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

SKD Formation Monthly-October 2020

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

SKD Formation Monthly-August 2020

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

SKD Formation Monthly-June 2020

From the Regional Formation Director – April 2020

SKD Formation Monthly-April 2020

Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director – March 2020

SKD Formation Monthly-February 2020 SKD Formation Monthly-February 2020

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

From the Formation Director – October 2019

SKD Formation Monthly-October 2019  


Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director August 2019 Text version

“You are Beauty”
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever
is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think
about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
In the fall of 1224, St. Francis of Assisi spent forty days on the cold and windy heights of Mount Laverna in Tuscany. It was at that time that he experienced the vision of a six-winged Seraph, after which the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion appeared on his body. In the aftermath of this extraordinary experience, Francis took a small piece of parchment and wrote, on one side of it “The Praises of God.”1 He begins by addressing God: “You are the holy Lord God Who does wonderful things.”2  In twenty lines or so he names attributes of his Heavenly Father and King, who is “the good, all good, the highest good.” On some points he repeats himself. For example, twice he says, “You are beauty, You are meekness.”

The inspiration to call God beauty is one of Francis’s insights. Francis had an innate appreciation
for true beauty. We know from his “Canticle of the Creatures” that he saw beauty in the natural
world, and he describes the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Fire as “beautiful.” His own taste for beautiful
music and poetry were plain for all to see. Working in his father’s cloth business, he would have
developed an appreciation for the beauty present in human design and craft. But it was his
spiritual insight—his gift and grace—to see true beauty as emanating from God’s divine beauty.
We live in a culture that often promotes the ugly and vulgar as trendy and stylish or uses the
unbeautiful to obscure and diminish true beauty. With St. Francis as our Seraphic Father, Secular
Franciscans should claim love for God who is beauty as a spiritual inheritance and use it to
evangelize our world.

In doing so we certainly are not alone. Bishop Robert Barron in his documentaries on
Catholicism has identified beauty in Catholic art, architecture, music and writing as a way to
reach people who hunger for truth and who seek meaning in their lives. In this he echoes Pope
Benedict XVI who sees the Church’s legacy of beauty and the lives of the saints as central to the
spread of Christianity in the 21st century. “The only really effective apologia for Christianity,”
Pope Benedict says, “comes down to two arguments, namely the saints the Church has produced
and the art which has grown in her womb.”3

In speaking to a group of clergy, he said, “All the great works of art, cathedrals—the Gothic cathedrals and the splendid Baroque churches—they are all a luminous sign of God.”4
And to a gathering of artists he added, “the experience of beauty…leads to a direct encounter with the daily reality of our lives, liberating it from darkness, transfiguring it, making it radiant and beautiful.”

How can we as Secular Franciscans respond to beauty to grow spiritually and to evangelize those
around us? Consider a few that are simple and obvious:
• In the splendor of nature. Clouds, sunsets, storms, mountain vistas, fireflies, birds, streams of
water, night skies—the manifestations of natural beauty are endless. St. Francis has given us
the perfect formula for responding to such beauty: “Be praised my Lord for
Brother/Sister….” Join with him often in that hymn of praise.

• In the beauty of liturgy, scripture and sacred art and architecture. There is a sublime beauty
in the Mass, in the parables of Jesus and in the Psalms and hymns of praise throughout
Scripture. Be attentive also to the beauty of sacred art and liturgical spaces, especially those
that have stood for a long time and which echo with the prayers and praise of generations.
• In the honest handiwork of men and women. A well-cultivated garden, food lovingly
prepared, a magnificent suspension bridge, light through a stained-glass window, a pitcher’s
curve ball. God may be glorified through the beauty of human works both humble and grand.
• In the lives of others. St. Francis said of his encounter with lepers that, “when I left them,
what had seen bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body.”6 The priest-poet
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in one of his great sonnets: “Christ plays in ten thousand
places,/ Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.”

Finally, be open to the great effect of beauty, which is joy. Jesuit theologian John Navone wrote,
“Joy, as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, always evidences the experience of God’s beauty.”
7 By living the gospel life, we participate in God’s beautification of the Church and the world. Let us join
with Francis and utter joyfully to our Lord with awe and deep gratitude, “You are beauty.”
From the OFS Rule and General Constitutions
• Trusting the Father, Christ chose for Himself and His mother a poor and humble life, even
though He valued created things attentively and lovingly. Let the Secular Franciscans seek a
proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs.
Let them be mindful that according to the gospel they are stewards of the goods received for
the benefit of God’s children. [Rule, 11]
• They should love and practice purity of heart, the source of true fraternity. [GenConst., 15.4]

For discussion or reflection
• Read aloud St. Francis’s “Praises of God.” How does his impassioned prayer move you?
• Think of a moment in which you encountered beauty today. How might such an experience
inspire you to give praise and thanksgiving to God. What form would your praise take?

1 Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap., et al., editors, Francis of Assisi, Early Documents, Volume I, The Saint (New City Press, 1999), 108.
2 Armstrong, 109.
3 https://www.benedictinstitute.org/2018/01/the-splendor-of-holiness-and-art/, accessed August 12, 2019.
4 Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, Cathedral of Bressanone, August, 6, 2008.
5 Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with Artists, Sistine Chapel, November 21, 2009.
6 Armstrong, 124.
7John Navone, SJ, Enjoying God’s Beauty (The Liturgical Press, 1999), 7.
Image: Crucifix in the Basilica of Santa Croce. https://travelpast50.com/basilica-santa-croce-florence-italy/

Copyright ©2019 by Justin Carisio, OFS