own Statutes. The International Fraternity is guided and animated by the Minister or President with the International Council (CIOFS), that has its seat in Rome, Italy.
Do Secular Franciscans make religious vows?
Although Secular Franciscans make a public profession, they are not bound by public vows as are religious orders living in community. The Third Order Regular (TOR), which grew out of the Third Order Secular, do make religious vows and live in community.
Who may join the Secular Franciscan Order?
The order is made up of the laity (men and women) over the age of 18 and also secular clergy (deacons, priests, bishops).
Conditions for admission are: to profess the Catholic faith, to live in communion with the Church, to be of good moral standing, and to show clear signs of a vocation. Membership in the Order is attained through a time of initiation, a time of formation, and the Profession of the Rule. The journey of formation, which should develop throughout life, begins with entrance into the fraternity. Mindful that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of formation and always attentive to collaboration with Him, those responsible for formation are: the candidate, the entire fraternity, the minister with the council, the master of formation, and the assistant as spiritual guide. Profession is the solemn ecclesial act by which the candidate, remembering the call received from Christ, renews the baptismal promises and publicly affirms his or her personal commitment to live the Gospel in the world according to the example of St. Francis and following the Rule of the SFO. Begun by the preceding stages, the formation of the brothers and sisters takes place in a permanent and continuous way.
How do I join the Secular Franciscan Order?
The process of becoming a professed Secular Franciscan is a journey that involves three separate stages and culminates in a lifelong commitment to live the gospel following the example of St. Francis of Assisi. This formation process unfolds in regularly scheduled formation sessions during which the home study material is thoroughly discussed.
The first stage, Orientation, provides time for dialogue and developing relationships in fraternity. During Orientation you will be introduced to the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare and share in Franciscan prayer life. You will be given general information about the Secular Franciscan Order. Orientation is a time to discern if the Spirit is calling you to a Secular Franciscan vocation. The period of Orientation is a minimum of three months.
The second stage, Inquiry, is the first formal period of initiation. It is a time of in-depth study of the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare. During Inquiry you will learn about the Franciscan charism and Franciscan history. You will deepen your understanding of what it means to be secular and Franciscan, and you will continue to discern if the Spirit is calling you to the Secular Franciscan way of life. The period of Inquiry is a minimum of six months. If a vocation is discerned, the Inquirer is received into the Order.
The third stage, Candidacy, is the final formal period of initiation. It is a time of preparing for permanent commitment by immersion into fraternity life. Central to this stage of formation is Article 4 of The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order which states, "The rule and life of the Secular Franciscan is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following Saint Francis of Assisi, who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people." The period of Candidacy is a minimum of eighteen months and culminates in permanent commitment to the gospel life.
After profession of the Rule and permanent commitment to the gospel way of life, the newly professed member joins the rest of the fraternity in ongoing formation.
How often does the Stigmata of St. Francis Fraternity meet?
The fraternity currently meets once a month at the Catholic Church of St. Benedict in Johns Creek, Georgia. Meetings are held on the 2nd Sunday of the month from 2pm – 5pm. For directions to St. Benedict's click here.
How can I contact the Stigmata of St. Francis Fraternity?
To contact the fraternity over the web please use our 'Contact Us' webpage which is available here.