February 2023 Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director

Dearest sisters and brothers in Christ and Saint Francis.

As promised, we will start to discuss the transition to the Inquiry phase. But first I
would like to do a bit of a review and make sure we are all on the same page.

  • As you will recall, in the first publication we discussed appropriate formation materials and the “Pathway to Profession” ( Fun Manual under the Profession Chapter. The FUN Manual is available on-line at the Saint Katherine Drexel Region web site: http://www.skdregion.org/ 2 FUN Manual Pages 51 thru 54)  In all cases initial formation must follow those guidelines.
  • It is also suggested that a person interested in the order be encouraged to
    attend two or three regular gatherings before starting any initial formation.
    This gives them an opportunity to get to know the fraternity and the
    fraternity to get to know them before starting the process.
  • The next step is the “Initial Interview and faith inventory” (Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order – Chapter One, pages 9 – 10)
    • This includes General Personal information, name, birthday, marital
      status and so on.
    • It also includes documentation of sacramental information, religious
      education, various other information and names and addresses for
      their personal references including their pastor.
    • This is an important step that should not be skipped. And the
      individual should not be allowed to enter Inquiry without suppling
      them or identifying any problems in getting them.
  • Once the Interview is completed the interviewer will present that
    information to the formation team and the council to discuss if there are
    any impediments or other serious issues like irregular marriages, same
    sex unions, Divorce and remarriage without an annulment.

    • Once the council agrees there are no unmanageable impediments,
      the individual is invited to enter the “Orientation Phase”.
  • Orientation is at a minimum three months long. In that time, the individual
    and the formation team (Director) will review the first three chapters in the
    formation book “The Franciscan Journey” assigning the individual written
    homework that will be collected and available for review by the council.
  • The homework turned in can assist greatly in understanding the
    individual’s spirituality and orthodoxy. This homework can be returned
    after profession or departure from formation.

    • During this time, the individual should have provided a copy of the
      following records:
      ▪ Baptismal Record
      ▪ First Communion Record
      ▪ Confirmation Record
      ▪ All Marriage Records
      ▪ Any Holy Order Records (Priest and Deacons)
      ▪ All Divorce and Annulment records.
    • The Formation Director should have also received responses from
      the individuals’ references:
      ▪ Their Pastor
      ▪ A close friend (Catholic)
      ▪ A Spiritual Advisor other than their pastor, if they have one

There are times through no fault of their own, an individual has a hard time
getting some of these records. In such cases, the local council should work with the
individual and their pastor to overcome the issue if possible

At the end of Orientation, the Formation Team (Director) should sit down with the
individual and discuss their feelings, general direction and jointly decide if the person
should request to move on to the “Inquiry Phase” which is technically the beginning of
Initial Formation. In my fraternity, we actually ask the individual to write a formal letter
requesting entry into Inquiry and why they want that.

With all this done, the individual(s) go through the “Ceremony of Introduction and
Welcoming”3 which is not a liturgical rite and therefore should not be done during liturgy
or prayer. But should be conducted during the regular portion of the gathering. Once
completed, Inquiry Phase and formal initial formation begins!

Next time we will the Inquiry phase in much more detail

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


September 2022 – Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director

Thoughts from your Appointed Regional Formation Director
Ted Bienkowski, OFS tedjohn@ptd.net
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: http://www.skdregion.org/

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

Formation Resource February 2021 by Justin Carisio, OFS, Regional Formation Director

SKD Formation Monthly-February 2021

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This month I offer for our reflection some thoughts on the Holy Name of Jesus, devotion to which has deep Franciscan roots. Lent is a good time to meditate on the name of Jesus which St. Francis spoke lovingly and often among his brothers.


I also encourage you to visit one of the Capuchin websites and read a short article on St. Francis and Lent. We are told that St. Francis “observed Lent with the utmost seriousness.” The link is here: St. Francis of Assisi & Lent – Capuchin Franciscans (capuchins.org)

May you have a holy and blessed Lent! 
Pax et bonum,
Justin Carisio, OFS
Formation Director

October 2020 from the Regional Formation Director

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August, 2020 – Thoughts from your Formation Director, Justin Carisio

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From the Regional Formation Director - Justin Carisio, OFS - June 2020

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From the Regional Formation Director – April 2020

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Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director – March 2020

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PLEASE NOTE:  This posting is for March 2020 even though February is cited in the title.

From the Formation Director – October 2019

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