As a young man studying Pharmacy in 1955 at Sydney University, Len Schafer was just like any other student until the day he stumbled across an auditorium where two Franciscan Friars were giving a talk about their life. Whether it was divine intervention or just a natural curiosity to find out more, Len entered the lecture and never turned back.

It wasn’t until his first year of his novitiate that the now Brother Carl came across a pamphlet on the Third Order of St Francis. He was immediately drawn to it and sent a copy home to his mother who joined the Third Order Fraternity in Concord, Sydney. Since then, Friar Carl has devoted his life’s ministry to the Secular Franciscan Order as it is now known.

At first, his involvement was with the Waverley fraternity who would help wrap hundreds of copies of the Franciscan Newsletter. “These men and women made a lasting impression on me because of their genuine Franciscan spirit,” Carl said. “They convinced me of the value of the lay Franciscan life.”

While at St Anthony Friary in Singapore in 1975, some local boys showed interest in the Friars, and so along with Friar George Boggs, Carl established the fraternity of St Elizabeth of Hungary.

  It was his first experience as Spiritual Assistant of a Franciscan fraternity. Three years later, while at the retreat house in New Zealand, Carl became acquainted with Friar Benet Fonck, the General Spiritual Assistant to the Secular Franciscan Order based in Rome.

So impressed was he with Carl’s work with the Seculars in New Zealand, he asked if Carl would like to be appointed to the General Curia in Rome. During his fourteen years in Rome, Carl visited nearly 100 national fraternities and travelled to many countries. "It was an extraordinary experience,” he said.

On his return to Australia, Carl was appointed National Spiritual Assistant to the Secular Franciscan Order in Oceania, Regional Assistant in South Australia and Tasmania and Local Assistant to three fraternities in New South Wales. He spends many hours attending to the administrative tasks of the role, as well as attending meetings of local and national fraternities. Carl has developed a website which gives information about the Order, as well as spiritual reflections and newsletters.

“Belonging to the Secular Franciscan Order is a true Franciscan vocation for secular people,” he said. “The role that lay people play in the Church is very important and it will be even more so in the future.”