Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Three make profession as Secular Franciscans in Spokane

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the March 1, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

From left: Bob Taylor (St. Francis Fraternity Minister) and newly professed members of Spokane’s Secular Franciscan Order: Cliff Evans, Shirl Lewis, and Jim Lewis. At right is Sister Pat Gordon of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, the Fraternity’s Spiritual Advisor. (IR photo courtesy of the Secular Franciscans)

Saturday, Feb. 10, three Spokane Catholics – Cliff Evans of St. Augustine Parish, and Jim and Shirl Lewis of St. Ann Parish – became professed members of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) after completing a three-stage process of formation.

The first stage, “Orientation,” included an introduction to the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare, ongoing experience of the Franciscan prayer life, and a general introduction to the SFO. The purpose of this first stage of formation is to discern if the Spirit is calling a person to a Secular Franciscan vocation.

Next in the formation process came an “Inquiry.” This phase includes an in-depth study of the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare, plus study of the Franciscan charism and Franciscan history. Participants deepen their understanding of what it means to be secular and Franciscan, and if, at the end of a minimum of six months, they discern an SFO vocation, they are received into the Order.

“Candidacy,” the third period of initiation, is a time to prepare for making a permanent commitment by immersion into the life of a SFO community. Basic to this stage of formation is Article 4 of The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, which states: “The rule and life of the Secular Franciscan is this: to observe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following St. Francis of Assisi, who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.”

This third phase lasts at least 18 months and culminates with a permanent commitment to a life rooted in and guided by the Gospel. Once a permanent commitment is made, the newly professed member goes on to participate, with the rest of the fraternity, in ongoing formation.

Newly professed SFO member Cliff Evans is Executive Director of Cancer Patient Care in Spokane, an organization whose mission is “to provide a safety net of support and assistance to cancer patients and their families who have limited financial resources. I experience this as my calling at this time and a wonderful opportunity to express the Franciscan charism of caring for those in our community who are most vulnerable and often forgotten or even shunned – much as Francis did for the lepers of his time.”

Evans became Catholic in 1996. “I have long wished for a greater sense of spiritual ‘belonging.’ A part of me was touched, made ‘whole,’ when I progressed through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), made my first confession and was confirmed in the church. However, that sense of belonging still eluded me. When I moved to Spokane, I learned about the SFO from a friend and coworker. However, it seemed like such a big commitment of time and energy. Yet, I couldn’t stop wondering – ‘Is this where I belong?’”

During the initial Inquiry stage, Evans says that he was particularly struck by one of the suggested discernment criteria: “If thinking about professing gives you an overwhelming sense of joy, no matter what else may be going on at the time, this is a good indication that the call is true and will be fruitful.” Evans says that he has experienced that joy. “I have come to know that to follow Christ in the manner of Francis and Clare is right for me, now and always.”

Jim and Shirl Lewis, of Spokane’s St. Ann Parish, have their own stories to tell.

“My journey with Francis and Clare began in the eighth grade,” Shirl explained, “at St. Charles School. It grew while attending Marycliff High School with the guidance of wonderful Franciscan teachers. Now, as a wife, mother and grandmother, I desire to imitate Francis and Clare in faithful Gospel living by being a secular Franciscan. Being part of the Franciscan community will help me use my gifts for the glory of God and the welfare of my neighbor.”

Jim reported that his desire to be a Franciscan began on a family retreat held by Spokane’s St. Augustine Parish. “I viewed the film Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Later, at St. Ann Parish, I was further influenced by the Friars, Brothers, and Seculars in that community. After a ‘Come and See’ presentation by the SFO, I began the process of Inquiry and knew I wanted a life guided by Franciscan spirituality. My life focus is Gospel-to-life and life-to-Gospel. My hope for the future is that I might mirror Christ, Francis and Clare in the everyday. I am now in the Franciscan community, and the Franciscan Community is in me.”

Local SFO minister Bob Taylor, of Spokane’s St. Francis of Assisi Parish, has been an SFO member for about 25 years. He explained that the local fraternity currently consists of about 36 active members. The fraternity meets at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 1104 W. Heroy Ave., the second Saturday of every month, from 9 a.m.-noon. Non-members who wish to inquire are welcome to attend. Attendance at the monthly meetings is fairly regular.

All Franciscans, Taylor said, are “one family.” The community of friars – priests and Brothers – that Francis founded is called the First Order. The contemplative community of women, the Poor Clares, founded by St. Clare, are the “Second Order,” and the “Third Order” consists of laity who cannot practice radical poverty because of their responsibilities in the wider society including marriage and family life, work and careers, and various ministries. “Out of the Third Order came the Sisters, with active ministries like teaching and parish ministries, and so forth, and we are the other branch, called the Secular Franciscan Order,” said Taylor.

The SFO is organized on both the national and international levels, too, with regularly scheduled national and international gatherings. The U.S. national SFO office publishes a quarterly newsletter, and there is a minister general in Rome who, like all SFO members, is a lay person.

“Many people don’t realize that there are lay orders,” said Taylor. “But the Franciscans have had them for 800 years.”

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