Robertson has been nursing the dream of a Secular Franciscan fraternity based at the retreat centre since 2003. On the Feast of St. John the Baptist the Mt. Alverno Fraternity became the 14th fraternity to be canonically established in the archdiocese of Toronto.
The 17 members of the new fraternity had 260 Franciscan friends along to help inaugurate their new group. Secular Franciscans from all over southern Ontario were gathered to celebrate Franciscan traditions and spirituality at Franciscan Family Fest.
“We’re real Franciscans living the Gospel,” said the fraternity’s minister Janet McKay. “It means something to the Church because the values of St. Francis are held up in quite high esteem.”
As an emerging fraternity over the last five years, the Mt. Alverno Secular Franciscans have supported the Kami Foundation in Haiti, Canadian Food for Children, AIDS work in Malawi and their local chapter of St. Vincent de Paul. But as a canonically established fraternity the members are ready to take on a more focussed apostolic mission, McKay said.
“You can’t just sit and do nothing without a commitment to the people, to the poor,” said McKay. “Preach if you have to, but your works should show it.”
As an established group, the Mt. Alverno Secular Franciscans will devote a lot of energy to forming new members, said Robertson. Lay Franciscans try to live the Gospel using the same evangelical virtues as the vowed religious — poverty, chastity and obedience.
“It’s basically taking those three virtues and trying to apply them to every day life in the every day world — and trying to be decent people,” said Robertson.
That means formation is ongoing, even for Secular Franciscans who made their promises years ago.
“As we do further formation, it’s not just get you into the group and ballgame over. It’s much more than that,” he said.
Normally the Trillium Regional Fraternity of Secular Franciscans gets together for chapters or elections — occasions for serious decisions, said Trillium vice minister Colleen MacAlister. The first-ever Family Fest was an opportunity for Franciscans to simply share their friendship and spirituality, she said.
“We wanted to be inclusive and share our charism,” McAlister said.
The spirit of St. Francis is essentially evangelical, she said. The Franciscan style of evangelizing has nothing to do with winning an argument or being fearful of offending people with an exclusive brand of Christianity.
“Who can be offended by someone who brings hope where there’s despair? Who brings love where there’s hatred? Who brings faith where there is doubt?” she asked.
A brief history of the Secular Franciscans
Until the 1970s the Secular Franciscans were known as Third Order Franciscans. The Third Order traces its history back to St. Francis who wrote their first rule in 1221. Its members have included St. Elisabeth of Hungary, St. King Louis IX of France, Michelangelo, Raphael, Christopher Columbus, Franz Liszt and Pope Leo XIII.
There are 14 fraternities of Secular Franciscans in the archdiocese of Toronto — 11 English and one each of Polish, Korean and Italian.
Immaculate Conception — English
Immaculate Conception — Italian
St. Charles Borromeo
St. Francis and St. Clare
St. Felix of Cantalice
St. John Vianney — Korean
St. Angela Merici
St. Anthony of Padua
St. Clare of Assisi
St. Maximilian Kolbe — Polish
In Caledon and Orangeville: