Historical Outline of the Order of Franciscan Seculars

1.1 Saint Francis founded three Orders.

When St. Francis of Assisi started living his Gospel life, he did not foresee the number of people that wanted to follow him.  To each of them he gave a Rule of life.  He started first with the First Order (Order of Friars Minor), that is, the one of the friars.  Then St. Clare asked to adopt his form of life as well, but could not live with the friars in the same way as they did, and so Francis wrote for them a programme of life.  This was then called the Second Order (Poor Clares).  Some married people too, felt inspired by his life and some even tried to abandon their families and homes to follow him.  Francis told them to go back to the homes and lives and wait to receive further instructions from him.  This started [out] being called the Third Order (Today it is called the Secular Franciscan Order)

Twenty years after the death of St. Francis, the approval of the Rule of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance (from now on Order of Penance) by the Holy See was considered a certainty within Franciscan Circles.  The Order is mentioned officially for the first time as an organized body in a document of Pope Honorius III (16 December 1221).  In this letter, addressed to the bishop of Rimini (Central Italy), the Pope tasks him to defend the Order of Penance against civil authorities who wanted to force them to take an oath to take up arms to defend their city in case of war1.  The fact that several other similar letters addressed to bishops all over Italy between 1225 and 1234 is an indication of the rapid and extensive growth of the Order of Penance.

1.2 The First Rule: Memoriale Propositi (1221/1228)

The first version of the Memoriale propositi, considered as the first Rule of the Order, was written in 1221.  With all probability, Cardinal Hugolino can be considered as the main author of the text which borrowed heavily from a similar Rule of life for another group, called Humiliati, approved by Pope Innocent III in 1201.  The original text of the Memoriale propositi was lost and its contents have been handed down to us only through a revised text issued in 1228.  It contains precise rules on how to safeguard simplicity and austerity, especially in clothing:

1.      It was prohibited attending worldly banquets, entertainments and dances.

2.      Members were forbidden to organize such feasts and entertainments.  Eating meat was limited to three days a week.

3.      Fasting was obligatory on every Friday of the year and also on Wednesdays from the feast of all Saints (1st  November) to Easter,  besides the fasts decreed by the Church for all faithful.

4.       Clerics had to pray the Divine office and the others had to pray 12 Our Fathers for matins and 7 for all the other hours.

5.       Throughout lent all members were obliged to pray matins in Church.

6.       They had to receive Holy Communion three times a year: on Christmas day, Easter Sunday and Pentecost..

7.       Tithes were to be faithfully paid.

8.       Members were prohibited carrying arms or using them against anyone and were to refrain from taking solemn oaths, except when necessary to preserve peace, to keep the Faith, to prevent calumny and to give testimony.  They were to refrain also from taking public oaths.

9.       Everyone had to do the utmost to ensure that his or her family lived a Christian life.

10.     Once every month members of the same city had to attend Holy Mass together and, whenever possible, a friar will give a brief explanation.

11.     During this monthly meeting, everyone was to hand over the monthly dues and the sum distributed among the needy members and the poor of the place.

12.     The person responsible for the group, called the Minister, had the duty to visit all sick members personally or through another member.  All Brothers and Sisters were obliged to attend the funeral of another member and pray prescribed prayers for the soul of the deceased.

13.    Every member had to draw up a will (testament) three months after profession. To avoid any discord, any quarrel had to be resolved in a brotherly spirit.

14.    The ministers of every fraternity had to report any public misbehavior of members to the visitator and then proceed to give correction and expulsion in cases of unrepentance.

15.    Every member was to go to a priest for confession once every month.

The conditions for admission of candidates are worthy of note:

a.     All debts and unpaid tithes had to [be] made good for before admission.

b.     Candidates had to reconcile with their enemies.

c.     They had to be free of any suspicion of heresy.

d.     A woman could not be admitted without the consent of her husband.

e.     After a year of probation (called the Novitiate) the candidate, if judged worthy, was to make his promise (profession) for the rest of his life.  A public document had to be drawn up as a proof of the profession, keeping in mind that no one was to leave the fraternity except to embrace religious life.  The incorrigibles were to be expelled from the fraternity.

It must be noted, however, that these norms were applied flexibly according to the concrete situation of each member, and authorized the minister to dispense members from certain conditions according to his good discretion.

1.3 The Spiritual assistance to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance from 1227 to 1284

It seems that after the death of St. Francis (1226) the friars Minor were actively involved in the spiritual direction of the Order of Penance till 1232.  With the election of Brother Elias as Minister General of the First Order in the Chapter of 1232, things changed.  He was not in favor of the friars taking responsibility of the Order of Penance.  Other General Ministers followed the same policy with some brief exceptions, like the one of 1247, when the provincial ministers of the friars in Italy were permanent visitators to the Order of Penance.  There were several reasons for this apparent reluctance of the friars to undertake spiritual responsibility of the Order of Penance.  A document published during the generalate of St. Bonaventure lists 12 such reasons to justify this policy.  The principal reason was that Franciscan Order (friars), whose members were itinerant would lose some of its freedom of action and become involved in many conflicts with the secular clergy and even the civil authorities over the Order of Penance’s privileges and exemptions.

In 1284, the First Order became once more juridically responsible of the spiritual assistance of the Order of Penance.

1.4 The Rule of Pope Nicholas IV (1289)

From Historical information it seems that gradually various fraternities became more united among themselves and at the time of St. Bonaventure they were already organized into provinces governed by a provincial minister of their own.  In the north of Italy, general chapters were celebrated from time to time.  The fact that some papal documents were addressed to several fraternities all over Europe indicates that had already flourished beyond Italian boundaries.

In 1284, the visitator of the Order of Penance composed a rule which was confirmed by Pope Nicholas IV, who was himself a Franciscan before being elected pope.  This rule was practically identical to the Memoriale propositi of 1228, and was to observed by all the fraternities of the Order of Penance.   The decree of publication recognizes St. Francis as the founder of Order of Penance.

Another document issued by the same Pope in 1290 decreed that the visitators of all the Franciscan fraternities had to be Franciscan Friars because both Orders were founded by St. Francis.  This Rule remained valid till 1884 – nearly 600 years – when it was revised by Pope Leo XIII.

