Franciscan Institute Receives Anonymous Gift

Beth Eberth Features

ALLEGANY, N.Y. – An anonymous gift to the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University will create an endowment that will offer opportunities for women and men in the Franciscan family to learn about their own tradition and bring those values into their local communities, cities and ministries.

The Endowment for the Celebration of The Third Order Regular of St. Francis will provide funding for a variety of purposes that support the continued Franciscan education of members of the Third Order Regular (TOR), including:

  • scholarships for members of the TOR, especially the sisters, to attend the Franciscan Institute;
  • financial support of programs, workshops, projects and/or publications offered by the Franciscan Institute that present particular benefit to members of the TOR;
  • salary support for faculty members in the Franciscan Institute who teach courses pertaining to topics of interest of members of the TOR; and
  • financial support of the general needs of the Franciscan Institute as it serves the members of the TOR.

“This new endowment will especially provide scholarship assistance to enable our North American Third Order sisters to attend our School of Franciscan Studies. And, it will support other educational opportunities like workshops and other kinds of programs that will benefit the Third Order sisters,” said Michael Cusato, OFM, director of the Franciscan Institute and dean of the School of Franciscan Studies.

Michael said many female religious communities now allocate enormous financial resources to support their aging populations who had in years past dedicated their lives in service to others.

“Because of this, it has become increasingly difficult for them to send their sisters on for further study. The scholarships awarded through this endowment and the opportunities now made available for continuing education through workshops and special lectures will help such communities reach their goal of educating the next generation of sisters in the spiritual and intellectual traditions of Francis, Clare and their followers,” he said.

The origin of The Third Order Regular sisters comes from the 13th century, Michael explained, when St. Francis’ vision and message touched many men and women who had their own families and jobs, and yet wanted to follow in some manner the ideals of Francis and his brothers. This group of men and women, living in their homes, constituted what came to be called the Third Order Secular, or Secular Franciscans. By the end of the 13th century, however, a certain number of women had begun living and praying together in single-gendered communities, dedicated to a particular ministry or work of mercy and using their own personal resources to help build that ministry.

Different from the male followers of St. Francis, who gave up their possessions to live in total poverty, these women pooled their goods together to help fund a much-needed ministry in their towns and villages. Such communities of women who professed vows and followed a rule came to be called the Third Order Regular – “regular” because they were religious sisters who followed an approved rule (in Latin, a regula).

It was in the 15th and 16th centuries that communities of Third Order Regular men, dedicated to ministries similar to those being done by the Third Order Regular sisters, began to blossom. Similarly, such men did not profess a vow of total poverty as did the First Order followers of St. Francis. Hence, today, there are communities of Third Order Regular women (sisters) and Third Order Regular men (priests and brothers) dedicated to specific ministries such as hospital care, teaching and missionary work.

“We are tremendously grateful to our anonymous donor whose generosity and vision will enable the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University to especially assist our Franciscan sisters of North America to expand their understanding of the transforming vision of Franciscan life and ministry,” said Michael.