October 2022 Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director

Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director

Ted Bienkowski, OFS tedjohn@ptd.net

Initial Formation Part 3.

October, 2022

Dearest sisters and brothers in Christ and Saint Francis.

In the September issue of “Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director” we discussed conducting the initial interview for seekers, their sacramental information, some thoughts on miscellaneous information and what to do with the results of the interview.  Once the Formation Team and the local Fraternity Council vote and decide to ask the individual to start Initial Formation that person should be informed of the results and provided with all the required written material, I have broken them down into four lists:

  1. Provided by the Fraternity[1]before Orientation actually begins
    1. The “Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order” (The Red Book)
    2. The “Franciscan Journey[2]” initial formation book
    3. The “Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order” the brown book
  2. Provided by the Fraternity before Inquiry begins
    1. Copies of the National Constitutions and Statutes
    2. Copy of the Saint Katharine Drexel Regional Hand Book
    3. Essential Documents of the Secular Franciscan Order
  3. Provided by the Fraternity before Candidacy begins
    1. Copy of any Local Fraternity documents such as prayer books, directories, prayer chains and so on[3]
  4. The individual should acquire on their own the following prior to Inquiry
    1. An approved version of the Catholic Bible[4]both Old and New Testaments
    2. A copy of the Liturgy of the Hours or Christian Prayer

Once the required material has been given to the individual, the Formation Director should sit down with the person and explain what is required during initial formation.  Meaning what is expected of them.  The person should study the chapter prior to the initial formation gathering.  They should 1. read the entire chapter, 2. review as many of the references in the chapter they can find and prayerfully reflect on the questions at the end of the chapter.  Our Fraternity starts out assigning three or four of the questions as written homework that is collected by the formation director.  One of them is always the Scripture reflection. The amount of time spent in preparation by the interested person really depends on their own study habits and ability to absorb the material.  I would say as a general rule, at least several hours a week if not more.  Prep time will be obvious by their homework and engagement in the formation discussions.

During the Initial Formation gathering itself, the person(s) is asked to share their thoughts about the chapter in a general way, and then to discuss the in detail the questions assigned.  The rest of the formation team and persons in formation have the opportunity to add to the discussion[5].  Each person often has slightly different answers or thoughts that make it interesting and sometimes enlightening for all.

This pattern is followed for all three phases of Initial Formation.  The homework is collected (and saved by the formator) so that when the Formation Team and Council need to look at the individual’s progress, they are not relying on memory.    Once all three phases are complete and any discussions and voting takes place the homework is returned to the Individual.  I always encourage them to review it from time to time and use it as a journaling exercise.

A Focus on Orientation

Before Orientation actually begins, the “Ceremony of Welcoming” should be done.  It is intended to make the person feel wanted and welcomed.  It is not done as a part of liturgy and should be done at a regular Fraternity Gathering[6].

There are only three chapters in “Orientation” and at first look, it may seem simple and not as deep or important as some others but this is absolutely not true!  Orientation lays the foundation for the rest of the process and provides a guidepost for the individual.  By the end of Chapter 2,theformation team should have a good idea of the person’s thought process, although there must be room and grace given for growth and continued conversion.


Chapter two “Three Orders, Structures, Discernment[7]” is a very important chapter.  Although all of the chapters are important, chapter two has two lists that should be dwelled on and carefully discussed.  They are “Signs that may indicate the presence of a vocation to the SFO[8],[9]  and just as important, “Signs that may indicate that a vocation to the SFO is not present”[10],[11].


Now, there is a danger with lists like this.  Most people with a relatively humble spirt could look at the list and say “I do that!  Or I don’t do that!”  whereas they really live in both worlds occasionally failing on one or falling into the other.  The real question is where are they most of the time and are they willing to move forward and change!


Next month, we will look at these lists in some detail!

[1] Although I say “Provided by the Fraternity” our fraternity lets them know how much the materials cost and asks them to assist in paying for them if they can afford it.  But we never stop a person because they did not pay for the materials.

[2] The “Franciscan Journey” is the only approved formation manual and study book and must be used until the “National Formation Commission” is finished developing new formation material and makes it available.

[3] It should be noted that if there is ever a conflict between these local documents and regional or higher fraternal documents the higher council documents always take presidents.

[4] Approved by The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)

[5] Having multiple people sharing at the gathering always enhances the shared effect and builds fraternity between the individuals.

[6] Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order Part 1 Preface Par 3.11, 3.12 page 4; Chapter 1, page 9 and 10 “Ceremony of Introduction and Welcome”

[7]The Franciscan Journey page 8

[8]The Franciscan Journey page 15 and 16

[9] Emphasis theirs

[10] The Franciscan Journey page 17 and 18

[11] Emphasis theirs


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