1.5 The Growth of the Order of Penance throughout the XIII Century

The most significant factor that manifested the magnificence of the Franciscan movement in the 13th century was the surprising rise in numbers and importance of the Order of Penance.  The Gospel ideal of love and peace sanctified family life, work and everyday chores placing all members as equals in the same Christian brotherhood.  Thus, in this new Order, there was no difference between kings and subjects, nobles and commoners, literate and simple workers.  In a list of 57 members of a fraternity in the Italian city of Bologna, drawn up in 1257, the occupation of each member was recorded.  It included lawyers, clerks, barbers, shoemakers, carpenters, upholsterers, paper manufacturers, bakers, pharmacists and tanners.  The Order of Penance distinguished itself from many other groups born in the XIII century with pious and charitable objectives in that its main objective was simply to live a good Christian life in a brotherhood of universal proportion.

In this century, the experience of war was frequent.  They could be between cities, civil wars within the same town and among families.  In his youth, St. Francis found himself involved in three battles, two within Assisi and the other between Perugia and Assisi, at the end of which Francis was taken prisoner.  The large majority of citizens were bound by oath to defend their landlord or the major of the town and every time there was a battle, they were forced to participate in battles they would rather have avoided.  The only persons who were exempted from the obligation to take oaths were members of the clergy and religious.  Even though brothers and sisters of the Order of Penance were not religious, the Church (who had much authority in a society that was entirely Christian), protected them from such obligations because in living a public life of penance, they were now serving another “landlord” – Jesus Christ himself.

Exemption from this oath and other public exemptions gave members of the Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance an extraordinary privileged status in society.  Some of these exemptions had already been given to preceding public penitents6, others were conceded to the Order of Penance and defended by popes.  The exemption from the feudal oath freed citizens from the obligation of taking up arms and from having to accept any assignments considered incompatible with the penitential status of its members.  One can easily understand why so many joined the Order of Penance and also the resentful hostility of those authorities deprived of many recruits to fight their wars.

In only 5 years, from 1221 to 1226, Popes Honorius III and Gregory IX intervened no less than 14 times with decrees defending the penitents in the persecutions they were having to endure because of their exemption from the oath of fealty and public duties.  In 1294, Pope Celestine V exempted the Tertiaries of Aquila from municipal taxation on the grounds that they were persons dedicated to divine worship.  It must be admitted that this papal favour, especially during the years of conflict with Frederick II, was not entirely disinterested politically, for the military exemption robbed the Emperor’s allies of their soldiers; but it was basically a means of bringing civic peace to the turbulent Italian republics.

Another of the prerogatives recognized by Gregory IX in 1227 was the right to donate property freely to a recipient of their own choice.  There were in fact prosperous brotherhoods owning chattels and real estate, the income from which they used to finance important charitable works.  This autonomy enjoyed by the Penitents was very much frowned on by both civil and Church authorities, and gave riser to various papal interventions.

The ecclesiastical status of the Penitents received its supreme recognition in the Exemption from civil law, which meant they could not be summoned except to appear before an ecclesiastical court.  According to the Rule, any legal disputes arising between brothers or with non-members were to be settled, as far as possible, within the brotherhood itself, with the friars Minor acting as mediators; and when fraternal agreement of this kind proved to be impossible, the case was put before the diocesan bishop.  This procedure was laid down by the statutes of the Brescia fraternity, issued about 1270, and was followed by Celestine V in his dealings with the Aquila fraternity in 1294.

There were other important exemptions, similar to those granted to any religious order, like immunity from interdict.  In 1221 Honorius III had granted the Brothers of Penance the right of admission to church services, the sacraments, and the Christian burial in time of interdict, providing they were not the cause of the censure.  The privilege was renewed again and again by Gregory IX, Innocent IV, Urban IV, and Boniface VIII.  However, owing to the expansion of the brotherhoods in all countries, the penalty of interdict, which at that time provided Bishops with a powerful weapon, often proved derisory.  There were strong protests at the council of Vienne, resulting in Clement V’s decretal, which became part of the Corpus Iuris Canonici, forbidding priests to give Franciscan Tertiaries access to church services in time of interdict under pain of excommunication, ne censura vilescat.  Later, however, the old privilege was restored or confirmed by other popes such as Innocent VI, Boniface IX, Martin V and Sixtus IV.

The fact that by the end of the sixteenth century the chapter was attended by representatives from a large number of provinces proves, not only the fraternities’ advanced form of organization and their corporate awareness, but the density of the penitential movement inside and outside Italy.

Suspicion of heresy was always liable to fall upon any secular organization of evangelical tendencies.  At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Order of Penance suffered a very harsh ordeal of this kind, coinciding with the bad times through which the First Order was passing.  The persecution campaign was based on the similarity of life style between the Brothers and Sisters of Penance and the group of Beghards, Béguins and Fraticelli, whose errors were condemned at the Council of Vienne.  Clement V gave orders for the necessary investigations to be made, and, when the orthodoxy of the accused had been established, he confirmed the Rule of Nicholas IV in 1308.  the Council’s condemnation did not, therefore, affect the Order of Penance, but the stain of heresy still clung under John XXIII, who also came to the defence of the tertiaries in 1318 and 1321; he even threatened to excommunicate some French bishops who persisted in confusing them with the Béguins and the Beghards.

This, combined with the appalling situation created in the fourteenth century by the Black Death and the Great Schism, caused a marked decrease in the number of tertiaries, according to evidence offered by Bartholomew of Pisa; but even so there were still a great many of them.  Some statistics for 1385 put the number of brotherhoods in the care of the Friars Minor at 244, of which 141 were in Italy and in the East, 23 in Spain, 29 in France, 37 in the German countries and 8 in the British Isles.

In the fifteenth century there was a revival, due mainly to the energetic propagation of the third order, as it was now called, by the great Observant preachers, especially St. Bernardino, St. John of Capistrano, and Bernardino de Bustis.  Evidence of this new expansion is given by St. Antoninus of Florence (d. 1459) when he writes about the ecclesiastical character of the tertiaries, known in Italy as pinzocheri as early as the thirteenth century: his evidence is made all the more valuable by the fact that he was a Dominican: “The doctors do not discuss the Third Order of St. Dominic as much as they do that of St. Francis,” he says, “for there are few Dominican tertiaries in these parts (Italy), and hardly any of the male sex; while many of both sexes have adopted the Rule and the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis, some living as hermits, others acting as hospitallers, and others assembled together in congregations.”  He adds that, because of their large numbers, Franciscan tertiaries were not exempt from interdict as the Dominicans were.  So it was not mere rhetoric when Bernardino de Bustis exclaimed in one of his sermons: “the Order is great in numbers.  The whole of Christendom is full of men and women who truly observe the Rule of the tertiaries.

