Statue of St. Francis overlooking San Damiano in Assisi, Italy
St. Francis of Assisi knew it was important for his brothers to routinely come together. He called these gatherings Chapter of Mats, because the brothers would literally bring mats to sleep on while they camped at San Damiano. San Damiano, a church in Assisi, Italy, was the first home of the Franciscan Order. It’s where Francis heard the call from God to “rebuild my church.”
San Damiano courtyard
Today, summer is a time when many people pack suitcases and travel to family reunions. Some unite immediate families—those we know well—and others are big extended-family events where nametags are necessary to identify aunts, uncles and cousins as members of the family. In the past 10 days I have had the opportunity to attend gatherings that identify as both.
Sisters by birth and vows of FSPA, Sisters Carolyn and Roselyn Heil, rejoice together during Community Days.
Inspired by the wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi, FSPAs from across the globe gathered at St. Rose Convent, our motherhouse in La Crosse, Wisconsin, for what we call Community Days. It was a time of inspiration as we shared stories of the people and places we serve, prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, discussed the ongoing call of ministry and celebrated each individual’s gifts as we were sent forth into mission. Spending time with one another strengthens our commitment to religious life and reminds us of the call we have each received from God to continue in the Franciscan tradition to rebuild the church today.
FSPA gathered for Community Days in St. Rose Convent's Mary of the Angels Chapel (photo by Sister Nina Shephard)
Sent forth in my own mission of vocations, of sharing the invitation to religious life with FSPA, I then attended a gathering of the Franciscan Federation. The Franciscan Federation is a larger group of the Franciscan family—religious brothers and sisters who follow the Third Order Rule of St. Francis. Members of the organization that promotes “the exploration and study of Franciscan Evangelical Life and its implications for these ties and for the world” come from different Franciscan religious congregations, span the United States, serve diverse ministries, and unite in a celebration much like an extended family reunion.
We all share the same tradition and the name Franciscan but each community looks a bit different. The nametags we wear and the stories we tell of our founders help us know what part of the family we come from. Gathered around tables were sisters and brothers, each bringing a depth of lived experience to the conversations. The Federation is celebrating 50 years of existence, born from a dream of collaboration. Today the organization continues to grapple with the challenges and gifts of collaborating across congregations, ideologies and busy calendars in a world that continues to grow in diversity. The work of the Gospel always calls for innovation to meet the needs of the times we live in and the coming together of family to achieve it.
As you explore your own discernment, consider the distinctive family traits of each community: Franciscans are known as peacemakers, Dominicans as preachers, Benedictines as hospitality givers. Is it in your nature to exude peace? Are you called to join a family of Franciscans working in service of the Gospel with joyful hearts, gathering regularly to work together on important needs and seeing all of creation as brothers and sisters?