Fraternity History

For the 10th anniversary of our fraternity, we had a celebration and invited fraternities throughout the Twin Cities to celebrate with us. As part of the program, Mary Witzman wrote and presented a history of the fraternity. That history is presented here.

APRIL 9, 1989


As we celebrate our tenth anniversary, we need to review the past 10 years and ask ourselves, What was it that brought us together as Secular Franciscans?, As individuals, what were we seeking?, and How have we met those goals?.

When the. Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular came to St. Bridget�s in about 1976, they brought ideas and values that were foreign to us. They dressed different - we weren�t used to priests dressed in long robes, with a white rope around their waist and a hood on their back. They used words like "Community" and "This is your parish. We are here to serve". What ever happened to I am your pastor and this is how we will do things at St. Bridget". They asked parishioners to shake hands (in church, yet) - can you believe that. If that wasn�t enough, they even initiated hugging. Well you can imagine the parishioners were shocked and confused. They didn�t quite know what to make of these new priests, or what they were all about. These Friars dared to be different, and they had a charisma that could not be defined or explained. There was a something about the Friars that was so different, so unique - that attracted a small group of men and women, who, too, dared to be different, and they eventually became the first Secular Franciscans from St. Bridget�s parish. These seven men and women realized there was something more here than just a few Friars who dressed, talked, and behaved differently, and they wanted to know more about that Franciscan charisma they could feel and sense; and in 1978 the St. Anthony of Padua Secular Franciscan Fraternity was formed. The first meetings were held in the rectory living room and the Friars were there to encourage and assist this infant group in every way. Father Eugene Corica, who was Pastor then, encouraged and promoted the idea of a Secular Franciscan Fraternity at St. Bridget. Brother Alexis Nagel became the first Spiritual Assistant and he was extremely instrumental in the fraternity�s development.

Father Eugene and Brother Alexis arranged for Dick Morton, then President of the St. Thomas Moore Fraternity in Inver Grove Heights, to serve as Formation Director. Dick Morton gave freely of his time, efforts, and talent to assist this developing fraternity. Our fraternity was the first to use Father Benet Fonk�s new formation material entitled, Fully Mature With The Fullness of Christ. This material was still in the printing stage as the fraternity was developing and as quickly as the lessons came off the press, copies were made and distributed and they became the cornerstone of this new group. The entire Secular Franciscan community was observing this infant group for response and reaction to the new formation program. We were in a fish bowl, so to speak, with everyone critiquing and evaluating this new material.

The formation program and the core group did well and all seven professed in March 1979. Now seven more (this time lay men and women) had that magnetic charisma - that same something - and another seven were attracted by this magnetism and they, too, entered formation. Shortly thereafter the New Secular Franciscan Rule was introduced and this young fraternity, filled with zeal and enthusiasm, was growing and developing. They now had insight into what the Secular Franciscan Order was all about, they had a brand new Rule for guidance and direction, they had a Spiritual Assistant, and they had the inspiration, encouragement, and assistance of the Friars. So what more could this infant group need?

What they needed at this point was a sense of community, a sense of a much larger Secular Franciscan organization. The young leaders became involved with the Upper Midwest District where they met with secular leaders of fraternities from the entire upper Midwest. The District Committee met periodically for workshops, social gatherings, or information meetings, and there were many opportunities to exchange ideas, to discover what other fraternities were doing, and to work with this larger group � some even held leadership positions on the District Committee. Through this district involvement, they were also exposed to the Sacred Heart Province in Chicago. Some of the members attended provincial workshops, seminars, etc. and they assisted in hosting the National Conference held in the Twin cities in 1985. Because our fraternity is established with the Immaculate Conception Province in the East, we have the unique opportunity to receive guidance and assistance from two provinces.

Throughout this growth and development period, the fraternity members developed a great sense of fami1y. They came to realize the Province, the District, and the Fraternity were extensions of their individual families, and yet a unique second family, and everyone sensed this strong unity. Fraternity members planned together, worked together, worshiped together, socialized together, and we prayed for and with one another. A strong bond developed among the members. Our membership now has grown to 56 with our newest member, Kim Pappas, professed just last month, and four more are in formation. Like any family, we experienced times of joy, sadness, worry and grief . We witnessed the marriages of Tim & Tammy Wolney, Joe & Sue Wolney, and John & Terry Lucia - all brides and grooms are members of the fraternity. We rejoiced at the birth of 12 new babies; we joined in prayer when our brothers or sisters were ill or in need. We grieved at the death of two of our members, Tony Ouelette and Bill Johnson; we celebrated as four of our brothers, Bernie Boyle, Mike Gaworski, David Lehnen and Paul O�Donnell formed a religious order call "Franciscan Brothers of Peace," and we celebrated when Fred Brown became a permanent deacon, and when two more brothers, Bob Bramwell and John Lucia joined the Permanent Deaconate Program. Our family members are involved in many apostolates such as supporting Sharing and Caring Hands, they are members of the choir, they serve on the parish Council, they work at the school, they are involved in the CCD program, they are lectors, Eucharistic ministers, they go on visitations, they serve on the bereavement committee, they are ushers, they are greeters, they support the food shelf, they are active in anti-abortion demonstrations, and on and on and on.

You can see we have truly come a long way during these past ten years. We, too, dared to be different. We were pioneers in the use of the new formation program, and Dick Chyrklund was the first lay president to administer the Rite of Profession to Secular Franciscan candidates. It was three years later that the Sacred Heart Province accepted this role of a lay president. Our history is filled with growth and accomplishment, and we must always cherish and remember those things that brought us here.

What about tomorrow? I would ask each of us to listen in the quiet of our hearts to the words of Christ, "Rebuild my Church, you can see it has fallen into ruin". There is still much rebuilding to do. Our society is plagued with poverty, the plight of the homeless, drug and alcohol abuse, physical and mental abuse, crime, assault, etc., etc. etc. There are still lepers among us - the poor, the hungry, the ill, those with aids, those who are alone and lonely, the aged, the handicapped, to name just a few.

We need to listen to the words of Francis, "I have done my part, may Christ teach you yours". We need to remain open to the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction. We Franciscans have been called twice. We were called by God, through Baptism, to be Christians and to lead a Gospel life. Of those chosen, we were picked by St. Francis to live the Gospel life more fully and to follow in his footsteps. Because of our humanity, we tend to become complacent in our Franciscan lifestyle. This should be the time for each of us to renew the zeal and enthusiasm we experienced when we professed. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to inspire us and that St. Francis will guide our steps as we move ahead to meet all the challenges of tomorrow. May God bless us and our mission.

Editor's note: We begin our 21st year as we enter the 21st century. Soon we will be celebrating our fraternity's twenty-fifth anniversary. At that point we will, no doubt, look back on the history of the fraternity and celebrate. Won't that celebration be all the more joyous if we begin to prepare now? Let's spent the next five years rediscovering the enthusiasm which founded our fraternity. As we visit with fraternity members, let's rediscover the sense of family and the sense of history that built our fraternity.

Our fraternity is uniquely blessed. We came into existence right as the Pauline Rule was approved. We were among the first fraternities in the world to be formed according to this rule. Still, very early on we received members who had been professed for many years. They brought to our new fraternity a link to the traditions that go back all the way to St. Francis. We have the best of all possible worlds.

Let's rediscover the traditions that brought us into being and made our fraternity grow. Let's talk among ourselves, with the founding and early members of our fraternity and with those more experienced in Franciscan traditions than ourselves. Let's rediscover our origins and rebuild the Church.