Some were of royal or noble lineage, like St. Elisabeth of Hungary (d. 1231), St. Elisabeth of Portugal (d. 1336), St. Elzear of Sabran (d.1323) and his wife, the Blessed Delphina of Glandèves (d.1360), St. Conrad Confalonieri of Piacenza (d.1351) and his wife Eufrosyne, the Blessed Charles of Blois (d.1364), and the Blessed Jean-Marie de Maillé (d.1414); there were pious priests, like St. Ivo of Brittany (d.1303), the Blessed Bartholomew of San Gimignano (d.1300), and the Blessed Martyr James of Città della Pieve (d. 1286): penitents , like St.  Margaret of Cortona (d.1297); peasants and artisans, like that extraordinary young woman St. Rose of Viterbo (d.1251), the Blessed Peter “the Comb maker” of Siena (d.1289), and the Blessed Novellone of Faenza, a shoemaker (d. 1280); the blessed Luchesio of Poggibonsi (d.1260), farmer, then trader, then finally a tertiary dedicated to charitable works, together with his wife Bonadonna; tradition has it that these two were the first to receive the habit from the hands of St. Francis; distinguished founders like St. Bridget of Sweden (d. 1373), the Blessed Peter Gambacorti of Pisa (d. 1435), and St. Joan of Valois (d. 1505); heroes of charity, like St. Rock of Montpellier (d. 1327) and the Blessed Oddino Barrotti (d. 1400); hermits like the Beati Ubald of San Gimignano (d. 1320), William Scicli (d. 1404), and the recluses Umiliana dei Cerchi (d. 1246) and Verdiana of Castelfiorentino (d. 1242); and, finally, there were figures of great spiritual stature like Angela of Foligno ( d. 1309) and the Blessed Raymond Lull ( d. 1310).

The environment in which this evangelical holiness developed was the Christian life itself in all its many aspects, and it invariably crystallized into apostolic or charitable projects. Whenever a brotherhood was formed it was not long before a hospital or some other benevolent foundation was established with the brethren’s generous contributions. These foundations were usually run by members who took special vows to lead a life free of other ties, and were given the name of beati or beatae. Often they lived in communities in order to carry out their charitable vocation more effectively.

In Rome the tertiaries ran four benevolent homes; at Cortona they maintained the Hospital of Mercy; in Florence there was the famous Hospital of St. Paul, where the tertiary infirmarians were popularly known as bonomini; at Imola they were in charge of the Hospital of St. Francis until 1488; at Piacenza there was a whole series of splendid foundations which were in no way inferior to the best run welfare institutions of today; poor sisters and female pilgrims were given shelter at the Hospital of St. Elizabeth: the brotherhood owned a number of houses which it let at a low rent to needy tertiaries; it was the mission of one group of tertiaries to reclaim fallen women. At Modena the tertiaries organized assistance for poor people who were ashamed to beg by collecting alms for them; at Reggio Emilia, from 1238, the tertiaries visited the poor in their own homes and kept a dispensary and a food store, both free of charge, for the benefit of poor people of any category, whether laymen, clerks, or religious; in Paris, in 1300,  Guy de Joinville founded a tertiary brotherhood of infirmarians; at Mons, in Belgium, the tertiaries gave free tuition to fifty poor children; in other towns there were tertiary priests dedicated to training young men for the priesthood: in Naples Queen Sancha, who became a tertiary and then a Poor Clare, founded two nunneries, St. Mary Magdalen and St. Mary of Egypt, for homeless women. Any number of similar examples could be given, not only in Italy, but in all European countries.

1.6 The Third Order in the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries

During and after the Renaissance, the character of the Third Order underwent a very noticeable change. First of all a profound decline took place in Italy, where refilled humanists found the “pinzocheri” concept of life lacking in taste, and in countries where the protestant reform, that diametrical opposite of Franciscan ideals, had taken a firm hold. At the same time, however, there was a new upsurge of enthusiasm for the “Seraphic army” (the third Order) in Spain and Portugal, in Spain’s European dominions – Naples, Lombardy, and Flanders-and in the New World. There came a moment when St. Francis reigned as the supreme luminary over the whole of Spanish society: kings, bishops, generals, scholars, and artists thought it an honour to call him “our seraphic Father,” to vie with one another in dedicating to him the finest fruits of their piety or genius, and to be buried in his habit.

However, these results were not achieved without some important concessions. The change in the penitential habit was symptomatic of this. The original long tunic, severe and simple in shape, which by the end of the thirteenth century had come to be the tertiaries’ most obvious distinguishing feature, striking the same note of austerity in palaces and workshops, eventually became too much of a sacrifice for people in high positions, and too much of an encumbrance for craftsmen as they went about their work, In view of the many complaints he had received, Julius II decided in 1508 to establish the scapular as a special form of habit for the tertiaries: this consisted of two broad lengths of woollen cloth covering the back and chest, and held in at the waist by a cord. This garment could easily be concealed underneath any kind of outer clothing. As time passed, especially after a concession by Clement XI in 1704, it decreased in size until it assumed its present form, i.e., two small pieces of material hanging on tapes, without coming into contact with the cord.

The seriousness with which the tertiaries took their vows, regarded by them as a commitment to holiness and renunciation, was succeeded by a more outward piety expressed by ostentatious enthusiasm among the upper classes and mass enlistment among the ordinary faithful. The Third Order in the sixteenth and seventeenth-centuries was able to boast a brilliant catalogue of illustrious figures, but few saints. Among these, however, were some of the great founders of the sixteenth century. Except in the case of St. Angela Merici (d. 1540), it is not known how far their aspirations toward sanctity originated from their enrolment in the Third Order. There is no historical proof that St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Cajetan of Thiene, St. Philip Neri, and St. Camillus de Lellis were tertiaries, but St. Joseph Calasanctius and St. Francis de Sales were members of the Archconfraternity of the Cord of St. Francis. The claim that the seventeen saints and over thirty blessed martyrs of Japanese nationality who died with their evangelizers of the First Order were tertiaries seems to be well founded.

Of these last it can certainly be said that their neophyte faith drew its cheerful and generous daring, and its longing for the self-sacrifice of martyrdom, from Franciscan spirituality. As in Japan, Franciscan missionaries organized tertiary brotherhoods in the Philippines and America as they established new churches, in such numbers that by 1586 it was estimated that there were more than 100,000 overseas tertiaries. Quito was the home of St. Mary Anne of Jesus de Paredes (d. 1645).

