A Franciscan understanding of joy is profoundly different from the world’s.
“St. Paul tells us that ‘we preach Jesus Christ crucified,’ so your joy will be a crucified joy,” Franciscan Father Pio Jackson told past, present and future members of the Joyful Servants Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order.
“It will be a joy that endures,” said Fr. Jackson, spiritual assistant for the order’s St. Clare Region. “It will be a joy that comes from the Holy Spirit.”
This joy is inseparable from sacrificial service.
“So this is not about you,” the priest asserted. “It’s about the world that is crying out to hear the Gospel.”
He pointed to St. Francis of Assisi’s example.
“Remember that when he was lying on his bed suffering, blind, dealing with disease, he still had joy in his heart,” the priest said.
In fact, it was while dying that St. Francis added a final line to his Canticle of Creation, “Be praised, My Lord, for our sister, bodily death.”
Fr. Jackson presided at a Sept. 26 Mass marking the canonical establishment of the Joyful Servants Fraternity as a self-sustaining entity.
About 45 people attended the mid-afternoon Mass in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City.
Secular Franciscans are the largest branch of the Franciscan Order.
They are a community of Catholic men and women in the world who seek to pattern their lives after Christ in the spirit of St. Francis.
They do so according to the Rule of Life of the Secular Franciscan Order, with help and encouragement from fellow members of their local fraternity.
“Secular Franciscans,” The Rule states, “should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church and in liturgical activity.”
There are about 300,000 secular Franciscans throughout the world, including about 12,000 in the United States.
Membership is an answer to a calling from God.
“We don’t seek members, we nurture vocations,” stated Maureen Gray, a founding member of the Joyful Servants Fraternity.
The OFS, formerly known as the Third Order of St. Francis, is an official order within the Catholic Church, established early in the 13th century.
St. Francis wrote the first Rule of Life for members of the order. That Rule has been updated since the Second Vatican Council but remains true to the vision of the founder.
It gives Secular Franciscans a concrete way to live out their calling to Franciscan life in a particular way — in their homes and families, at work, in their parishes and in the world.
“Our whole goal is to go from Gospel to life and from life to the Gospel,” said Ms. Gray.
“If you have a question about how to do that, you ask, ‘How did Jesus teach us to handle that?’ You find it in the Gospels. It’s all there!” she stated.
Members are single or married laypersons or diocesan clergy.
Led by the Holy Spirit, members strive for perfect charity in their own secular state.
They gather on a regular basis for prayer, ongoing formation, ministry and fellowship.
Secular Franciscans join a local fraternity — a living active Christian community — and become a spiritual family.
As brothers and sisters, they help one another in living out their shared calling to the Gospel life.
Conversion and conformity to His way of life is a lifelong process, carried out daily despite human frailty.
Strong and viable
The OFS has been active in Missouri for over 100 years, starting in St. Louis.
The order’s St. Elizabeth of Hungary Fraternity in Quincy, Illinois, which includes members from northern Missouri, was established in 1861.
“As a Canonically Established Fraternity, we are now officially part of all of that history,” said Ms. Gray.
The Joyful Servants Fraternity began in 2006 with one professed member, under the sponsorship of the San Damiano Fraternity in Dardenne Prairie.
Ms. Gray had made her profession in Florida in 1978.
When she and her husband moved to Missouri, she began attending meetings in Springfield. She then began traveling to Independence for meetings.
“I had been going there for years when finally, they threw me out of the boat and told me I need to start something here,” she said.
Sister Evelyn Peterman, now deceased, of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary agreed to help start a Secular Franciscan Fraternity in central Missouri.
Candidates usually spend three to five years in guided preparation and discernment before making their profession.
An OFS fraternity needs to have more than five professed members for longer than five years in order to receive official recognition from the Vatican and the local bishop.
Only then can the fraternity be canonically established.
Several professed members of the Joyful Servants Fraternity have moved through the years and become active in other fraternities.
“Yet, we have proven to be a strong and viable fraternity and an ongoing sign of Franciscan joy,” said Ms. Gray.
Based at Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish, the Joyful Servants fraternity how has 12 professed members from Boonville, Camdenton, Columbia, Fulton and Rolla, as well as two candidates.
