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Striving for perfection in the footsteps of St Francis


King Louis IX, Dante Alighieri, Thomas More and Louis Pasteur are just a few of the many famous people who have been secular Franciscans. So where did this order of lay people originate and what is its presence in Adelaide today? Warren Featherstone OFS outlines the history of the order in its 800th anniversary year.

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The most commonly accepted date for the establishment of the Secular Franciscan Order (or as it’s known by its Latin name Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis) is 1221, the year that the First Rule (Memoriale Propositi) was given by Cardinal Hugolino, the future Pope Gregory IX.

St Francis had first obtained papal approval of his rule in 1209 and following this, he and his early followers preached far and wide with the message of peace, salvation and a life of penance. Then St Clare asked to be able to live a similar form of life which led to the Second Order for enclosed women.

Many married lay people were inspired also by Francis. According to Thomas of Celano, an early biographer, ‘many of the people, both noble and ignoble, cleric and lay, impelled by divine inspiration, began to come to St Francis, wanting to carry on the battle constantly under his discipline and under his leadership’.

One report says that a merchant named Luchesio from Poggibonsi and his wife Bona Donna sought to follow Francis. They devoted their time to prayer and works of charity, especially care of the sick. For these and others ‘il Poverello’ (the little poor one) drew up a short Rule of Life approved by Cardinal Hugolino for those of both sexes who could not ‘leave the daily grind of life’ and yet who, like Francis, wanted to strive for perfection.

On joining, these ‘brothers and sisters of penance’ pledged to give back what they may have owed anyone, to make their wills, not to bear arms, not to take oaths and not to accept public office, to pray with and for the Church, and to practise compassion.

As a lay order of the Church, the Secular Franciscan Order stresses fraternity life, a quest for personal holiness as a way of striving for social justice and peace amongst people.

As the Rule says, it’s about ‘going from Gospel to life and from life to the Gospel’. The spirituality of the Secular Franciscan is a plan of life centred on the person and on the following of Jesus Christ, rather than a detailed program to be put into practice.

Apart from fraternity patrons King St Louis IX and Elizabeth of Hungary, other famous people to join the Third Order have been Pope John XXIII, Dante Alighieri, St Thomas More, Louis Pasteur, Venerable Matthew Talbot and Blessed Franz Jägerstätter.

In Adelaide there are two local fraternities: St Francis of Assisi, based in Newton, and Christ the King, based in Lockleys. They make up the Regional Fraternity of the OFS in SA.

Two members of the Adelaide fraternity speak of their vocations:

Giovanna Mercuri – For many years I have been a member of the Secular Franciscan Order at my parish, St Francis of Assisi, located in Newton.

My beloved mother Giulia Armida Grenga was a member of the Order in Terracina, Italy, where I was born, and her example of deep faith, goodness and charity towards those in need, inspired by her membership in the Order, led me to follow in her footsteps.

Our fraternity is very united and active as we endeavour to put into practice the teachings of the Gospel and the example of St Francis.

I, like all immigrants, suffered being separated from my loved ones back home, but through participation in the Order I found my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Through prayer and meditation, I invite others to learn more about the Secular Franciscan Order and to search whether this gift of vocation is a path for you and a way to live and express your Christian faith.

Caterina Pileggi

My recent journey from a lay Catholic woman to becoming an aspiring Secular Franciscan has been a gentle and unassuming journey which has brought me countless graces, healing to wounds and bruises as well as a renewed joyful acceptance for my state in life.

The most surprising aspect of this wholesome journey is that it has occurred during a period in humanity that has leaned towards a culture of fear, uncertain times, isolation and immense loneliness.

I can only pray that the Christ centred and Pax et Bonum lifestyle of the Poverello from Italy may penetrate the hearts of all of God’s children.

Obligations of the vocational life – Fr John Nguyen OFM Cap

We are all called by God at every moment in our lives. To love God and our neighbour are two callings from God that we live out daily.

Not a worldly romanticised or Hollywood distorted sort of love, rather a genuine self-sacrificial sort found in Jesus.

Holy men and women over the centuries have responded to God in beautiful ways that are inspiring.
St Francis of Assisi is one of them. He didn’t intend to go out and start an Order, but God had other plans.

The Franciscan family tree has eventuated and after 800 years, countless men and women have followed a well-trodden Franciscan path to better themselves in loving God and their neighbour.

God calls people to be Franciscans but not everyone is called to join a religious order.

God provides for this desire with the Secular Franciscan Order. They consist of young adults, singles, married couples, widows, even diocesan priests who are inspired by St Francis’ charisms of fraternity, humility and poverty.

They have responded to love as St Francis did from Gospel to life and life to the Gospel, in their current state of life and for life.

By imitating Jesus’ ‘yes’ to the Father daily, St Francis joyfully flourished in his love for God and neighbour. By imitating St Francis’ ‘yes’ to the Father daily, the Secular Franciscans also joyfully flourish in their love for God and neighbour. That is how they respond to their vocation.

For enquiries about the Secular Franciscan Order please contact the Regional promotions officer Diana on 0402 900 385 in the first instance or Newton promotions officer Warren on 0416 007 996.


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