By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published October 11, 2012
A new Franciscan fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order has been established in the archdiocese, meeting at St. Pius X Church.
The Spirit of Francis and Clare Fraternity was formally established at Sunday Mass at the parish Sept. 9, celebrated by Father John Koziol, Conventual Franciscan. He presided at the canonical establishment, assisted by Father John Kieran, pastor of St. Pius X, and Jerry Rousseau, OFS, regional minister of the Secular Franciscan Order.
Two founding members, Charlotte Alesi, OFS, and Phil Wescott, OFS, witnessed the documents. Over 40 Secular Franciscans from around the state and region attended the Mass.
The fraternity will begin meeting at St. Pius on the third Sunday of the month. A “Come and See” event will be held on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 3 p.m. for anyone who would like to learn more about this way of following Christ in daily life.
The Secular Franciscan Order, which includes lay people, both single and married, and diocesan clergy, follows a rule established by St. Francis of Assisi. The rule is actually the oldest of the orders St. Francis established, Alesi said, older than the Franciscans or the Poor Clares.
“Ours was actually the first (Franciscan rule) the pope approved. It is 800 years old,” she said. “St. Francis personally started it because people came to him and wanted to follow him but couldn’t leave their farms and their families and that is how it came about.”
A retired registered nurse, and a grandmother, she said that becoming a part of the Secular Franciscan Order is a call both she and her husband, Joel, a retired business executive, discerned in their lives in recent years.
“It is definitely a call from God. It is a vocation in the Church,” she said.
Those who are drawn to this vocation go through years of preparation, including a stage known as visiting, then inquiry, and two years of candidacy. These are times of study of the Franciscan rule and of formation. Those who continue and are accepted make promises to the Church for life in a Mass of profession.
Through prayer, frequent Mass and Communion, and serving others, particularly the poor, Secular Franciscans follow a particular charism in the Church, she said.
“We try to have our life rooted in the Gospel. We try to follow Jesus in that way. In today’s world, it is not an easy calling,” Alesi said. “We promise poverty of spirit … chastity, according to our station in life, and obedience to the magisterium of the church. It is spiritual poverty, trying to live a more simple life. St. Francis gave the cloak off his back, over and over again. We are just asked not to be attached to things of the world. Our lives become simpler. … We need to share what we have with other people.”
The Alesis were professed together in 2000 at the Immaculate Conception Fraternity in Atlanta. That fraternity, which is now located at St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, where Franciscan friars serve, is one of seven in Georgia.
Rousseau said the region has 32 fraternities, including two in Alabama, three in Tennessee, 13 in North Carolina and seven in South Carolina. Father Linus DeSantis, OFM Conv., is the regional spiritual assistant, working with 11 elected professed Secular Franciscans on the regional council.
A decision by the Immaculate Conception Fraternity to start meeting on Saturdays, a day when both Alesis were then working, led them eventually to form a fledgling group in Conyers, after deeply missing their community life. Welcomed by the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, this new group, including Wescott and his wife, both professed Secular Franciscans, and others, gradually discerned that they were called to help establish a new fraternity. The Immaculate Conception Fraternity became their sponsor.
“There is a very strict, stringent process, following the guidance of the church,” Alesi said. “We had to get permission from the archbishop to become a newly forming group. He sent a beautiful letter welcoming us and giving permission. … In July 2008, we finally received permission from the Regional Council to be an merging fraternity, but still under the supervision of Immaculate Conception. … In December 2011, we were granted permission from the Regional Council for full canonical establishment.”
The necessary paperwork and documentation had to be completed before the Mass could be celebrated in September. As part of the establishment, the fraternity was accepted by Father Kieran as linked to St. Pius X Church.
“We finally are canonically established,” Alesi said. “Now it is a new beginning for us. … We can work on growing our brothers and sisters. We actually have eight professed right now and two inquirers.”
The “Come and See” event this month will be an opportunity for more people to learn more about the Secular Franciscan charism. The group meets once a month on Sundays for continuing formation. The new fraternity’s spiritual assistant is Crickett Aull, OFS.
“There are many different spiritualities,” Alesi said. “St. Francis was very simple in his philosophy and his rule: to live the Gospel. It is a simple life. It is not rooted in a lot of philosophy, a lot of books.”
The spirituality is both contemplative and active, she said. “It’s living in the world and not being sequestered.”
“St. Francis ministered to the poor. … St. Francis was very devoted to the Eucharist and so are we, trying to get to Mass and receive the sacraments as often as possible. It is going out into the deeper ocean, as Jesus told Peter. You are seeking to do everything you can, spiritually, emotionally, physically to conform yourself to live as Jesus said, to live the Gospel life. “
“We are not an elite group of people. We try to walk simply, humbly, with our God,” she said.