Assisting the Secular Franciscans
From the start, the religious vision of life of St. Francis of Assisi was not to be kept a secret. The humble Poverello used many occasions – by example and preaching and writing – to encourage the people to follow Jesus Christ. Already in his day the Franciscan Third Order began, known then as "The Brothers and Sisters of Penance."
The first secular Third Order Fraternity in Sacred Heart Province was canonically established in Quincy in 1861; two years later there were fraternities at St. Francis Church in Teutopolis and at St. Anthony’s Church in St. Louis, and in 1868 a fraternity was established at St. Joseph’s in Cleveland.
The Provincial Minister of Sacred Heart Province, Hugolinus Storff OFM, wrote to the friars in 1902 about the serious neglect of promoting the Third Order of St. Francis (today called the Secular Franciscan Order), that "in some parishes and churches the III Order takes the last place, like a minor appendage, as it were…". "Indeed the reason the III Order was founded was not only for a few select pious souls, but rather for all the faithful who are trying to live a truly Christian life in this Order, according to the intention of our Holy Father…. For which reason I strongly exhort the pastors of parishes to set aside one Sunday afternoon each month for the III Order that all the other parishioners, through a salutary admonition, fitting prayers and songs, might be attracted to the Order."
A serious effort was made during the following decades to promote the III Order with great effect wherever the Friars were assigned. In 1966 the Province reported to our General Curia in Rome that Sacred Heart Province had under its care 180 fraternities with 13,050 members. Their prayer and apostolic and social impact here in the Midwest are a great testimony to thousands of dedicated members.
Nationally organized Quinquennial Meetings for the SFO – begun under the initiative of Sacred Heart Province in 1921 – were used effectively to encourage the life and growth of the Order. Besides personal apostolic efforts, the Third Order itself developed multiple apostolic projects for the poor and needy. Access to Franciscan literature was fostered via the former Franciscan Herald Press.
The friars of Sacred Heart Province have been in the forefront in service to the secular members of the Franciscan Family, whether in carrying out pastoral visits, assisting local fraternities, coordinating and guiding the formation of a national organization, implementing the 1957 General Constitutions, developing a new ritual, and – most significantly – implementing the 1978 Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order and its General Constitutions.
Currently the province lists 91 fraternities with 2,123 members.
Cultural circumstances have changed greatly from 1902. However, the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) with its new Rule (1978) captures the true spirit of St. Francis and once again awaits being promoted, encouraged, and promulgated in today’s environment. And the friars are there to help the secular achieve their objectives.
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