In the seventeenth century the gravitation toward the “Seraphic army” became more general, mainly owing to the energy deployed by the various branches of the First Order, who gave matters relating to the renewal and propagation of the Third Order a place In capitular decrees and constitutions. The General Chapter of Toledo (1633) said in its decrees for the restoration of the Third Order: “It has declined to such a degree, principally because of the negligence of our religious, that in some provinces and nations it may be considered as extinct”; it ordered the method used in Spain, “where the Third Order is a shining example,” to be adopted for bringing about the restoration. Many manuals were published in the vernacular; the Franciscan confessors of several reigning houses persuaded sovereigns and members of their families to adopt the Seraphic dress, particularly the House of Austria, the Gonzagas, and the rulers of Savoy. Popes, for their part, dispensed spiritual favors and recommendations in order to encourage the development of this highly effective means of strengthening the Catholic renewal and combating error.

In Italy there were flourishing brotherhoods in every city. Both the civil and the church aristocracy were proud to belong to the Third Order. In Spain and Portugal enthusiasm reached incredible heights under Philip III and Philip IV. In 1644 the Lisbon brotherhood, founded by that indefatigable apostle of the Third Order Father Ignatius Garcia, alone had 11,000 members. In Madrid there were over 25,000 tertiaries in 1689. In France the main promoters of the Third Order were the Capuchins, the most distinguished of whom were Joseph du Tremblay, Leonard de Paris, and Ives de Paris. In Belgium it was limited almost exclusively to the upper classes, and failed to become popular with the common people. In Germany, Ireland, and England, too, there was an enthusiastic response.

When speaking of a decrease in sanctifying effects of the Third Order, it does not mean that it was concerned purely with outward appearances or that it did not have a profound influence on the religious life of peoples. We know that, in Spain at any rate, there was an extraordinary explosion of pious societies, popular ceremonies, and forms of devotion created and directed by tertiary fraternities; some of these were extremely powerful organizations which have defied the passing of time, survived the most adverse fortunes, and are still in existence today. An even more beneficial influence was exerted by charitable and welfare institutions, like the hospitals founded in Madrid and other major towns. In many places instruction was given to ordinary people by the “beatas” of St. Francis, who ran schools for children; the most notable of these were the Mexican schools put in their charge by Zumárraga, who brought women tertiary teachers from Spain specially trained to instruct the daughters of caciques and to prepare neophytes for Christian marriage. At this period, when the First Order was divided into several branches and the Third Order Regular appeared on the scene as a fully developed legal entity, territorial difficulties arose which were eventually settled by papal intervention.

After Nicholas IV the authority of the First Order over the Third remained unchanged. It had been endangered by the spread of tertiary communities leading a communal life, which had their own chapels and their own independent activities from the end of the thirteenth century, and by the confusion resulting from the Great Schism. This had scarcely ended when, by a Bull of December 9! 1428, Martin V once more put all communities of lay tertiaries firmly and inexorably under the control of the First Order’s minister general and provincials.  This decree was attenuated by Eugene IV in 1431, but in fact it was eventually implemented everywhere. Sixtus IV extended it to all countries, giving the Observant and Conventual superiors equal authority over the Third Order. This authority consisted of the power to visit the brotherhoods, to instruct and correct the tertiaries, to invest them with the habit and accept their profession, and to assign a visitor or confessor from the Order to each group.

In 1547, as a concession to repeated requests from the Spanish Regular Tertiaries, Paul III approved three rules, one for each constituent element of the Third Order: male religious, female religious and Secular Tertiaries. The latter’s Rule was hardly more than a mere resume of the Rule of Nicholas IV, with certain mitigations regarding fasting and abstinences; it affected only the brotherhoods of the Iberian Peninsula. The most important change was the subjection of all tertiaries in Spain, Portugal and both Indies to the authority of the regular tertiaries’ minister general, whose task it was to assign anyone admitted to profession as a Regular Tertiary to a particular brotherhood. This was a purely theoretical innovation: it made no change in the relationship between the First and Third Orders, which was confirmed time and again by later popes.

The Capuchin reform (1528) does not appear to have asserted its rights to the direction of the Third Order while it was subject to the nominal authority of the Conventual minister general; furthermore, these rights were limited by special papal decrees. However, on January 30, 1620, a decision of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars cancelled the previous prohibitions and granted the Capuchins the same powers as other branches of the Franciscan family. Despite this they encountered strong opposition during the seventeenth century in France and Belgium from the Regular tertiaries, and in Spain and Sardinia from the Observants. The dispute between the former group and the Capuchins was eventually settled in favour of the latter by Clement X in 1675, and finally Clement XI put an end to all controversy in 1704 by ratifying three decisions made by the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars that same year. Nevertheless, further papal interventions were necessary, the last of which was that of Benedict XIV, who in 1745 granted not only the Capuchins, but also the Discalced and Recollects, full authority to admit candidates to the Third Order. It should be pointed out, however, that it was the Capuchins’ normal practice not to found new brotherhoods where there were already existing groups. This was why in the major towns only individual tertiaries were admitted, and why in the Italian provinces there was little propaganda on behalf of the Third Order; but in Spain, France, Belgium,  Switzerland, and Germany there were very flourishing brotherhoods, and vast quantities of Capuchin literature were produced for the purpose of spreading the Seraphic army among lay folk.  A distinguished tertiary saint of the eighteenth century was Mary Frances of the Five Wounds (d. 1791).

