Just as they have been doing for the past 65 years, the local members will gather once a month at Newton parish for prayer, reflection, formation and friendship.
More importantly, these lay Catholic men and women will continue to follow the example of Francis of Assisi as they serve God in different ways in their communities.
Whether it’s praying the Divine Office every morning in church, visiting – and giving communion to – the elderly and infirm, providing fellowship to each other or following the Franciscan rule which includes simplicity, humility and being peace makers, the Secular Franciscans of Newton are committed to living their vocation.
For Tony Bartemucci, who was professed in 1981, being a Secular Franciscan is to “give life to the gospel”.
“If you read the gospel, something has to happen…you have to slowly convert from there,” the Newton parishioner said.
Coming to Australia from Italy with his family as an 11 year old, Tony said the original members were mostly Italian and were following their strong devotion to St Francis of Assisi.
His wife, Vanda, said when she was in her early 20s she saw the way the group prayed and “it just blew my mind”.
“Their faith was just so strong, it’s an incredible legacy,” she said.
Vanda has followed that tradition by praying the Office daily with other OFS members at St Francis of Assisi Church and said the group always invites others to join them.
Andrea Burvill, Angela Ferraro and Maria Iadanza, who is the OFS national minister, gathered in the Bartemucci’s home last month to reflect on the Order’s 65 years.
They said numbers had gone up and down since the local OFS fraternity was officially established on April 8 1958 by Archbishop Matthew Beovich. The process began five years earlier when about 50 Catholics registered their interest and the first group of 20 people, mainly Italians, were professed on October 3 1954.
The organisation slowly grew in numbers and was made up of Italian-speaking members until 1981 when Fr Albert Colletta OFM Cap, who was parish priest of Newton at the time, established an English-speaking group within the fraternity. Meetings for both groups were held at the same time, allowing members to speak in their native language for ongoing formation before coming together for final prayers, benediction and fraternity.
Maria said there were more than 60 members when she was professed in 2005. Today there are still about 35 members actively involved and about 50 in total. They continue to converse in both Italian and English at monthly gatherings.
When the fraternity celebrated its anniversary earlier this year, it was blessed to have two members professed in the early 1950s present – Angela Beltrame and Esta Vial. But the oldest member is Ada Catalano, who is 99 and still makes cannoli for the monthly gatherings.
The newest, and youngest, member of the group is Joanna Lamek who was professed in June.
Angela Ferraro, whose mother was one of the original fraternity members, said the priest would read stories about St Francis to the group in the early days. “That’s how the formation was done then, it’s not like that today,” she said.
Once known as the Third Order (established by St Francis) to the Secular Franciscan Order, the current Rule was promulgated in 1978 following Vatican II and gave the governance of the Order to the laity.
What hasn’t changed is the commitment of the Secular Franciscans to deepen their faith.
Maria is quick to point out it’s more than a prayer or devotional group.
“It’s an Order, once we’re professed we’re professed for life,” she explained.
“We come together on a regular basis – fraternity is essential to who we are. But we are also called to serve in our different ways, in different parishes at different levels.
“It’s not what we do, it’s the way we live our life, using the example of St Francis of Assisi.
“Once you’re professed it’s a life commitment.”.
A highlight for members has been their pilgrimages to Assisi – seven times for some – and visits to Newton by Secular Franciscans from other parts of the world.
“When we wear our Tau cross (T cross) they know us,” said Angela.
At the local level, Vanda said the fraternity visited the St Francis of Assisi Parish School at least three times a year and gave students a cross and booklet on St Francis when they made their sacraments or graduated. They also give similar gifts to people going through the RCIA program.
“We try to plant little seeds everywhere,” she said.
Maria said the Franciscan value of caring for all creation was an important part of the Order and resonated with younger people who, as Vanda said, were “searching for something deeper than what the world is offering them.
Despite the imminent departure of the Capuchins, the fraternity has been assured that there will continue to be a spiritual assistant, recognising the Capuchin’s role in establishing the Newton group.
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