The Franciscans – A Big Family
Francis was a powerful inspiration. His Rule of life is perhaps one of the most challenging within Christianity. Both during his time, and after his death in 1223, the brothers who followed him, Franciscan Friars, experienced massive challenges, disputes, change and upheaval. While there are many reasons for this Franciscan volatility, the main drivers for the upheaval that followed after the death of Francis were the passionate debates between the friars over how to live the Rule of life handed down to us by Francis of Assisi.
By the 1500s the Franciscans were divided into three independent branches: The Friars Minor (OFM), the Friars Minor Conventual (OFM Conv.) and the Friars Minor Capuchin (OFM Cap.). Together, these three religious institutes have some 30,000 members, the largest family of religious men in the Catholic Church.
Each order has its own elected leader known as a Minister General, who is the servant of the brothers. We are then divided into provinces and each province has a similar servant of the brothers. He is known as the Provincial Minister.
In our part of Asia-Oceania, the Order of Friars Minor (OFM) are gathered together into the Province of the Holy Spirit. We live and minister in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.
Our branch of the Franciscan Order is present in more than 100 countries and today we number around 14,000 brothers and priests.
The Poor Clares
Many people noticed what Francis was doing. His was a very public conversation experience. Some observers thought him mad. Others found his life-change confusing. But some were intrigued and inspired by this radical shift in life direction.
Clare, a young noblewoman of Assisi, had been observing the young Francis and his amazing change in lifestyle. She became inspired by him to the point that along with some companions, she also renounced her family status and property to join Francis’s Gospel movement.
Clare actually wished to have a life similar to that of Francis and his brothers, but in Medieval Italy, that was out of the question. Instead, she and her Poor Sisters entered a more monastic type life, primarily dedicated to a life of prayer and contemplation and manual work.
Numerous laypeople also desired to respond to Francis’ call of Gospel conversion while living in their own homes and maintaining their normal livelihoods and family ties. These “Brothers and Sisters of Penance” came to be referred to as the “Third Order of St Francis”, who today are known as the Secular Franciscans. The Friars Minor were considered the “First Order” while the Poor Clares, the “Second Order.” The numbers refer to the order in which each group came into existence.