ALLEGANY, N.Y. — More than 230 Franciscans representing 45 congregations gathered last month at St. Bonaventure University to commemorate a moment 25 years ago that helped Third Order Franciscans worldwide reconnect with their faith and tradition.
St. Bonaventure President Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, and Franciscan studies professor Jean-François Godet-Calogeras were pivotal figures in helping the Third Order Regular (TOR) Franciscans rewrite their Rule of Life, first approved in the 13th Century but not modified since 1927.
Many people who lent their voices to the evolutionary process more than two decades ago attended the April 19 to 20 event. All but one of the congregations attending were from the United States; the other is from Canada.
Time for Reunion
Roland Faley, TOR, a TOR friar active in the development of the Rule, was keynote speaker at the festival of the 25th anniversary of the TOR Rule; he discussed “The Rule of 1982: The Work of the Faithful.”
The weekend included social, educational, and spiritual time, according to Sr. Suzanne Kush, director of SBU’s Franciscan Center for Social Concern, coordinator of the event. The gathering included several presentations and small group discussions. A celebration of the Eucharist took place in the University Chapel. The celebrant and homilist was the James Puglisi, SA, minister general of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.
“For me, it was a fabulous family reunion,” said Sr. Margaret, who represented North American TOR sisters at two 10-day work groups in Germany (September 1980) and Belgium (May 1981).
Their mission, set forth to all Catholic congregations at the close of the Second Vatican Council in the Decree on Renewal of Religious Life, was to re-examine their Rule of Life to rediscover the true spirit and aim of their founder; in this case, Francis of Assisi.
Since most of Franciscan history “focused on the First Order (Friars Minor), and was viewed through their perspective, very little was known about the history of the Third Order,” said Godet-Calogeras, who left the Order of Friars Minor in 1986, but never lost his Franciscan spirit or passion for Franciscan scholarship.
Sr. Margaret’s keen interest in learning all she could about Third Order history led to her nomination to represent North American sisters at the TOR Rule meetings. She eventually developed a Franciscan Institute course on TOR history because none existed. Before coming to St. Bonaventure in the late 1970s, Sr. Margaret had worked in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pa.
Faley began conversations as early as 1973 with Thaddeus Horgan, SA, to discuss revising the TOR Rule. It wasn’t decided until early 1980 that the revised Rule of Life would be shared by both sisters and brothers of the Third Order. Poor Clares make up the Second Order.
What the years-long process leading up to the first work session in Germany revealed was a remarkable ignorance about a religious order more than seven centuries old.
Collaboration of Congregations
“Some congregations were so centered on themselves that they often never realized the existence of other congregations,” Sr. Margaret said. “As we wrote the Rule, we began to develop a much more complete sense of our history.“
Between 1969 and 1973, French, Dutch, German and American congregations developed projects to modify — independent of each other — the Rule of 1927 to adhere more closely to their own expression of Franciscan life. Together with the Madrid Statement of 1974, which sought to strengthen the bond between TOR friars and sisters, these separate drafts served as building blocks for the unifying efforts of 1980-81.
The first 10-day work session was in Reute, Germany. Representatives from Italy, France, Germany, Brazil, Colombia, India and the United States made communication a challenge. French was as the spoken word of the work group; Latin the written word.
Four First Order friars, including Godet-Calogeras, served as experts, responsible for the methodology of the group and helping to facilitate the communication.
“We thought we had failed after that first meeting,” Sr. Margaret said. “The days were very long, 20 hours some days, and the group began to fragment as we went along. But we eventually realized that we had achieved enough to be a stepping stone.”
Sr. Margaret and Thaddeus shared the TOR Rule draft with their superiors in the United States, stressing the need for more research and education for their congregational members to help them understand the writings of Francis, and the distinct identity, charism and history of the TOR and its previous Rules.
Third Order religious in the United States., many of whom attended the recent festival, were allowed to comment on and critique the draft of the Rule, as were all TOR members worldwide. The American input helped sway opinion and build cooperative bridges at the second 10-day session in Brussels eight months later.
The Brussels draft was written almost entirely in the words of Francis and was a radical departure from all past TOR Rules. Its intent was to give Francis’ proposal for TOR life — a life of total and continuous conversion to God through literal living of the Gospel.
In March 1982, nearly 200 general superiors, representing 35 countries and more than 200,000 TOR members, convened in Rome to discuss the Brussels draft. With only three minor amendments, the draft was approved, 188-2.
A letter to TOR brothers and sisters from Pope John Paul II, dated April 30, 1983, informed them of his approval.
The pope wrote: “Since we know how diligently and assiduously this Rule of Life has traveled its path … and how fortuitously it arrived at the desired convergence of different points of view through collegial discussion and consultation … we trust that the longed-for fruits of renewal will be brought to full realization.”
Twenty-five years later, Sr. Margaret is convinced John Paul’s sentiments have been realized.
“This event, offering a venue to reconvene people who contributed to this effort, generated a great deal of excitement,” Sr. Margaret said, adding “This new rule has been the motor that’s driven Franciscan renewal the last 25 years.”
Sr. Suzanne, Sr. Margaret, and Godet- Calogeras are working on a book titled The Third Order Regular Rule: A Historical Sourcebook, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the revised TOR Rule.