Under Regalist Oppression and Liberal Secularism

For the Third Order the great ordeal of the Modern Period began in the second half of the eighteenth century. The first blow was dealt by Austrian imperialism. In 1776 a decree of Maria Theresa forbade the reception of new members; Joseph II went further by suppressing the Third Order in all its forms by an edict of September 27, 1782. Joseph’s regalist policy was followed by the radical sectarianism of the French Revolution; in 1790 the Civil Constitution of the Clergy declared the suppression of all religious institutions, including third orders, and the nationalization of their property. A number of tertiaries were punished for their fidelity to the Church and their Franciscan vows by imprisonment or death. In 1810 Napoleon published another decree suppressing all tertiary organizations and banning their meetings, on the grounds that they were a danger to society; he stooped so low as to have a booklet withdrawn from circulation because it contained the Rule of the Third Order. In Spain the suppression of religious orders and the act of disamortization left the brotherhoods legally and socially helpless; but most of them continued to live, many in a flourishing condition, under the direction of the secular clergy or the exclaustrated friars, so that when the Observant and Capuchin convents appeared once more they were able to reorganize themselves and recover their strength. A similar phenomenon took place in Italy as the suppression of religious was extended. The tertiary brotherhoods, dispossessed of their legal right to exist in the eyes of the State, survived as private societies and adapted themselves to the new situation. 3

Not only were changes made in the rule of the Third Order before the time of Leo XIII, but the rule was also supplemented by additions from the very beginning. During the thirteenth century, individual fraternities added regulations of their own to the rule itself. But after Nicholas IV had given a uniform rule to all the tertiaries and confirmed it by a papal bull in 1289, the rule itself was left intact; and the additions took the form statutes or constitutions, either for a certain section of the Third Order or for the entire order .

The tertiaries in the Recollect Franciscan Province of St. Denis, in France, for instance, had special constitutions in addition to the rule of Nicholas IV before 1677. They are described in some detail in a book which the Father Provincial wrote in that year.  These constitutions speak of a rector (prefect) of the men and a mother superior of the women. They expressly declared that only those who were employed in some avocation which was not morally objectionable could be admitted as members. They regulated that the tertiaries should receive Holy Communion in a body, after the friars, on Maundy Thursday, August 2, and October 4. On certain days the tertiaries also gathered to be present at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

On the second Sunday of every month of the year, these tertiaries had their regular meeting, which included the following: (1) At 8:30 in the morning, the tertiaries assisted at holy Mass and received holy Communion. Including the three days already mentioned, therefore, the tertiaries received Holy Communion in a group at least fifteen times a year. (2) On this monthly meeting day one hour was set aside for instruction and spiritual reading. (3) In the evening there were special devotions for the tertiaries, consisting of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Vespers, sermon, procession, and Benediction. In other words, their monthly meeting was not just a matter of an hour or so, but of a full day.

The Father Provincial adds that the queen of France, Theresa of Austria, was a tertiary; and whenever she was at St. Germain-en-Laye, she attended the monthly meeting of the tertiaries in the Franciscan church at that place, receiving holy Communion at the Mass in the morning and taking part in the services and procession in the evening.

Very important were the constitutions of the Third Order which were drawn up in 1686, and then solemnly sanctioned by the bull Ecclesiae Catholicae of Innocent XI, June 28, 1689. The latter added these constitutions to the rule of Nicholas IV, and once more approved of that rule. The constitutions approved in 1957 are prefaced by a decree of approbation by the Sacred Congregation of Religious, which calls attention to the fact that “Blessed Pope Innocent XI, recently raised to the honours of the altar, solicitously composed or sanctioned new statutes.” Innocent XI was pope from 1676 to 1689, and was beatified in 1956.

Subsequently, Innocent XII (1691-1700) also ordered that these constitutions be observed in their entirety. However, they were enforced and put into practice only in Italy and Spain.

The purpose of the constitutions of Bl. Innocent XI was to clarify or specify certain points of the rule of Nicholas IV and to interpret others according to the needs of the times. The number of Communion days, for instance, was increased, although monthly Communion had been prescribed for some tertiaries already in 1628. The mitigations of fast and abstinence, granted by Paul III, are incorporated into the constitutions. Tertiaries who were poor and could not get suitable food were dispensed from the abstinence prescribed in the rule of Nicholas IV. The wearing of the large habit is limited to certain occasions. Franciscan superiors are instructed to delegate tertiary priests in distant parishes so that they could serve as directors of the Third Order.

Other special regulations in the constitutions of Bl. Innocent XI were the following. The feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis (September 17) was made the principal feast of the Third Order. All members of a fraternity, including the prefect and the ex-prefects, had the right of voting in the election of a prefect. The election was to take place at a general meeting of the fraternity, under the presidency of the local Franciscan Father Guardian, unless he was hindered from being present; and the confirmation of the result was to be published at another general meeting of the fraternity. All deceased members of a fraternity were to be remembered in a special way on a certain day in November which was selected and made known by the prefect.

Chapter XV, entitled “De Ministris,” is of particular interest. It enumerates the following officers of a fraternity: spiritual director, prefect, vice-prefect, secretary, councillors (six to eight in number), promoters, treasurer, sacristan, infirmarian and assistants.

(1) The spiritual director is called “visitor” in these constitutions. They call attention to the importance of his position in these words: “In the Third Order, the most important role, as far as the maintenance of its fervour and still more the promotion of its development is concerned, rests upon him who holds the office of visitor. For it is his official duty to instruct, to encourage, to guard, to reprimand those who hold responsible positions as well as the members, so that all may worthily fulfil their duties and obligations.”

(2) The prefect is called “minister.” After the “visitor,” say these constitutions, “comes the minister, whom all the brethren must respect as their superior and father.” They add that the “minister” may have a “coadjutor,” that is, a vice-prefect.

(3) The vice-prefect should be a priest if the prefect is a layman, and a layman if the prefect is a priest. This implies that both priests and lay people were members of the same fraternity; and both priests and lay people could hold offices in the fraternity. The term of office was for one year, but it could be extended if the incumbent showed he had the requisite qualifications.

(4) The secretary had the care of the registers of investitures and professions; kept the papers pertaining to the properties of the fraternity; recorded the deliberations of the meetings of both the council and the fraternity; made known to those concerned the decisions of the council; kept in a safe place the seal of the fraternity.

(5) The councillors, who are called “discreets,” were to be from six to eight in number according to the size of the fraternity.

(6) The promoters, who are called “zelators,” kept an eye on the manner in which the members observed the rule and safeguarded the observance of the rule in case there were serious and public transgressions.

(7) The treasurer, called “syndic,” received alms and gifts and dispensed them as current needs required. It is expressly stated that he had to be a professed tertiary.

(8) The sacristan, called “vicar of divine worship,” had charge of the fraternity’s chapel or altar and everything pertaining to it: vestments, sacred vessels, and decorations of the altar. If necessary, he could have specially assigned assistants.

(9) The infirmarian was to be a priest if possible, apparently a tertiary priest who belonged to the fraternity, or at least a professed brother from among the older members. It was his duty to visit the sick brethren, and give them care and counsel according to their material and spiritual needs. In large cities, he was helped by four to six assistant infirmarians, to each of whom a section of the area in which there were members of the fraternity was assigned as his particular field of action.

