Structure and Governance

This Reflection is based on material found on page 13,14 of 18 ff, in the "Nature of the Secular Franciscan Order" section of the F.U.N. Manual

"Today the SFO has a centralized structure of government (see structure of SFO in Appendix 2). It has acquired the self-awareness of being a single Fraternity [comprising of all levels of fraternity] with respect to its structure and has decided to overcome the divisions that occurred within the First Order.

"Governance is accomplished through the fraternity councils at the various levels in a relationship of collegiality and consensus, with most activities being conducted at the lowest possible level, (called subsidiarity), in order to afford the local fraternity the highest degree of flexibility within the Order.

"Higher levels of fraternity exist to animate and guide the lower level (local) fraternities and intervene only when an issue cannot be resolved at a lower level or when it involves more than one fraternity.

"We must become fully aware of this centralized structure of government in order to acquire the necessary sense of belonging to both our local fraternity and to all of the fraternities at higher levels. We live out our profession within our own local fraternity where we are called to serve, but we are also part of the whole Order and may be asked to share our talents and gifts at higher levels of fraternity. We become part of the whole and need to embrace this reality and accept a true sense of belonging at all levels of the order."

At the Five Franciscan Martyrs Region Annual Meeting held on Pentecost (weekend) 2012, at San Pedro Retreat Center, which I attended, I recall that Deacon Tom Bello, OFS (National Minister) mentioned something about this. He said, "Each of us are in a lineage of 4 Fraternities, International, National, Regional, and local Fraternity." And I thought at the time how novel this is, considering that in the old structure (pre-Rule of 1978) that was really never the case. But here we have it again, "We become part of the whole and need to embrace this reality and accept a true sense of belonging at all levels of the order." (as in previously quoted paragraph).

The chapter continues that "Profession incorporates the person into the Order. (Gen. Const. 42.2 and Preliminary Notes of the Ritual, 14c), that is into the Order as a whole, so it is not possible to live in this reality without being aware of all the members that make it up.

When I was priviledged to attend the General Chapter of 2008 (Hungary), the sense of belonging to all levels was palpable. If you had been there, I think you would agree with me.

"The Rule of subsidiarity, then, is crucial.

Local Fraternities are the fundamental units of the Order and in them, live our brothers and sisters.

The Fraternities have (and should have) a broad capacity for self-determination and what they are properly able to do. They must do this without undue intrusion of higher levels.

The regional and national governing bodies are liaison and coordination structures designed to offer service, guidance and to guarantee legality. Their primary objective is to serve, link up, coordinate and, always, animate and guide."

So who are these regional and national governing bodies, for example for S. Franciscans living in Florida? The Regional fraternity is "Five Franciscan Martyrs Region," and the National Fraternity is NAFRA or National Fraternity (USA). Each country where there is an Established Secular Franciscan presence, has a National Fraternity and if the country is large, there will be Regional Fraternities.

The chart in Appendix 2 (page 18 of 18, in the chapter titled, "Nature of the Secular Franciscan Order) shows this relationship from the Local Fraternity (All Professed Members) to and including the Presidency - International Fraternity, it really needs no further explanation. Important to this structure is that "the Spiritual Assistance of our Order is provided to us at the request of the Holy See and with our concurrance."

In USA we are far away from those who serve CIOFS, and yet we are not. CIOFS consists of Professed Franciscans elected by the International Councillors who reside in many different countries. When they meet in official meetings, they come to Rome or other suitable locations (in 2008 it was Hungary, and last year, they met in Brazil). These servants within our Order are elected from among the Professed. They are part of us, and we are part of them. Even though Divine Mercy Fraternity in Vero Beach, FL, is where I serve, the brothers and sisters of the Regional, National fraternities and CIOFS are never far from my thoughts. We are ONE - We are the Secular Franciscan Order. It is a joy the be a Franciscan!


Peace and Good,

Fred Schaeffer, OFS
June 22, 2012