The SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
The Secular Franciscan Order, formerly known as the Third Order of St. Francis, is an official Order within the Catholic Church, established by St. Francis of Assisi himself early in the thirteenth century.
Ordinarily, we do not live in community; rather, we live with our families and perform our jobs out in the world, gathering in fraternities on a regular basis. On the one hand, our fraternity is the whole world; on the other hand, our local fraternity, our home-based faith community if you will, is the world where we work out our salvation AND the salvation of our sisters and brothers.
By profession, we promise to follow a Rule of Life approved and confirmed by Pope Paul VI in June of 1978. You may read this Rule and the General Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order on this website.
The Rule and Constitutions might be a good place for you to begin your online inquiry. You might like to read more about St. Francis from numerous websites, including the one given above. You may pick up your phone and call 1-800-FRANCIS for more information. You might click on this list of Regions and Fraternities across the whole United States (http://www.nafra-sfo.org/regions.html) and see if you can find a fraternity near you to visit. You might email the Regional Minister for more details.
In these fraternities the brothers and sisters, led by the Spirit, strive for ongoing daily conversion, to turn away from sin and to be faithful to the Gospel. We seek, with and only with God's grace, perfect charity in our secular state, helping one another in this journey closer to Christ, following in the footsteps of Sts. Francis and Clare (http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-clare-of-assisi/).
The Secular Franciscan Order in the United States is structured into 30 geographic regions; the Minister of each Region is a member of the National Fraternity Council, as are the members of the National Executive Council and four members of the Conference of National Spiritual Assistants, one from each of the four Friar Obediences. The National Fraternity is represented at the International level (headquarters in Rome: please visit http://ciofs.org/portal/) by an International Councilor. There are approximately 600+ local fraternities with approximately 13,000+ professed members. Each fraternity should have a Spiritual Assistant, who is usually a First Order, or Third Order Regular, Friar, but could be a religious, diocesan clergy, or a certified lay Secular Franciscan.
Briefly, the process of becoming a professed Secular Franciscans involves a commitment of from 18 to 36 months of formation. The extent depends on the guidelines of the particular Region. The average duration of a monthly formation meeting is approximately two hours. At home, prayer and study are expected, particularly prayer!
Initial formation is divided into three stages: an Orientation stage, an Inquiry stage and a Candidacy stage. The Orientation stage is a time for determining a person's interest, eligibility and disposition to enter into the rest of the process. The Inquiry stage is a time of learning about the Franciscan charism and history. It is an important time of discernment to determine if the inquirer has a vocation to the Order. If a vocation is discerned, both by the individual and the local fraternity, the inquirer is received into the Order.
The goal of the Candidacy phase of formation is the candidate's profession to live the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order. Profession is a lifetime commitment to follow the Gospel in fraternal relationship with other professed sisters and brothers; repeat, a lifetime commitment to follow the Gospel in fraternal relationship with other professed sisters and brothers.
May God bless you in discerning how you might best fulfill God's holy and true will for you. As Saint Francis said, "I have done what is mine to do; may Christ teach you what is yours to do" (Thomas of Celano's Second Life of St. Francis, 214).
Peace and all good!
(Based on writings of the previous National Minister, the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS. May he rest in peace.)