What is the Third Order?

The chapel cross of Casa Franciscana, Rio de Janeiro.Are you seeking a spirituality of joy? Are you looking for a community with a contemplative heart that pursues justice, peace, and the loving care of creation? The Third Order of the Society of St. Francis is an Anglican/Episcopal religious order for people of all kinds—single and in committed relationships, lay and ordained—who live by Franciscan principles “in the world.” This is the order founded by Francis himself for those who were drawn to his way but felt called to live it out right where they were.

Francis of Assisi is one of the most cherished saints in the history of the church. But he lived and died eight centuries ago. What is so attractive about his way that people still want to follow it? Francis had a genius for seeing the face of Christ in everyone he met: bishop or leper, Christian or Muslim, friend or stranger. Francis faced some of the biggest questions of his day: How to respond to the growing gap between rich and poor? How to make peace between enemies? What is our relationship to the world God made? Where is God when we suffer? Because these are also the questions of our own day, Francis has much to say to us.

Francis took on the challenges of his time with humility, love, and joy. We in the Third Order today are companions on this same road. We invite you to explore this site and consider whether this way might be for you, too. In the name of Christ and in the words of St. Francis, we wish you peace and all good!

We are neither “wanna be” nuns or friars, a “pious guild” nor a devotional society. We are lay and clergy, married and single, serving God as we are called, in the ordinary occupations of life. We do not live together in community, wear habits, or follow the rule of literal poverty that Francis chose for himself and his friars minor; that was surely never his intention for secular Franciscans with family and work responsibilities. Because we are an Order, the shape of our lives is formed in context of the Order’s Principles and Rule. Being a Franciscan tertiary is one of many ways of responding to God’s love; it is a specific vocation which will not be “right” for everyone.

The Anglican Franciscan movement began in the U.S., England and India early in the twentieth century. The Third Order in the American Province was founded in 1917. It maintains close familial ties with First and Second Order sisters and brothers. It has its own provincial and worldwide governments, constitution, novice training programs and statutes. There are about 3,100 Anglican Third Order Franciscans worldwide. About 600 live in the American Province, which includes North, South and Central America, Hawaii, and the West Indies.


The Story of St. Francis

About Body ImageFrancesco Bernadone was the son of a wealthy merchant. For the first twenty-seven years of his life, Francis was an elegantly dressed playboy. His rich imagination, coupled with his father’s hope that he would earn a title for the family, led him into dreams of becoming a knight. When he was seventeen, the men of Assisi attacked the local fort while the duke was away. They killed everyone in sight and tore down the walls, using the stones to build a protective wall around their city. Francis surely took part in that assault and helped to build the wall afterward. Made confident by their easy victory, the citizens of Assisi later attacked the neighboring town of Perugia where the duke had taken refuge. They were quickly defeated and Francis spent time as a prisoner of war. The seeds of his conversion were sown during that time.

Some years later, Francis again went to war as part of a contingent of citizens of Assisi who rode to the aid of the besieged Papal army. As Francis rode along he heard a voice call to him: “Francis! Who do you serve? The servant or the master?” At first he thought it was an impertinent companion, but when he saw he was alone, he realized it was the Lord’s voice that he heard. “I am at your service, Lord,” he replied. “Just tell me what you would have me do.” At the Lord’s request, the obedient Francis returned to Assisi but never again to the playboy lifestyle he had left behind.

Francis came to mirror the love of Christ and the living Gospel so closely that nearly everyone who met him wanted to follow his way. He realized that not everyone could or should take up a celibate life of poverty and homelessness, yet he recognized that people unable to do this were still drawn to serve God with deeply committed hearts and lives. Long before Francis was born, groups of men and women in ordinary secular walks of life were living under rule and vows as members of “Third Orders.” Francis saw this as an appropriate answer for many of his followers, and so, eight hundred years ago, the “Brothers and Sisters of Penance,” later known as “Third Order” or “Secular” Franciscans, came to be.


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