NEW YORK CITY
by Ian Trammell
In the early thirteenth century Saint Francis of Assisi founded a religious order which was to survive to this day. Around 1207
It seems Francis wanted to live a life of preaching, penance, and poverty. In 1209, with a small group of followers, he traveled to Rome. Here Francis was granted approval for his rule by Pope Innocent III. This rule stated that Franciscan friars could not own anything. The friars were tasked with wandering around and helping the poor and sick. They were not permitted to accept money in the form of donations or alms so instead they worked or begged for food. They soon spread out from Italy all over the globe.
Since its foundation the Order has developed into three actual orders.
- The First Order is made up of lay brothers and priests who have promised to lead a life of prayer, preaching, and penance.
- The Second Order is made up of cloistered nuns, in the Order of Saint Clare, who are known as the Poor Clares.
- The Third Order of Franciscans is formed from religious and lay men and women who try to follow Francis' teaching on education, charity, and social service.
Because of disputes early in its history the entire Order fractured into three distinct organizations - the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (OFM Cap), and the Order of Friars Minor Conventual (OFM Conv.) [There are also Anglican Franciscans in the Society of St. Francis.] The Franciscans at West 31st St. belong to the Order of Friars Minor (OFM).
Collectively, the Franciscans are now the largest religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. In this capacity they have had 98 of their members canonized into sainthood and have had 6 men elevated to the pontificate.
The Franciscans in New York
On West 31st St., near New York's Penn Station, there is the beautiful Saint Francis Church with an austere building attached to it. This building is the Saint Francis Friary.
There are 46 friars presently living in the building, aged 29 to 85. Each friar continues in the Rule created by Saint Francis of Assisi so long ago. We may picture such a friary nestled somewhere in remote forest, housing friars dressed in brown, praying for the rest of the Church. This is not at all the image produced by this huge friary. Rather than being nestled among trees, this house is tucked in among skyscrapers.
When Francis began his order he directed the friars to move into the cities where they would do the most good for the people. Over time this objective faded, but is now returning. This stronghold of Franciscan piety is proof of this.
The church itself holds 13 masses daily in every language you can think of. Confessions runs all day long from 6:45am until 7:00pm. There are also popular devotions for each day of the week. The friars at this church do not only run the church, but also sponsor and run a host of public outreach programs. These include a daily bread line, coupled with an outreach ministry, running since 1924.
Adult education programs, programs for those who are separated or divorced, a counseling center, and a Come Home program which seeks to bring gay and lesbian Catholics back to the Church.
As if this is not enough they also sponsor every 12 step program that ever existed such as AA, sex addict's anonymous, and transvestite's anonymous to name a few. There are also many ethnic programs in place.
When Francis began his ministry he worked in the cities in order to make the biggest difference. His goal was to bridge the gap between the institution of the Church and its people. After his death the order became monasticized. In recent years the order has returned to its original spirit of working with the poor in the midst of the poor. The friary of Saint Francis is a fine example of this.
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