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GENERAL..imagesblu_gry.gif (541 bytes)    Franciscan Family

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Franciscan Family


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The Franciscan family is a very large and diverse group. The basic breakdown within the Catholic Church is into three orders:

Further breakdowns are made into provinces, which are sometimes geographical and sometimes not. Along with this there can be vice-provinces and custodies. There can also be groups outside this structure such as various pious associations, secular institutes and non-canonical groups. There are also some meta-organizations built around Franciscans in a certain country or working in a particular kind of ministry.  There are even some Franciscan groups outside the Catholic Church, like the various groups of Anglican Franciscans.

By far the most diverse part of the Franciscan Family is the Third Order Regular groups. The largest male group is the TORís, but there are also other smaller male groups. The female groups are very numerous and widespread, and each is an order unto itself.

Friars Minor, or Franciscans
(received papal approval in 1209);

Friars Preachers, or Dominicans (1216);
Carmelites (1245);

and Augustinians (1256).

A fifth order, the Servites, founded in 1233, was acknowledged as a mendicant order in 1424.

Friar (Latin frater,"brother") is a term applied to members of certain religious orders who practice the principles of monastic life and devote themselves to the service of humanity in the secular world. Originally, their regulations forbade the holding either of community or personal property, and the resulting dependence of friars on voluntary contributions in order to live caused them to be known as mendicant orders. The founders of the orders used the term friar to designate members; Saint Francis of Assisi called his followers Friars Minor, and Saint Dominic used the name Friars Preachers. The larger orders were given popular names, derived usually from the color or other distinguishing marks of their habits, such as Black Friars (Dominicans), Gray Friars (Franciscans), and White Friars (Carmelites). Friars differed from monks in that the monk was attached to a specific community within which he led a cloistered life, having no direct contact with the secular world. The friar, on the other hand, belonged to no particular monastic house but to a general order, and worked as an individual in the secular world. Thus, friar and monk are not synonymous terms, even though in popular usage monk is often used as a generic term for all members of religious orders.

The Franciscan movement began in the year 1208, when Francis of Assisi, having lived two years as a penitent (one who seeks to reform his life and draw closer to God through daily life and works,) was joined by a few like-minded followers. Eventually, three major orders arose from the Franciscan movement.

The First Order

When Pope Innocent III approved the Franciscan Rule in 1209, he made them a structured religious order. This became the First Order, known as the Friars Minor (Little Brothers). Over the centuries, the Friars Minor experienced many distinctions and reorganizations based on their understanding of the Franciscan way of life.

First Order: Male, broken down into 3 groups: 

    Today, there are three branches:

  • Friars Minor OFM

  • Friars Minor OFM Conventual

  • Friars Minor OFM Capuchin


While different opinions on living the Franciscan life originally divided the branches of the First Order, these have given way to a common desire to serve the Lord and to live the Gospel message in joy and enthusiasm.

OFM Chart

The Second Order

Female, consisting of various
groups  of Poor Clare Nuns

The Second Order of St. Francis, commonly known as Poor Clares, was founded in 1212 in Assisi when St. Francis received Clare Offreduccio as a follower of his way of life.

The Poor Clares are a religious community of women. They observe a cloistered, contemplative life based on the Gospel, a life of prayer and penance in the Franciscan tradition of joy and simplicity.

The Third Order

Third Order:  Both male and female.  
                     There are 2  breakdowns here:

           1) Third Order Regular
           2) Third Order Secular
               (Secular Franciscan Order)

By far the most diverse part of the Franciscan Family is the Third Order Regular groups. The largest male group is the TORís, but there are also other smaller male groups. The female groups are very numerous and widespread, and each is an order unto itself.

CHRIS_CARL_AND_GILES.jpg (11272 bytes) The origins of the Third Order may be found in the movement known as the Penitents, going back to the sixth century. The original Penitents were people who sought to grow in holiness through their daily lives and work.

This desire for holiness assumed many forms, such as pilgrimages to holy sites; constructing, repairing and rebuilding churches; and caring for the poor and sick.

The first Franciscans were, in fact, known as "penitents of Assisi." Men and women who were attracted by Francis' way of life, but could not leave their homes and families to become wandering preachers or cloistered nuns, banded together. Thus the Third Order was born.

Early on, small groups in the Third Order formed more structured communities, publicly professing the Church's traditional religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and often uniting around specific works of charity or common prayer. Since then, numerous congregations of lay people and religious have developed throughout the world. In each instance, the call to conversion and simplicity of life animates the members: In the Secular Franciscan Order, men and women follow the way of Francis, but are not vowed religious living in community. The Third Order Regular, on the other hand, is an international community of priests and brothers who emphasize works of mercy and on-going conversion to the Gospel.

The Third Order Regular is also known as the Franciscan Friars, TOR. This branch of the Franciscan family was originally founded in 1447 by a papal decree uniting several groups of Third Order hermits. Today, the TORs are a thriving religious community serving God's people across the world. 

With Francis, the TORs have accepted the challenge to "rebuild the Church" in areas of high school and college education, parish ministry, church renewal, social justice, campus ministry, hospital chaplaincies, foreign missions, and other ministries in places where the Church is needed. And, in imitation of our founder, we pray to be instruments of peace, pardon, and hope in a world yearning for the good news of Jesus Christ.