Secular Franciscans

Brief History Of The Secular Franciscan Order

Who or What are Secular Franciscans?

The Secular Franciscan Order is not an organization like the Knights of Columbus, the Confraternity, or the St. Vincent De Paul Society. In fact it is not an apostolate it is a Franciscan Order approved by the Church.

The Secular Franciscans Order is a Way of Life for men and women, married or single, and secular clergy who are called to take an active part in the mission of Christ to bring "the good news of salvation" to the world.

Francis was the founder of three orders.

FRANCIS, the saint known and loved the world over, "discovered" Jesus. He found Him in the Gospel, saw Him in the poor and suffering. Francis made up his mind to identify himself with his crucified Lord. Saint Francis attained this marvelous ideal by making the holy Gospel, in every detail, the rule and standard of his life.

Others wanted to live as Francis lived, men and women, married and single. Eventually, his followers were gathered into three distinct Orders of the Church. The First Order was for men (brothers and priests, called friars); the Second Order was for cloistered nuns (Poor Clares); and the Third Order was for lay men and women, married or single, and the secular clergy. Francis made the Gospel, with Christ Crucified at its center, the supreme norm of life for all his followers. He gave each of the three Orders a written rule, which were summaries of the Gospel and guidelines to its perfect observance. But there is a difference between them. The first two are religious orders. Their members take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and leave their homes to live in communities. The third is a secular order, whose members make promises of commitment and remain in their own homes. Yet they are motivated and formed by the same spirit of Saint Francis to fulfill the ideals and responsibilities of their state of life within the faith-community of the Church.

Francis formed his third order because of circumstances that he had not foreseen. As he preached penance in one place after another, devout lay persons who were bound by family responsibilities begged to be taught a more perfect way of life. He showed them how they must lead the Gospel life at home and at their work, and spread the Gospel teaching by word and example among their neighbors, in imitation of the poor and suffering Christ. These lay people were known as "Brothers and Sisters of Penance." They zealously practiced the lessons Francis had taught them concerning prayer, humility, peacemaking, self-denial, fidelity to the duties of their state, and above all charity. Like Francis himself, they cared for lepers and outcasts with the greatest compassion. They guided themselves always by the holy Gospel, which they pondered and prayed over constantly.

These groups, called fraternities, included Christians from every walk of life: clergy and laity, men and women, married and single, poor and rich, old and young, illiterate and learned. So many joined these fraternities that they wrought wonders in eradicating the great moral and social evils of the day, especially greed and hatred. Pope Honorius III, in 1221, approved the Brothers and Sisters of Penance as a secular order in the Catholic Church.

The Third Order Today

This same order, now called the Secular Franciscan Order, is still very much alive today, as it strives to renew itself according to the mind of the Church following the Second Vatican Council. Although membership has declined during the renewal, it is actually much stronger internally, and still numbers in the millions worldwide.

Secular Franciscans, in local fraternities, continue to assemble each month as true spiritual families in order to share their commitment to the apostolic life of the Gospel. The Order forms them through prayer and study to be active in the work of their parishes and in every other area of the Christian apostolate possible to them.