Franciscan Footprints

Wildlife at the Convent

TulipsEven though the House of Formation for the Sisters of the Third Order of St Francis live in the “city,” you’d be surprised at the amount of wildlife we have in the yard!  St Francis, who LOVED God’s creation, makes him the patron saint of animals and of the environment.  He'd be proud!

One of his most-documented encounters was with a “multitude of birds of different types gathered, including doves, crows and magpies,” who, even as he moved closer, the birds did not fly away, but listened to him preach.  They did not leave their perches until after he blessed and then dismissed them.  After reviewing multiple books and sources about this story, this happenstance is often described as if St Francis was walking and then saw this flock of birds and—in his excitement—ran to them and began to preach to them, too.  However, in the biography, Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi by Donald Spoto, published in 2002 by Viking Compass, the author states that St Francis, “Annoyed at the indifference of so many people and dejected at the apparent failure of all their efforts, Francis announced that he would probably have a more respectful hearing from the birds—which is exactly what happened.”

Whether St Francis really was frustrated with the people or he desired to address all of God’s creatures, rational and irrational, it is only the beginning of his relations with animals.  There are numerous stories of how St Francis interacted with nature.  Freeing a captured rabbit, convincing a boy to give him the dove the youth managed to cage, releasing fish back into the water, reasoning with a wolf to stop terrorizing a village, and others.  All because St Francis loved all God’s creatures and His creation and the animals recognized St Francis as a friend.

Here in our yard, we are blessed to have two varieties of squirrels, wild rabbits, three species of woodpeckers, deer, two burrows of groundhog, and TURKEYS!

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April 16th is an important day for the Franciscans

It is the anniversary of papal approval of the first Franciscan Rule!  Happy 807th anniversary!

St Francis had his conversion and after three years, in 1209, with the urging of the local bishop, felt the need for some sort of guidelines or an informal rule for the group to follow.  He, and his ensemble of eleven, travelled to Rome to present it & ask for approval from the Holy Father, Pope Innocent III.

Pope Innocent III opposed extreme poverty and worried St Francis and his followers would wander into heresy, like Catharism and Waldensianiam.  Additionally, many cardinals believed current religious orders needed reforming and there was no need for new ones.

St Francis was proposing a vow of poverty for all individual followers and communities of followers, relying for support only on their own work and the charity of others.  But absolute poverty was not the only distinctive trait of this new order.  The friars did not limit themselves to their own sanctification; not to live only for themselves, but to assist others in their sanctification.  They planned to devote themselves to the evangelization of the multitudes.  His apostles did not sit in a monastery but went all over the world, preaching, employed with their hands and dependent on offerings.

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Sisters of the Third Order? What does that mean?

Statue of St FrancisOne of the most frequent questions I'm asked, after I tell someone I'm joining the Sisters of the Third Order in Peoria, by folks familiar with vocation "options" for lay and religious, is, "Wait.  I thought Third Order Franciscans were a secular group.  Will you not be consecrated then?" I initially thought the same thing.  And when I started digging into the answer, it quickly became very complicated.

Here's the brief history lesson of the Franciscan communities to lead you to the answer.

There are three main orders of Catholic Franciscans, with their subdivisions.

The First Order of St. Francis or the "Order of Friars Minor" are often called the "Franciscans". The modern organization of the Friars Minor comprises three separate family or groups, each considered a religious order in its own right. They all live according to a body of regulations known as the Rule of St Francis. These are the main branches today:

2016 Easter Lamb Cake - Because He is the Lamb of God!

He is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Chapel decorated for EasterOur chapel decorated for Easter!     ---->

One of the Easter traditions in this community is the making of a lamb cake.  I’m told, that until the 1970’s, the community baked lots and lots of lamb cakes and sold them as a fundraiser.  But these days, we make one for ourselves, from scratch, with a cast-iron lamb mold.  The Mother House also makes a lamb cake for our Pascal Meal (held on Thursday, before Holy Thursday's Mass.)  Can you guess how old the recipe is?  I don’t know, but it included instructions for heating your wood-burning stove!

Removing Lamb from Mold

According to my research, Easter Lamb of God cakes are an ancient Catholic tradition and often found where Catholic Polish, Italian or German immigrants settled.  Since the founding Sisters of the Third Order of St Francis were of German decent, this makes sense.  For Christians, the lamb cake symbolizes Christ, the Lamb of God.  But many use the lamb cake to symbolize springtime, new life and the time for new lambs!

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Why do Religious have an Annual Retreat?

Recharging your batteryPerhaps you think, as some people seem to, that religious life is so peaceful and serene that sisters have no need to recuperate.

But no, we have busy hectic lives too, and need certain times to renew ourselves, re-focus, get ourselves in shape, to re-charge our batteries.  That is why we have retreat. 

In our community we have an 8-day silent retreat and it is better than vacation.  What do we do on retreat?  Well, usually we have a retreat master, like a religious priest, come to the motherhouse.  He gives a couple conferences (talks) each day, as well as offering daily Mass.  Our schedule is more lax, we can sleep-in and don't have our regular work to do.  We keep silence except for prayers and talking at supper.  We can go to confession or speak privately with the retreat master to get advice.  And we pretty much have the rest of the day to pray, or rest.

Read more: Why do Religious have an Annual Retreat?