What are the differences between the several kinds of Franciscans? —Nicholas M.
The Franciscans have a long history in the church, beginning with the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi (d. 1226) and Saint Clare of Assisi (d. 1253). Over the years many Franciscan religious communities have emerged within Catholicism and beyond. In addition many people have incorporated the spirit and values of Franciscan spirituality into their own ways of life. While there’s no way to cover all aspects of Franciscanism, we can make some general distinctions.
The main categories of Franciscans are the three orders:
The first is the Order of Friars Minor which is comprised of the Observants, the Conventuals, and the Capuchins. The Observants (O.F.M.) and the Conventuals (O.F.M. Conv.) were the Franciscans of Francis’s day and later to this day. The Observants were friars who typically lived in hermitages tucked into the mountains. Conventuals were friars who felt called to follow Francis by serving people in urban areas. These friars ministered and lived together in houses (or “convents”) among the people. The Capuchins (O.F.M. Cap.) were a reform of Franciscanism in the 16th century spearheaded by Friar Matteo da Bascio who felt called to go back to a more rigorous way of Franciscan life that he saw in Saint Francis.
The second order of Franciscans are the Poor Clare nuns, communities of contemplative women founded by or in the spirit of Saint Clare of Assisi along with her good friend Francis.
The third order of Franciscans is diverse, comprising religious Franciscans (Third Order Regular), who profess public vows and live in community, and lay Franciscans (Secular Franciscan Order), single and married men and women who live a Franciscan lifestyle in their own situations and lives.
Within the above orders, you will find even more diversity of customs and traditions unique to each individual Franciscan community.
So what’s a person to do if they are attracted to the Franciscan way of life? My best advice is to get out there and explore different communities, meet friars, sisters, or nuns, and allow yourself to envision your life with them. Can you see yourself in their shoes or sandals? I also encourage you to read and experience more of the lives of Francis and Clare and other Franciscan saints and holy people. In their stories you will find pieces of your own which will help you to discern and know which Franciscan community feels most at home to you.
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