Love for creation and spirit of simplicity draws men and women to Secular Franciscans

FAIRFIELD—Almost 800 years after Francis of Assisi followed the voice of Christ to rebuild his Church, men and women are still responding to the call and entering the Secular Franciscan Order.

Three new members were recently professed during a ceremony at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fairfield. There are also Franciscan fraternities in Darien and Danbury.

Marilyn Mitchell of Trumbull, who was an elementary school teacher, was inspired by her daughter Jaime, who left her career in tourism and travel and non-profit work to become a Franciscan nun in Chicago. She will be making her final vows this year.

“She’s very happy as a Franciscan,” said Marilyn, who saw a news item about the Holy Spirit Fraternity and decided to attend a meeting.

“I was accepted as a candidate and went through formation for three years,” she said. “It’s been quite a journey. I feel very peaceful, and I’m more aware of God’s presence in my life. I don’t worry and try to take control because God comes through for me. I’ve developed a lot of trust in Him.” Now, she goes to daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration once a week.

Robert A. Riith of Darien learned of the order a few years ago and brought two other men to his first meeting. “I met a good group of people,” he said. “I had wanted to get into a spiritual group and this was it.” In his life, he lets people know he is a Secular Franciscan in the hope of sharing his calling with them.

Susan Lenahan of Fairfield has done parish work for 25 years in areas like youth ministry and office administration. She has had several spiritual directors and knew she wanted a deeper spiritual life. One day a woman who was active in St. Mark’s Church in Stratford, where Susan works as part-time business manager, came into the office and asked, “Have you ever thought of becoming a Secular Franciscan?”

“I didn’t even know what a Secular Franciscan was,” Susan recalled. “I wasn’t sure this was my next step, but I was interested in the concept. Franciscan spirituality resonated with me because I discovered much later that I am a Franciscan at heart.”

After some preliminary research, she attended the monthly meeting at St. Emery Parish and began what she calls “The Journey.” The monthly gatherings, study, prayer, the Eucharist and a meeting of like souls feeds her spiritually. “My outlook has changed,” she said. “I leave myself open to the Spirit.”

Prayer, study and service are charisms of the order, and Susan says, “I find Christ in service. I look at working in the parish as a privilege, an opportunity to bring what I have as a professed Secular Franciscan to the workplace.”

The Third Order is the largest in the Franciscan family with 13,000 members in the United States in 587 fraternities, 14 of which are in Connecticut and three in the Diocese of Bridgeport. Established in 1994, the Holy Spirit Fraternity has 26 professed members, three of whom joined in December, and four in formation — a process that requires from two to three years of prayer and study. There are also fraternities in Darien and Danbury with about 50 members throughout the Diocese.

The St. Anthony of Padua group of 30 members, four of whom are in formation, meets one Saturday a month for Mass and prayer, followed by a social and business meeting. (For more information, call Pat Heile, OFS: 203.255.8801 or