Secular Franciscans: ‘The world is our cloister’

On Oct. 4, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, who left behind a life of riches to live a simple life of humility and serving others.

Fraternity Minister Connie Lacher  (photo by Dianne Towalski)

Connie Lacher has long identified with the spirituality of St. Francis. As a teacher, her work always had a social justice component, but she never identified it as Franciscan. Then she met Sister Thomasine Schmolke, a Franciscan Sister of Little Falls.

Sister Thomasine became her spiritual director and invited her to a gathering of Secular Franciscans. After attending a few meetings and reading about St. Francis of Assisi, Lacher knew this was the spirituality she identified with.

“I called Sister Thomasine my sage,” she said. “I was impressed with the wisdom-woman she was and saw that same quality in many of the elderly members I first met — a gentle peacefulness that was about accepting others’ goodness, a simple way of caring and love.”

The Secular Franciscans are one of a handful of lay religious organizations in the Diocese of St. Cloud. What makes them unique is their profession of promises to the Church and the Order of Franciscan Seculars. It is a lifelong commitment they make, similar to those in religious communities.

“Secular Franciscans live and work in the world, rather than in religious communities. They may be single or married, women or men, priests or religious, and come from all walks of life,” Lacher said. “We say the world is our cloister.”

The order is divided into fraternities of various levels — local, regional, national and international — which are guided by a council and minister who are elected by the professed members of each fraternity. In the Diocese of St. Cloud there are fraternities in St. Cloud, Elk River, Browns Valley and Little Falls. Life in fraternity is an essential aspect of the Secular Franciscan vocation, Lacher said.

A member of St. Joseph Parish in St. Joseph, Lacher professed her commitment and became a Secular Franciscan 25 years ago and now serves as the St. Cloud Fraternity minister.

She likes “being a part of something where others share my way of life with the same enthusiasm, as well as having support from like-minded people who share the same values as I do,” she said. “We’re family.”

According to the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, members pledge themselves to live the Gospel in the manner of St. Francis. “St. Francis did not start out to begin an order but went about living the Gospel life as he saw it,” said fraternity member Edith Daniels, a member of St. Boniface Parish in Cold Spring. “When lay persons asked to join his order, he wrote a rule for them, since many had a family and family responsibilities.”

This became what we know today as the Secular Franciscans.

“Secular Franciscans look to the example of St. Francis of Assisi in how we treat other people and all of creation,” said Mary Holz, a member of St. Anastasia Parish in Hutchinson, who serves as a councilor for the St. Cloud fraternity. “We evangelize mostly by example, but in word when situations open to that need. We look deeper than the outward appearance of people to find Christ living in them and love them as such.”

Lacher reads the opening prayer during a July 25 Zoom meeting of the St. Cloud Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order. Though they normally meet monthly in person, the group has been using the online meeting platform since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (photo by Dianne Towalski

As the fraternity minister, Lacher facilitates regular meetings — currently online, but normally the third Sunday of each month at St. John Cantius Church in St. Cloud. She also takes care of the paperwork, preparing reports for the regional council, and represents the fraternity in the community and the larger Church.

“Perhaps the minister’s most important responsibility is to be in relationship with the fraternity members,” she said. “Whether they are homebound or actively involved, to build a true Franciscan community by being active within their parish church and in society.” According to their rule, Secular Franciscans focus on spreading the peace and love of Christ through peacemaking and serving the marginalized.

“We serve meals at the Salvation Army and support the Poor Clare Sisters in Sauk Rapids,” said Shirley Hagen, a member of St. Peter Parish in St. Cloud, who also serves as a councilor for the fraternity. “We also support baby showers to assist mothers in need and help people in other locations, like families in a Catholic diocese in India and the Amazon Relief Project.”

Holtz joined the Secular Franciscans because she felt the Holy Spirit was calling her to a deeper relationship with God, she said. She had several friends who were Franciscans and was impressed with their spirituality.

“Franciscans live by the knowledge that conversion is a continual process, not a one and done sort of thing,” Holtz said. “Throughout this conversion, we find ourselves to be an active part of God’s plan and become more and more united to him.”

Fraternity secretary Linda Penniston, a member of St. Anthony Parish in St. Cloud, joined because she wanted to make a commitment to live her Catholic faith to the fullest.

“I attended a few meetings and found the Franciscans I met were such beautiful, caring people,” she said. “So, I asked to join them.”

There is a lengthy formation process for someone interested in joining the Secular Franciscan Order. Attending a few meetings is the first step in that process.

“If they choose to find out more, they meet with a formation director to begin a three-month orientation period to learn the very basics and determine their interest, eligibility and disposition,” Holtz said.

If they choose to continue, they move into a six-month initiation period followed by a candidacy period attending monthly meetings with the formation director for another 18 to 36 months.

“During the candidacy period they study the Gospels, Scripture reflections, the Franciscan Rule, prayer, servanthood and many other traits of Franciscans,” Holtz said.

At the end of their candidacy, they make their profession to become lifelong members of the Secular Franciscans. Throughout all of these steps, they attend and participate in the monthly fraternity gatherings, she said.

“Formation and making a profession to the Secular Franciscan Order is a continuation of St. Francis’s call to rebuild the house of God, which consists of all of humanity and all of creation,” Holtz said. “It is an extension of a person’s baptismal promises and of confirmation.”

Each year members renew their commitment to the promises they make.

“Our Franciscan Order is a family, leading us to live in humility, service to others and caring for each other,” Janet Hyk, the fraternity’s vice minister said. “It has deepened my faith to live a Franciscan life.”

For more information about the Secular Franciscan, email Connie Lacher at cml.9495.fran, or call her at 612-413-2153.

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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