In our Catholic faith, we often encounter a quote from St. Francis of Assisi — “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” These are words by which St. Francis lived his mission, preaching Christ to all by the simple way he lived. St. Francis lived solely for Jesus, calling himself and others around him to follow Christ more deeply.
This mission lives on through the branches of the Franciscan Order that St. Francis founded — men and women preaching the Gospel with their lives in a simple, loving, and self-giving manner as priests, brothers and sisters, and even as laity. The St. Peter Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order works to carry out Francis’ mission right here in Belleville.
“It is our mission to live from the Gospel to life and from life to the Gospel,” says Mary Ellen Herrmann, a St. Peter parishioner and professed Secular Franciscan for over 40 years. “We are daily entrenched in the Gospel and are called to live it out.”
Secular Franciscans, while they are a true order recognized by the Church, live in the world rather than in the monastery. They are lay men and women, and sometimes even diocesan priests who live according to the Rule of St. Francis while also living independently. They pray daily on their own and come together to pray monthly.
“Prayer is a big part of our lives as Secular Franciscans,” Mary Ellen says. “We are encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily, although it isn’t a requirement that we pray that specifically. We also commit to learn about St. Francis and St. Clare and to live with the Gospel as our guide to life.”
Mary Ellen became a Secular Franciscan after she had read a book about St. Francis. However, she is quick to point out that her life as a Secular Franciscan began as a call from the Lord, rather than simply as a personal decision.
“I really believe the Lord was calling me,” Mary Ellen says. “Almost immediately after I read the book about Francis, I was in a church in Colorado, and as I looked around I noticed that the stained glass images depicted things about Francis’ life. I was looking at images about which I had just read!
“Then, shortly thereafter, my neighbor invited me to a Secular Franciscan meeting!” she adds. “I, of course, said ‘yes.’ I felt like God was saying something to me. I went to that first meeting, and I knew that’s where God wanted me! He wanted me to live as a Secular Franciscan, and it remains a great joy in my life to do so.”
Mary Ellen says she draws great strength from being a part of the order.
“My prayer life has deepened tremendously because of it,” she says. “And having the support of others in the order, knowing they are always there and that I always have the undergirding of their prayers, is such an encouragement and a support.”
The St. Peter Fraternity, which currently consists of about 25 professed members within the Belleville area, meets one Sunday a month — usually the third Sunday, though sometimes that changes — at St. Teresa in their parish center. During the meetings, members pray together and share their lives with one another. They spend time talking about their own spiritual journeys and encouraging one another along the way.
If you are interested in joining them, Mary Ellen encourages you to attend a meeting.
“Anyone is welcome,” she says. “The meetings take place at 2 p.m., and we simply ask newcomers to show up about 10 minutes early so we can talk with them a bit beforehand.”
Of course, given that the Secular Franciscans are an order of St. Francis, the journey to final profession involves more than just a monthly meeting. Those in formation take classes prior to profession so that they are well aware of the commitment they are making because, as Mary Ellen emphasizes, once you take your final profession as a Secular Franciscan, it is a lifelong commitment. But attending a monthly meeting is the best place to start.
We are all called to live the Gospel — that’s what it means to be a Christian disciple! And doing so as a Secular Franciscan offers those called to that order a particular grace with which to do so. May we all seek out God’s particular call on our lives and strive to live for Him in everything we say and do!
If interested in attending an upcoming meeting, contact Mary Ellen Herrmann at 618-234-4945 or 618-250-4568 — she will provide you with the necessary information.