The Canonical Restoration of the Secular Franciscan Order in the Diocese of Lexington

by Linda Harvey

St. Francis of Assisi’s spirit continues to live today with the restoration of the Clare-Francis Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order. A Mass was celebrated October 4 by Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., to commemorate the 800th anniversary of St. Francis’s feast day. During the celebration, two individuals made their profession to the order.

Concelebrating with the Bishop were Father Mark Soehner, OFM, Provincial of the St. John the Baptist Province of the Order of the Friars Minor from Cincinnati and Jesuit Father Walt Bado, SJ, who is the Spiritual Advisor for this fraternity in Lexington.

“Francis always had a song in his heart and the joy of the Gospel. He saw God as merciful and he found his home in the Church. Francis was nourished by the sacraments and was protected by this institution. Even though he knew the failures of many members of the Church, and their inabilities to live the Gospel life, he never separated himself from the Church,” Bishop John said in his homily. “He was nourished by the sacraments and protected by this institution. Francis prayed and hung near. He heard the crucified Jesus speak to him and say ‘rebuild my Church.’”

The Clare-Francis Fraternity has been rebuilding the fraternity that was originally founded in the 1980s, then dissolved for awhile.   In June of 2009, those who were professed and those who were interested in profession began working to restore and “rebuild the fraternity canonically.” The document of Canonical Restoration was officially recognized and publicly read and signed at the Mass by Bishop Stowe, Father Soehner and Joe Edwards, OFS, Minister of the Holy Trinity Region of the Secular Franciscan Order which includes Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana with 24 active fraternities.

There are two symbols of the Franciscans – the San Damiano (St. Damien) crucifix and the Tau cross. The Tau cross is T-shaped and represents the habit of a friar with arms outstretched. The two individuals who wore the Tau cross on their shirts at their profession were Beatriz Payne and Reno Sartori during the Mass.

Beth O’Donnell, OFS, acting minister of Clare-Francis Fraternity, engaged in the profession dialogue with the candidates and accepted them as fully professed members into the order. Bishop Stowe confirmed their profession. Margie Ralph, OFS, Mary Ann Cantrill, OFS, and Elaine Rabe, OFS, were witnesses.

Reno Sartori, 88, has been studying for his profession for over two years. “Everything I was doing, I can now do better. I took what I was doing before and grew from it. I found a new purpose and have found that the more you give, the more you receive,” he said. “It has changed my life and is a new chapter where I feel I can reach out to more people and more situations.”

Sartori has lived a fulfilled life being married to Rita for 56 years before she died in 2009. He has three children, 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. He and Rita traveled the world for 22 years while Sartori was in the Air Force. He even met St. Padre Pio while in Italy.

Beatriz Payne, 69, has longed to be professed for a long time. She was led to it by a prayer group she started seven years ago called The Seven Sorrows of Mary. “When I was in Rome in 2016, I was struck by an image of St. Francis begging for money and when I looked at him, his face was radiant. At [my] profession, I saw this image again when I made my promise to be a Franciscan,” she said.

Bea has an active prayer life that includes two rosaries in the morning and two rosaries later in the day along with the Divine Mercy chaplet. She continually reaches out to those in need and is now preparing to go to Guatemala in the latter part of October with members of Mary Queen of Holy Rosary parish.

Payne and the small group going to Guatemala will visit the Little Mountain School that Fr. Miguel Alvizures from the Diocese of Lexington is involved with. They also will visit the site of the martyrdom of Brother James Miller, FSC, who is the first De La Salle Christian Brother from the United States to be beatified by Pope Francis in 2019.

Following the October 4 Mass, Beth O’Donnell indicated that there are eight members professed in the diocese and possibly two more candidates who will begin monthly formation classes after their November meeting. Others who may be considering whether to be Secular Franciscan can participate in the Rite of Welcome. There are three steps for those interested in becoming members: Rite of Welcome, Rite of Admission (18 months of study to become professed) and Profession.

As these lay Franciscans travel further on their journey in building their faith, Bishop Stowe referenced how Pope Francis heard the words of “rebuild my Church.” He understood his mission… his role… his purpose.

“I think, in our day, another Francis has come along; one who has helped us see Christ in the ‘lepers’ of our day… the marginalized, the excluded and those on the peripheries. He has put those words into our vocabulary, in our language,” Bishop Stowe said. “Pope Francis, a Jesuit just like our own Father Bado, helped us to recognize that we can’t really claim to be followers of Christ if we reject the very people that Christ said our salvation is going to depend upon: Did you feed me when I was hungry; did you give me water when I was thirsty; did you clothe me when I was naked; did you welcome me when I was a stranger? If we don’t do those things, we can’t call ourselves members of the Body of Christ. We can’t call ourselves Christians.”