Thus the constitutions of Bl. Innocent XI made detailed provisions for well-organized and well-governed fraternities of the Third Order. (See “History of the Third Order Rule and Constitutions, Part III” in Franciscan Herald and Forum, vol. 40, no.3, March 1961, pp. 85-87.)

1.7 The Revival.  From the Rule of Pope Leo XIII (1884) to the Second Vatican Council

Since the middle of the nineteenth century several important factors have played their part in the development of a new and unexpected prosperity for the Third Order: the restoration of the First Order in all its different branches with a more social and practical sense of its apostolate, and a keener awareness of Franciscan modes of action; the wave of sympathy for St. Francis which began in intellectual circles; and firm papal support. The first step was to make use of the printed word through periodicals, which would disseminate Franciscan ideals and create links between the different brotherhoods. The oldest publication of this kind is Annales Franciscaines, founded in 1861 by French Capuchins. Shortly afterward, the Recollects’ L’Annie Franciscaine appeared. In Belgium, again on Recollect initiative, publication began in 1867 of a Flemish language journal. In 1870 the Lombardy Capuchins founded the journal Annali Francescani, followed in 1873 by L’Eco di San Francesco in Naples. In England the Capuchins began publishing Franciscan Annals in 1877. There was a much greater increase in the number of these publications during and after the pontificate of Leo XIII, so that by 1919 there were as many as 164 throughout the world, a figure which increased still further over the next ten years.  Once again, persons of distinction considered it an honour to wear the Seraphic cord, and sanctity, too, flourished once more in the Third Order, producing some outstanding figures. The following tertiaries devoted themselves to practical work: Joseph Benedict Cottolengo (d.1842), Vincentia Gerosa (d. 1847), Vincent Pallotti (d. 1850), Jean-Marie Vianney (d. 1859), Joseph Cafasso (d. 1860), Mary Joseph Rossello (d. 1880), John Bosco (d. 1888), Frances Xavier Cabrini (d. 1917), the Blessed Contardo Ferrini (d. 1902).

Of recent popes, all from Pius IX to John XXIII, belonged to the Franciscan Third Order before their accession to the pontificate, and all have singled it out for special attention. But it was Leo XIII who gave it preference and founded upon it his best hopes for the regeneration of Christian society. While still Bishop of Perugia he had used every possible means to encourage its growth in all the parishes of his diocese; this enthusiasm increased when he ascended the papal throne. He took advantage of the seventh centenary of the birth of St. Francis in 1882 to issue the encyclical Auspicato concessum, which was a fervent eulogy of the Franciscan Third Order and a strong exhortation to promote its expansion in every part of the world.

This clear-sighted Pope realized, however, that the old Franciscan institution would never become an effective worldwide force capable of uniting all lay people of good will unless the spirit which had given birth to it was adapted to meet the demands of modern life; he therefore decided to modify the Rule. It was not just a question of modernizing it; the essential was to make it acceptable to the greatest possible number.

The new Rule was promulgated in the apostolic constitution Misericors Dei Filius of May 30, 1884. The text consisted of three chapters, followed by another three in the form of an appendix, setting out the indulgences and privileges of tertiaries. Reduced to the bare essentials, it retained as much of the old Rule as could be adapted to the life of any keen Christian, and modified or completed whatever parts of it seemed antiquated or excessively harsh. These were the most important articles: members should wear the small scapular and the cord; they must go through a year’s novitiate before profession; their dress was to be simple and quiet; they must stay away from profane spectacles, and exercise moderation in eating; they should confess and take communion once a month, and say twelve Paternosters, the Ave Maria and the Gloria daily, unless they had attended the Divine Office or the Little Office of the Virgin Mary; they were to make their wills in good time; they should examine their consciences every day, and, whenever possible, attend daily mass and the monthly assembly: they were to pay their voluntary contribution toward the brotherhood’s expenses and the relief of the poor. There was to be a redistribution of offices every three years; and an annual visit was to be carried out as a duty by members of the First Order or the Third Order Regular appointed by the guardian in charge of the brotherhood. Having taken this momentous step, the Pope lost no opportunity during the next few years of involving the whole Catholic episcopate in the propagation of the Third Order, either by encyclicals (for example, he published one in 1884 against freemasonry, and one in 1885, announcing an extraordinary jubilee for the whole Christian world), or by exhortation and encouragement. The hierarchy responded obediently to the Pontiff’s wishes, ordinary Christians were fired with enthusiasm, and within a short time there were several million tertiaries. The movement even spread outside the Catholic Church. The Third Order of St. Francis was particularly successful in recruiting members of the Anglican Church at the end of the nineteenth century, using a different Rule, but the same name. The Calvinist Monad, founder of a Franciscan Third Order in France, ended his speech at the unionist congress in Stockholm in 1927 by expressing the wish that “in all parts of the Christian world anew St. Francis might inspire missionaries of the Third Order Secular to preach the moral, social, and spiritual Gospel which alone can preserve us from the dreadful spectacle of another world catastrophe. …” It was necessary to make a show of strength and advertise the worldwide appeal of the great Franciscan fraternity whose members were scattered throughout the nations, if only as an answer to the clamorous Marxist International with its message of class hatred, and a series of major congresses was planned. In 1893 an international pilgrimage brought 4,500 tertiaries to the feet of the Pope. In the same year the distinguished social apostle and enthusiastic tertiary Leon Harmel organized a grand Franciscan conference at Val de Bois, attended by brotherhoods from France, Belgium, and Holland; two similar congresses were held the following year at Novara and Paray-le-Monial, and each year they were repeated with increasing success until the International Franciscan Congress of 1900, presided over by Cardinal Vives and attended by about 17,000 tertiaries from all over the world. In 1914 the National Congress, held in Madrid, made headlines. In 1921, the seventh centenary of the Third Order’s foundation, in addition to a series of regional and national congresses, which set the whole Christian world astir, the Second International Congress met in Rome. The centenary celebrations had been inaugurated on January 6 that year by Benedict xv with his encyclical Sacra pro pediem, in which he exhorted those who had charge of souls to ensure that the already existing tertiary brotherhoods became steadily more prosperous, and that others were created where as yet there were none. The result was a fresh increase in the number of tertiaries and in the patronage extended by bishops to the Third Order, acting on the unequivocal guidelines laid down by the Holy See.

