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Secular Franciscans celebrate 100 years of ‘Franciscan joy’

October 8, 2015
Christina Gray

They’ve been quietly feeding and clothing the poor in San Francisco and sometimes not so quietly standing up against injustice and violence for 100 years. On Oct. 3, the St. Francis Secular Franciscan Fraternity and the local Franciscan community celebrated 10 decades of living out the Gospel with a daylong “Franciscan Day of Joy” at St. Boniface Church in San Francisco.

The event was attended by more than 150 Franciscans and their friends who came together in fellowship on the eve of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi to celebrate Mass, gain inspiration from Franciscan speakers and celebrate the Transitus – an annual prayer service remembering the passing of Francis from this life into God.

“We are known as people of penance,” said Christine Morrison, a retired teacher and the fraternity’s current vice minister. Like some others in the fraternity, she lives in or near the Tenderloin in order to be more accessible to the homeless and sick who live there. She has marched against war and has championed the poor at city hall. “We are regular people who agree to follow Francis’ teachings and live the Gospel life of Jesus.”

The Secular Franciscan Order, formerly known as the Third Order of St. Francis, is an official order within the Catholic Church, established by St. Francis of Assisi himself early in the 13th century. This third order was devised by St. Francis as a sort of middle state between the cloister and the world for those wishing to follow in the saint’s footsteps.

Secular Franciscans go through a formal formation program and once professed, are part of the Franciscan family of friars, brothers and Poor Clare nuns and sisters. They do not live in community but live in families and perform jobs out in the world, gathering in fraternities on a regular basis.

The St. Francis Secular Franciscan Fraternity, founded at St. Boniface in 1891, saw its first professions in 1915 and is part of an international fraternity of about 400,000 Secular Franciscans.

According to Morrison, the fraternity has always helped to meet the needs of the times. During World War II, for example, members held a Day of Prayer for Peace and raised money to aid lepers in the Philippines. In the 1950s members were instrumental in supporting Franciscan Father Alfred Boeddeker in the opening the St. Anthony’s Dining Room. More recently, members marched for peace against war in the Middle East.

The centennial celebration and Franciscan Day of Joy began with morning Mass, celebrated by Franciscan Father John Hardin, provincial of the Santa Barbara Province of Franciscan Friars, where the filled-to-capacity sanctuary sang in praise St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun.”

Featured presentations were made by Franciscan Father Jack Clark Robinson and Franciscan Sister Margie Will and a short video on the history of the fraternity was shown during lunch.

“We accept people for who they are,” said Arlene Zamora of San Francisco, a St. Dominic parishioner who professed in 2012. Her friend and fellow fraternity member Pat Dolan, also of St. Dominic, sat by her side.

Tim Gallagher, RCIA director for St. Boniface and formation director for the St. Francis Fraternity, said that members live out their charism quietly.

“Our purpose is to be at the street level with those that are hurt, bruised and disenfranchised and need to be lifted up in any way,” he said. He said he has three new candidates in formation currently.

Gallagher, who dropped out of seminary and monastic life, fingered his Tau cross, a symbol of the Franciscan order and described what being a Secular Franciscan means to him.

“If I am going to meet our Lord, I want to be able to say ‘these are the jewels that you gave me, I didn’t bury them.’”

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