Most discerners want to know what the first few years in the order look like. In this post and following posts, I will try to describe the first years in the order. These first years are often referred to as “Initial Formation”
Principle and Purpose of Initial Formation:
Since our entire life is a process of conforming oneself to Christ, the period of initial formation has a special importance. It constitutes a time of apprenticeship during which the disciple, guided by those responsible for his formation, learns to distinguish the voice of God from many other messages he hears. Once he has decided to follow the Lord according to the example of Francis, he is given further help to profit from the instruction and experiences offered him so that he may mature in his choice. Those responsible for formation have the duty to accompany the one being formed, organizing the content and guiding experience, especially in the first years so that they truly become formative years according to the principle of "graduality" and continuity. (From “Franciscan Discipleship”, FD.25)
The stages of formation into Franciscan consecrated life begin after acceptance through the normal admissions procedures. The four stages are as follows: Initial vocation discernment with an accent on call; Postulancy, with an accent on conversion; Novitiate, with accent on contemplation; Post-novitiate, with an accent on lifelong commitment. At each successive stage of initial formation, all are called to deepen their love of God, the Church, the Order, and their home jurisdiction. This takes place in the constant pursuit of evangelical perfection. For priesthood or permanent diaconate candidates, initial formation extends to their ordination. For Brothers initial formation extends to solemn vows.
The Postulancy Program:
The first year is called postulancy. Our postulants from all four provinces in the United States, come to the same program in Chicago. As a postulant, you are not yet a member of the order, hence you do not wear the habit. You do however, live the life much like a friar would.
I have just returned from a visit to our house in Chicago where 15 men began their postulant year on July 5, 2016! Our Friary in Chicago is called St. Bonaventure Friary, and it is located near the shores of Lake Michigan, in Chicago, near Loyola University. It is an old hotel, that the friars now own! The daily schedule of life is as follows:
Monday through Friday:
7:30 AM Morning Prayer followed by the Eucharist
9:30 – 11 AM: Classes on Monday and Wednesday, and Ministry on Tuesday and Thursday. Friday is Adoration. (Ministry is typically at our two local parishes, helping in food pantry, soup kitchen, school, or other parish ministries on an individual basis as per a person’s interest and talents.)
11:45 AM: Lunch
Afternoon: Various projects, choir practice, liturgy planning, etc.
5 PM: Meditation followed by Evening Prayer
5:45 PM: Dinner
6:45 PM: Night Prayer and Rosary
7:15 PM: Personal time and recreation
8 AM: Morning prayer followed by Eucharist
Day/Evening: House cleaning stations followed by personal time.
5:00 PM: Sung Vespers
5:45 PM: Dinner
6:45 PM: Franciscan Crown
9 AM: Morning Prayer followed by Eucharist
10:30 AM: Brunch followed by Free time unless an occasional community event is planned.
The Curriculum covered in the classroom in the year of Postulancy:
During the period of the postulancy, conscious adhesion to the Franciscan life requires a deeper study of the human dimension of vocation, of the knowledge of faith and of the knowledge religious life and the Franciscan charism. Given the multicultural reality of the Order, it would be helpful to begin learning one of the languages of the Order, apart from one's own, with preference given to Spanish or Italian. These are further described as follows.
ln relationship to the human dimension of the vocation
1. The psychological aspects of human development, including psychological-sexual development;
2. Group dynamics and how this touches on fraternal life (in Chapters, work, during recreation, etc.)
3. Methods to know oneself better (i.e., reading one's history, personality evaluation, psychological support, etc.)
In relationship to knowledge of the faith
1. The content of the faith as it is presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church;
2. Introduction to the Bible, to prayer, and to Lectio Divina;
3. Introduction to liturgical and sacramental life (especially the Liturgy of the Hours, the Eucharist and Reconciliation);
4. The moral dimension of the human person and the moral Christian law.
In relationship to the knowledge of religious life and the Franciscan charism
1. Introduction to consecrated life;
2. Presentation of the objectives and the goal of postulancy, based on the documents of the Order (Franciscan Discipleship, etc...);
3. Studying the life of St. Francis;
4. Introduction to the Franciscan sources (especially the Writings and the classic biographies on St. Francis);
5. Presentation of the richness of the Franciscan charism and its different expressions.
I hope this brief outline of the first year is helpful. Although one should have done their best to maturely discern if God has called them to enter postulancy, it is helpful to recall the wisdom a priest friend of mine shared about his first day at a diocesan seminary. The new students were told: “You are all called to be here, but you are not all called to stay!” If your year of postulancy helps you become a better person, and helps you realize you are not called to be a Franciscan, that is a year well spent! Read more about the Novitiate year here. Read more about post novitiate here. Read our detailed “Franciscan Discipleship” guide to formation here.