More large congresses were held in 1926 to mark the seventh centenary of the death of St. Francis; Pius XI also commemorated it in the encyclical Rite expiatis, which ended with another exhortation to bishops to encourage the faithful as energetically as they could to join the Third Order. Later these solemn assemblies were succeeded by more practical and effective national meetings, in which only provincial delegates took part. Pius XII added words of his own to the chorus of praise and the injunctions of his predecessors in an audience which he granted to 4,000 representatives of the brotherhoods controlled by the four branches of the Franciscan family on November 20, 1945, and on August 15, 1952, when he commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of his enlistment in the Third Order. John XXIII, in his allocution of July 2, 1961 to the national congress of Italy, and Paul VI in his allocution of June 23, 1968, and another of May 20, 1971, to a large international gathering of Tertiaries, also expressed their regard for the Franciscan lay movement.

The most eloquent proof of the spirit of cooperation in large sections of the clergy is the brotherhoods of priests, which have been established in all countries. The most important is the “Pia Fratellanza,” a body founded in 1900 in Rome by Cardinal Vives, whose ranks include distinguished prelates of all nationalities: Giacomo della Chiesa, later Benedict XV, belonged to this society and was minister for six years; so did Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII. There are many priestly brotherhoods of this kind in Italy, France (where there were as many as twenty-seven in 1950, publishing their own journal), Belgium, and Spain.

It must be pointed out, however, that the graph showing the numerical peak reached during the decade 1920-1930 began to plummet in the following decade and has not yet come to a halt. What are the reasons? Perhaps the first is the Church’s very eagerness to make the tertiary ideal for living easier in order to push up the statistics, often turning the brotherhoods into mere confraternities without offering lay people any program for holiness or apostolic activity. It was frankly acknowledged at various conferences following Leo XIII’s constitution that the Third Order was on the whole not in a fit state to fulfill the Pope’s purpose. The second cause may be that the First Order has turned its attention to other more immediately effective forms of service, neglecting to care for the tertiary associations, which have thus become isolated from the convents. The most likely explanation: however, is probably to be found in the emergence of anew force destined to supersede the Third Order in attracting the lay apostolate: Catholic Action. In fact the latter’s maximum growth coincided with the Third Order’s maximum decline. This was a perfectly natural development once the bishops and clergy of the entire world responded to persistent pressure from Pius XI on behalf of the new institution, which was, moreover, placed by the Pope himself under the patronage of St. Francis of Assisi. The substitution was not part of the Pope’s intentions, nor did it necessarily result from the coexistence of the two movements, as their aims were clearly differentiated; but it was inevitable.

This trend did not pass unnoticed by the superiors of the Franciscan families, who for years had been studying ways of revitalizing the Third Order by improving its organization and uniting their common efforts. The four ministers general of the Franciscans, Conventuals, Capuchins, and Regular tertiaries have from time to time sent out circulars to their respective families urging superiors to fulfil their responsibilities to the Third Order. At the same time general, national and provincial commissariats have been created to centralize authority within each Franciscan family, and organizations formed to establish better liaison and cooperation among them. Interdisciplinary meetings have been held, like the international assembly of lay directors in 1950, and another in 1975, coinciding with the great world pilgrimage in Holy Year.

One important event was the publication in 1957 of the Third Order’s constitutions by decree of the Sacred Congregation for Religious. These stressed the secular nature of the tertiary’s vocation – secular holiness, secular apostolate – and outlined a program for committed Christian living that was realistic and up to date, especially as regards witnessing and working for peace and social justice. The possibility of replacing the scapular and cord with a medallion or badge was accepted. A distinction was drawn between external authority, exercised by the four ministers general of the First Order through general, national, provincial and zonal commissaries and local directors, and the internal authority of local, zonal, provincial, national, general, and interobediential chapters.

2.0 The SFO today – A Unified International Order With Its Own Superiors

Before the revival of the SFO brought about by the second Rule of Leo XIII in 1884, the Third Order, though strong in numbers, was far from being a unified Order.  In virtue of the bull of Pope Martin V, way back in 1289, which put all communities of lay tertiaries firmly and inexorably under the control of the First Order’s Minister General and Provincials, all Third Order local fraternities were strictly bound to the Franciscan branch which gave them spiritual assistance.  They had virtually no link with one another.

In this way, a local fraternity “belonged” or, better, was attached to a Friary of the First Order mainly due to the fact that each tertiary made his profession to the Friars, and not to the Third Order Minister, as today.  The division that occurred within the Franciscan Order in 1517 8 into two separate Orders – The Conventuals and the Observants, was also carried over to the Third Order.  With the birth of the Capuchin Reform in 1528 and its recognition as the Third branch of the First Order in 1619, the Third Order was yet again divided. The same applies for the Third Order Regular Friars 9.  For this reason, a determined Third Order Fraternity was said to be “of Capuchin (or Conventual or Friars Minor or Third Order Regular) Obedience”.

Thus in some cities, a Third Order fraternity under Capuchin spiritual assistance had little or no contact whatsoever with another fraternity under the assistance of the   Conventualsor the Friars Minor in that same city.  Contacts with nearby local fraternities assisted by the same Franciscan branch were not frequent and activities involving local fraternities from nearby towns were initiatives taken mainly by the First Order assistants or superiors.  They rarely went beyond the provincial or national level.  All this started to change after the Second Vatican Council (CVII).

The internal organization of a local fraternity changed little throughout the centuries.  It continued having its main point of reference the Franciscan Friary assisting them, which was frequently the same place where the monthly meetings were held, or the First Order Fraternity that accepted their profession as members.

We saw in section 1.6 the decline that occurred in the Third Order and how membership had become a fashion that attracted many important figures in society, but did not imply any particular effort to live the Franciscan way of life indicated by St. Francis.  Moreover, a good number of members tended to become members in all the other Third Orders or societies present in their town or village, obviously without being able to fulfil the obligations expected of them in virtue of their membership.

Others still joined simply to benefit from some of the privileges accorded to the members, most common of which, was the right to be buried in the burial site reserved for the deceased of Third Order and benefit from the masses and prayers for their souls by the surviving members and the friars.

For these and other reasons, many members would stop attending meetings after some time following their formation and profession.  Thus, though the number of professed members could quite high in a given fraternity, the members that actually attended the meetings was quite poor.  This continued to be the situation in many places till the Second Vatican Council.