United in hope
Fr. Jackson pointed out that the Blessed Mother found favor with God in her lowliness.
“So let that be part of your mission as a joyful servant,” the priest said.
He urged the members not to waste energy trying to be great.
“We have enough greatness out there!” he proclaimed. “We need the people who can be vulnerable, who can be small, who can be hidden, who are not afraid to be vulnerable, who are not afraid to be broken, who are not afraid to depend upon the providence of Christ and God’s Divine Mercy!”
He urged them receive the Body and Blood of Christ in full communion with the Church, and then allow themselves to be broken and given to others.
“Celebrate your oneness,” he said. “Celebrate what unites you: our hope in Jesus Christ. Remember that Christ is first, now and forever, the Joyful Servant.
Fr. Jackson then summoned each member and inquirer by name to stand before the altar and receive a blessing.
He then placed his signature on the four canonical documents establishing the fraternity, with Ms. Gray and Nancy Singh, the fraternity’s minister, serving at witnesses.
Steve Geldmacher, minister of the order’s St. Clare Regional Fraternity; Franciscan Father Thomas Nairn, provincial minister of the Sacred Heart Region of the Order of Friars Minor; and Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of the Jefferson City diocese previously signed the documents.
Mrs. Singh the proclaimed a section of the Secular Franciscan Rule: “The local fraternity is to be established canonically. It becomes the basic unit of the whole order and a visible sign of the Church, the community of love. This should be the privileged place for developing a sense of Church and the Franciscan vocation and for enlivening the apostolic life of its members.”
The Mass was offered in memory of Sr. Evelyn Marie, who was the fraternity’s first spiritual assistant, and Kathleen Sibarius, who was a member.
Assisting Fr. Jackson at the Mass was Deacon Joseph Puglis of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Columbia, who is the fraternity’s current spiritual assistant.
Jan Parker, national minister of the Secular Franciscan Order in the United States, led the singing.
Connie Shanks, the fraternity’s vice minister, and Ashley Kleiner, who became a candidate for membership that day, proclaimed the readings.
Mr. Geldmacher also attended.
“For the Joyful Servants, this is an amazing day,” Mrs. Singh said at the start of the Sept. 26 celebration. “It’s been a 14-year journey for us to get to this point. And it’s been an incredible journey.”
Living in the Word
At a simple reception after Mass, two inquirers who have been attending the meetings and studying The Rule became candidates.
They also received a simple wooden pendant of the Greek letter tau, a traditional symbol of the Franciscan order, to wear.
Together, they stated: “We ask to enter this fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order, so that we may live more intensely and faithfully the grace and dedication of our Baptism by following Jesus Christ according to the teachings and example of St. Francis of Assisi.
“In this way,” they continued, “we intend to be of service to all through our secular state of life for the glory of God and to fulfil His plan of love on behalf of all people.”
Both will continue their studies and discernment for at least two years before having the opportunity to become professed members of the fraternity.
“To me, being a Secular Franciscan is a way to radically give my everyday life to God while continuing to live in the world,” stated Ms. Kleiner, one of the new candidates.
She said the Franciscan calling is to live out the Gospel simply, as Jesus asked.
“The other Secular Franciscans give me hope because they challenge me to continually convert my life to God,” she said.
Kate Saltzman, the other new candidate, said she recognizes God working through the fraternity during these difficult times.
“We know that all people at all times are called to be joyful servants, whatever happens, because Jesus takes care of everything,” she stated.
God is in control
Connie Shanks, vice minister of the Joyful Servants Fraternity, said part of following Christ through St. Francis is knowing that Jesus loves her, no matter what she does or doesn’t do.
“He is in control and that all I have to do is surrender myself to Him and He will take care of everything,” she said.
Ms. Gray requested prayers for the members of the Joyful Servants Fraternity to remain strong in love and joy “as we serve our sisters and brothers in our local communities and in our fraternity, especially in these challenging times.”
Ms. Kleiner suggested also praying for health and faith — “and we as Secular Franciscans will continue to pray for and serve God’s children in mid-Missouri.”
Contact Ms. Gray at 660-882-3133 for information about discerning a possible calling to Secular Franciscan life in the Joyful Servants Fraternity.