The Formation Program
The Third Order Formation program consists of a minimum 3-year period of both discernment and formation – discernment as to God’s call to the religious life in general and to the Franciscan life in particular, and formation as a Franciscan tertiary. It is a time of testing for both the individual and the Order: Is the Franciscan vocation the expression of Christian life to which God is calling you? You will be asked to take a hard look at yourself, your attitudes and way of relating to God and to others. You may discover you are really a Benedictine at heart, or called to conventual community, or might be happier as an SSF Associate. Formation is a time of discovering these things, as well as a time of growth in Franciscan spirituality and of learning to live a rule of life.
Our formation program is mainly conducted by mail with monthly written reports to an assigned counselor. This monthly review helps you take stock of how you are doing and helps the counselor assess progress and get to know you better. Participation in the local Third Order fellowship is expected when one is available. A vocation to the Third Order is a vocation to community.
All Franciscan Tertiaries must be under spiritual direction. You may already have a spiritual director, or the concept may be new to you. We suggest that you choose one who will understand your commitment to a radical Christianity in the Franciscan way, a person who prays and with whom you can communicate well.
How To Begin
An aspirant begins the process by contacting Janet Wakefield, the Inquirer Secretary. The next step is to complete a Personal History Form (including a spiritual autobiography) and write a personal Rule of Life which is consistent with the Principles of the Order and the nine prescribed areas of the Rule, including: Holy Eucharist, Penitence, Personal Prayer, Self-Denial, Retreat, Study, Simplicity, Work and Obedience. The aspirant also is introduced to some tools for discernment in which s/he begins to intentionally listen for God’s call. There is usually a period of several months in which the aspirant “tries on” living with the proposed Rule, does some reading about discernment and about St. Francis, and does some praying about discernment.
Becoming a Postulant
Postulancy begins when your proposed Rule of Life has been approved and your first written report has been received. The formation program consists of monthly reporting to a formation counselor, usually by mail, by phone or skype, or by e-mail. Reports deal with how the person is living the personal Rule of Life; regular work with a Spiritual Director; study of the Formation material; and involvement with the local Franciscan fellowship where such is available. Formation is a team process consisting of the person in formation, the formation counselor, the Formation Director and his/her Assistant and the Chaplain. The process is confidential within the team.
Postulancy is a trial period with the main focus on discernment whether the postulant and Order are suited to each other. Postulants report for at least 6 months and 6 reports at which time, at the recommendation of the formation counselor, the spiritual director and the local fellowship convener, the postulant may apply for admission as a novice.
Becoming a Novice
The novice joins the community by making a promise to continue the formation process, follow the Principles of the Order and continue to follow the personal Rule of Life. The promise is made for one year. After the period of at least one year, the formation progress is reviewed by the team as well as the spiritual director and the local fellowship. During this period the novice continues to work with the personal Rule of Life, fine tuning it to fit the individual’s life situation. S/he studies Franciscan spirituality and the life of St. Francis and participates in the sacramental life of the church, including the Eucharist and Reconciliation. After a minimum of 24 months as a novice and 24 novice reports, the novice may apply for life profession.
The novice is evaluated by the formation team on their commitment to the Order as demonstrated by following their personal Rule of Life, financial commitment to the Order, involvement with the local fellowship where this is available and regular spiritual direction. With recommendation by the formation counselor, the spiritual director and the local fellowship, the novice’s request to make life profession is forwarded to Chapter. If elected to profession, the Chaplain notifies the individual of same and gives the mandate for profession. The individual then makes his/her life profession to the community.