2.1 The Changes brought by the Second Vatican Council

2.1.1  Secular Institutes – Living the Gospel Counsels Remaining in the World

The renewal that was brought about by the Second Vatican Council for the whole Church sparked off a great change in the SFO too.  This was mainly in virtue of the directives given in the document Perfectæ Caritatis (Decree on the up-to-date Renewal of Religious Life – 28 October 1965) and subsequent documents, especially Ecclesiae Sanctæ II.  Hitherto, there were three categories in the faithful: the clerical, the religious and the lay.  However, before the Council many new institutes were born which could not fit in any of these three categories, because they did not live together as religious, but professed the evangelical counsels continuing to live in the world.  The Second Vatican Council saw that the Holy spirit was reviving an old form of living the Gospel Life in the world – that of Secular institutes, among which the Third Order of St. Francis.  Living the Gospel Counsels in the world became the fourth category to which a Catholic can adhere to.  The great intuition of St. Francis finally found its officially recognized place in the Church!

While it is true that Secular Institutes are not religious institutes, at the same time they involve a true and full profession of the evangelical counsels in the world, recognized by the Church.  This profession confers a consecration on people living in the world, men and women, laymen and clerics.  Therefore, they should make it their chief aim to give themselves to God totally in perfect charity.  The institutes themselves ought to preserve their own special character – their secular character, that is to say – to the end that they may be able to carry out effectively and everywhere the apostolate in the world and, as it were, from the world, for which they were founded.

Let them know quite clearly, at the same time, that they will be unable to accomplish so great a task unless the members have so thorough a grounding in matters divine and human that they will be truly leaven in the world, for the strengthening and increase of the Body of Christ.  Superiors therefore should devote great care to the formation, especially the spiritual formation, of their subjects, and also to the promotion of their higher studies. (Perfectæ Cariratis N°11)

Membership is open to everyone, except to those that have taken final vows as Religious – they have already adopted a stricter Gospel life by embracing religious life.

2.1.2        From Third Order of St. Francis to The Secular Franciscan Order (SFO).

Keeping in line with these indications of the II VC, the Third Franciscan Order started being called the Secular Franciscan Order.  This was done for two reasons: the first being that, for far too long, many regarded the Third Order as being somewhat third in importance rather than its being the third in chronological order to be founded by Saint Francis10.  The second reason was to bring the Third Franciscan Order in line with the Second Vatican Council, thus becoming a unified Secular Institute in its own right, under one General Minister for the whole Order, thus putting aside the historical divisions within the First Order.  The Second Vatican Council strongly emphasized the lay person’s vocation in the Church and set lay organizations committed to the Christian apostolate on the road to gradual independence, and also felt necessary to recognize the autonomous nature of the Secular Franciscan Order, as the Third Order of St. Francis is now called.  While still spiritually closely united with the First Order (The Spiritual Assistant, who is usually a Franciscan friar appointed by his own superiors to assist the SFO, is a member by right of the Council of any fraternity at all levels) the SFO is juridically11 autonomous.

2.1.3         The Renewal of the Rule in 1978 by Pope Paul VI and the New Constitutions.

Whereas up to the Second Vatican Council, all legislation regarding the Third Order was issued by a decree of the Pope, (The renewal of the Rule two years after the 7th centenary of the birth of St. Francis can be considered as a personal initiative of Pope Leo XIII, himself a member of the Third Order. See Section 1.7) the Council directives indicated that the renewal of the legislation of all institutes had to be presented by the institutes themselves for final approval by the Holy See.  Now this presented a problem because the Third Order was hitherto divided into four under the Obediences of the Friars Minor, the Conventuals, the Capuchins and the Third Order Regular.  From the promulgation of the previous Constitutions of 1957 each Obedience had its own General Minister and councils. Inter-obediential meetings and chapters, though already held in some countries, were still optional and not yet a reality in other countries.

The Rule (1978)

The turning point came about in 1967 when an inter-obediential commission was established by the three General Ministers of the First Order and the General Minister of the Third Order Regular (henceforth referred to as the Four General Ministers) for the Revision of the Rule.   The drafting of a new general Rule was begun in 1968, and the difficult task was finally completed when Pope Paul VI, himself a member of the Secular Franciscan Order, promulgated it on June 24, 1978.

In 1973 the World Council of the Third Order was established by the Four General Ministers, and Manuela Mattioli was nominated President of the SFO International Council at inter-obediential level.  Born in Florence, Italy, she moved to Caracas, Venezuela, in 1950 where she became a member of the Third Order (under Capuchin Assistance).  She was re-elected President by the members of the one International Council in 1977 and finally, re-elected as the First General Minister of the SFO during the IV General Chapter of the SFO (first elective chapter) held in Madrid in 1984.

The Constitutions (2000)

With the promulgation of the new Canon Law in 1983, work could finally start to compile the new Constitutions.  This work started during the General Chapter of 1984 and elaborated during the V General Chapter held in 1988 in Rome.  On 8 September 1990 these were approved for an experimental period of six years. The final approval of the definitive General Constitutions (contained in this book) was given by the Holy See in 8 December 2000.

2.2   The Full Unity of the SFO.

In the presentation to the 1996 General Chapter it was stated that the unification process of the Italian SFO was still in progress, whereas in the 1999 General Chapter it was referred that “the discussion on the time required and the way to reach this unification had become wider and deeper-rooted so much so that it involved the concept of the organic unity of the SFO and, as a result, its autonomy and even its secularity”. After taking note of the entire process, the Chapter issued the Presidency a mandate “to pursue in every possible way the reinforcement of the SFO unity, autonomy and secularity”, to convoke within 2002 the elective Chapter of the Italian national fraternity and to guarantee in the meantime the orderly development of the life of the regional and local fraternities.

This commitment, however, brought the Italian SFO to the first unitary elective national Chapter held from 27th April to 1st May 2002. It also contributed to the full recognition of the authority of the General Minister and the CIOFS12 Presidency by the Holy See and the Conference of the General Ministers of the First Order and TOR.  Thus the SFO celebrated the X General Chapter (and IV elective Chapter) of November 2002 held in Rome as a truly unified Order with General Superiors given full recognition by the Church and the Franciscan First Order.

2.3   The Situation of the Order Today.

According to the 1996 census, the total number of members was just over 431,000, organized in 49 constituted national fraternities and 31 emerging national fraternities.  The 2002 census provides similar figures for the members, but shows an increase in the constituted national fraternities which go up from 48 to 5713, and confirms the growth of the SFO organization structure.

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