September 2022 – Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director

Thoughts from your Appointed Regional Formation Director
Ted Bienkowski, OFS
Initial Formation Part 2.
September, 2022

Dearest sisters and brothers in Christ and Saint Francis.
In July we discussed the first contact in the “Pathway to Profession” chart. We also discussed why the Interview and Faith Inventory was so important. This month we will continue to discuss this but move to the actual Interview and some of the interview questions that are very important. The Pathways chart is available in the FUN Manual on-line at the Saint Katherine Drexel Region web site:

As I said last month, this critical step, when it is ignored can be the start of major problems for the council and fraternity. The Formation Director is responsible for making sure this Initial Interview and faith inventory is correctly completed. The Interview Guide can be found in the FUN Manual (1). I suggest you copy it, add your Fraternity Header and use it as it is written because it has been approved by both our Region and National Fraternity Councils.

Step 2: Initial Interview and faith inventory
I have always encouraged individual starting the process to bring their spouses to a few gatherings just so they see what their loved one is getting involved with. And you never know, it just might spark their interest also! I also encourage the applicant to have their spouse write a letter of support. We do not want to be the cause of marital discord.

In the next section I will go through the interview and explain why it is important and its impact down the line if not done correctly.

Conducting the Interview

It should be noted that the first sentence of the interview guide says “…should be acquired through person-to-person dialogue. It is NOT2 to be ‘filled out’ by the interested person…” this is important because once in a dialog, the interviewer will be listening to the individual and will be hearing their story. It also gives the interviewed the opportunity to ask follow up questions and the interviewer to understand what is happening with the individual. Little comments can also uncover issues that need to be resolved.

The first section, personal info, is easy and pretty self-explanatory unless the individual becomes reluctant to give the information. This is true of all the questions, someone not willing to share this type of information may not be suited for fraternal life.

Sacramental information:

All interested individual must supply a copy of their Sacramental records. This includes their Baptismal record, First Communion record, Confirmation record and marriage records. In many cases where the individual had all four sacraments at the same parish the baptismal certificate should have the other records certified on the back of the Baptismal Certificate. This is supposed to be true in all cases but much of the time the records do not get to the baptizing parish in cases where the individual received the Sacraments in many Parishes. In any case, the individual is required and responsible to supply them and may need some time to get them. There are no exceptions to this requirement. Remind them to supply a copy only. These documents should then become part of their permanent record at the fraternity and will not be returned.

Where problems seem to happen the most is in the marriage arena. Divorce and remarriage are much more common today than ever before. Interfaith Marriages outside of the Catholic Church is also more common than ever before. In all cases, a divorced person must have a decree of nullity if they have remarried. And if they were married outside of the Catholic Church, they should obtain a certificate of convalidation (3) from their Parish. Divorce is not the only issue today. The intent of the question is: Are you in a valid “Sacramental ‘Catholic’ Marriage”. Based on Catholic teaching and doctrine, individuals in common law marriages, civil unions, civil marriages, same sex marriages, or remarried without an annulment and so forth are not valid Catholic Sacramental marriages. As long as an individual persists in an invalid marriage, they cannot be a professed Secular Franciscan because it violates church teaching and doctrine which we profess to support, this is non-negotiable. It is important to resolve these issues and make sure you have all the documentation before the individual gets too far down the profession path. I would recommend that all the documents be collected and on record before they finish Orientation. It should be noted that this also applies to a person who is already Professed. What does that mean? It means that if a person who is already professed divorces and eventually wants to re-marry, a decree of nullity is still required. If that is not obtained, they should voluntarily withdraw or be removed from the order. The same holds true if they enter into any other form of non-valid, non-sacramental relationship (4) after profession. This is not a new requirement, there are no “Grandfather Clauses” and this has been Church teaching for over a thousand years and should have been enforced all

The Miscellaneous information:
A key thing to look for here is, is the individual so involved in other church activities, civic organizations, work, or has so little time, that they will not have the time for true, conscientious required by fraternity life. Are they professional joiners? If you see a person belongs to… and the list goes on for miles, be  wary. Explain to them that they may have to make a choice. And with the exception of a family issue, the fraternity and their commitment to it must come first. Also keep an eye out for secret organizations such as the Free Masons. Regardless of how much “Good Works” they do, Church teaching bands all Catholics from becoming a member of the Masons. Lastly; Letters of reference. At a minimum, the applicant needs reference letters from their pastor or spiritual director and another Catholic person who knows them  well. They are to attest to the best of their ability that the individual is a Catholic in good standing, devout and has no known impediments. I like to include their spouses to insure they support their spouses’ journey.

In my Fraternity, we get the names and addresses from them and send the letters ourselves with an enclosed self-addressed and stamped envelope. The Regional Formation Guide has standard form reference letters for Pastors and others. I encourage you to use them!

What Next?
So now that you have completed the Interview and Faith Inventory what do you do with it? Great question. The Formation Director or whoever conducted the interview, will then present the interview form with answers and notes to the Formation Team if you have one. The team will discuss the answers and determine if they feel there is some impediment and how serious that impediment is. In many cases impediments can be resolved fairly easily and quickly. In some cases, you will need the assistance of your Spiritual Assistant (who is supposed to be part of the formation team) or a local Pastor to get advice. Such as in the case of an irregular marriage. If you don’t have a formation team the person conducting the interview will share the results with the entire Fraternity Council. Keeping in mind, there are rare situations where a Spiritual Assistant, Pastor or Priest and other members of the council may not be in support of Catholic teachings concerning valid sacramental life especially in regards to marriage, divorce, and irregular unions. Regardless, we (the Secular Franciscans) must follow approved Churches Doctrine and teachings which we have committed ourselves to. The Spiritual Assistant (SA) does not have the authority to mandate any guidance to the fraternity when it contradicts Church Teaching. The Spiritual Assistants handbook states: “…

SA’s are not: directors i.e., giving orders; not dictators, i.e., running the whole program; not experts, i.e., having answers for everything…(5) ” Please contact a member of the Regional Council in such cases. Once the Formation Team completes a review and develops a recommendation, the Formation Director will present the recommendation to the entire council. Once they review and discuss the individual’s responses, the council has the opportunity to ask the Formation Director additional questions. Once a simple majority agrees, the person is invited to enter the “Orientation Phase”

Next month we will discuss Orientation in some detail.


1 FUN Manual Pages 51 thru 54
2 Emphasis is theirs

3 This is where the local Catholic Church ratifies their marriage as Catholic thru a ceremony much like a wedding. Normally can be done by their pastor or parish priest.
4 ibid

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