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How does one become a member of the Secular Franciscan Order?

Formation Class

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. The following description is based on what happens at the St. Francis of Assisi Fraternity in Vancouver, but the process would be similar at other Secular Franciscan fraternities as well.

The first stage, ORIENTATION, provides opportunities for dialogue with fraternity brothers & sisters and experiencing the Franciscan prayer life. You will attend monthly fraternity meetings, which begin at 1:10 pm in the Saint Francis of Assisi church sanctuary. After the Rosary is said there is a Liturgy of the Hours prayer service.

Members then gather in the church basement to chat with friends while enjoying coffee or tea and a simple meal. During this time you will have the opportunity to ask questions and acquaint yourself with fraternity members. After the ‘lunch’ break, there is presentation by fraternity members. 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.

After Orientation, you have three options:

1. You may decide that the life of a Secular Franciscan is not for you and no longer attend meetings.

2. You may continue to come regularly to meetings as a Friend of Francis. Friends of Francis will receive digital copies of the monthly fraternity bulletin.

3. You may begin the second stage, INQUIRY.

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

Example of Letter of Intent

On the day of profession, there is formal ceremony in the sanctuary. During the basement meeting, new members read a Letter of Intent. Here is an example that describes a spiritual journey that led to a lifelong commitment to the Secular Franciscan 'Way of Life'.

“I was born and raised as a Roman Catholic in County Galway, Ireland. In school I studied Catechism but didn’t learn much about St. Francis and St. Clare. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the three of us shared something in common – a strong desire to help the poor.

My parents were not well to do. Our large family had lots of food but very little money. In spite of our limited circumstances, my Mom would often say to us, “If you have a little bit more than your neighbour who is suffering, you should share what you have with him. We were put here to help each other.” Her faith and trust in Jesus gave us strength to carry on and her desire to help those in need has inspired me throughout my life. I learned from my mother that faith was far more important than material things.

Shortly after moving to Vancouver in the early 1970’s, I met several elderly people living in tiny, West End rooms who had effectively closed themselves off from the outside world. They were lonely and hungry. Some were so poor they were eating cat food. I felt a great need to help them. Some friends of mine and I would go in and fill their cupboards with food. Later we would check on them to see if they were okay. I learned from them why it is said that each person is a gift from God.

In 1976, I started working at the Holy Family Hospital and was responsible for nursing the poor, the sick, and the dying. This gave me great joy to help these people.

During the 1990’s, I made some trips to Nepal and India and witnessed the severe poverty that is endured by many people in these two countries. It bothered me to see desperately poor people living on the sidewalk, which surrounded the royal palace in Kathmandu. While these people starved, those inside the palace lived a life of luxury. During this time Mother Theresa of Calcutta inspired me. Like Saint Francis and Saint Clare, her life continues to influence me to this day.

I was also inspired and influenced by what I saw and experienced in Assisi during a trip in 2001. I visited many Holy places devoted to Saint Francis and Saint Clare. On one occasion, I was praying inside the little church of San Stefano. As usual when I am praying, I had my eyes shut and my head down. After praying, I opened my eyes and felt an unusual heaviness. A fog giness clouded my vision. Then, in the seat right in front of me appeared the altar cross. I felt I could have reached out and touched that cross, an experience I will never forget. I heard later that the bells of San Stefano Church rang by themselves during the evening Saint Francis died.

I learned that Saint Francis loved the natural world and would take time to talk to the lowliest of God’s creatures. To the best of his ability, he tried to live a simple, Gospel life devoted to God and helping those who were in great need. Stories about Saint Francis patching the worn sackcloth clothes he wore were particularly meaningful to me.

From the summer of 2005 to the spring of 2009, I was blessed to have Father Ian Stuart as my parish priest at Saint Anthony’s Church. Father Stuart encouraged his parishioners to follow Saint Francis’ example of helping the poor. His message and personal example resonated with me. After my husband became a Catholic in 2008, Father Stuart encouraged us to attend SFO meetings at the Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Vancouver because of our interest in Saint Francis and Saint Clare. In the late Fall of 2008, we began our period of inquiry. Six months later we moved from inquiry into formation and received our Tau crosses.

My Tau cross reminds me of Saint Francis, his love of Jesus and his desire to live a Gospel life free of possessions. When I wear it I feel I belong to Jesus. I believe in the power of the Tau cross so much that I held it up when I encountered a bear during one of my hikes last summer. Seeing the bear had reminded me of the story about the wolf of Gubbio and my first instinct was to touch the cross. The bear stopped in its tracks. We both looked at each other. When I said, “You belong in there” (pointing to the bushes) the bear headed for them right away. One could say the Tau cross looked after both of us. I was saved and he was saved.

During the past year I have tried to answer the end-of-chapter questions to the best of my ability. Guided and encouraged by our teachers, Barbara and Josée, I have learned so much. I also know that I will never stop learning.

I know in my heart that in the time I have left on this earth, I want to be a committed member of the Secular Franciscan Order. Inspired by the example of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, I want to continue to help the poor.

All of us on this planet are Children of God. We need to look out for each other, respect each other, and treat each other with dignity. To me, helping people in need is a gift from God. I feel they give to me more than I can ever give to them.

A few weeks ago, I attended the memorial service of Tom Sawyer, a homeless man who was murdered in Yaletown. Tom was known as the street person who loved flowers. He sold flowers to passersby and often gave them away. At the service, I hea rd a number of people, many of them well to do, share how Tom had enriched their lives. At one point, while Tom’s brother was giving the eulogy, a homeless man walked into the room and placed a flower on the altar. It was a beautiful moment shared by all. I don’t recall meeting Tom personally, but he has certainly enriched my life.

My passion in life is to help the poor on the streets in the same way that Saint Francis, Saint Clare and Mother Theresa helped those in great need. We all need love. Jesus teaches us that the love we receive should be passed on to others. We shouldn’t wait until tomorrow. We should do it now.

It is my belief that I will best be able to help the poor by living my life according to the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order. It is my intention to follow this Rule to the best of my ability until the end of my mortal life.   Anna ofs