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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Franciscans of Primitive Observance come to the Mount"

By: Megan Wertner

From Mount St. Mary's "Mountain Echo"
Posted: 12/3/2003

Picture is not from original article, but is a picture of the FPO's from a recent 2008 post on Cardinal O'Malley's blog.

Junior Adam Windsor was approached by a bearded young man wearing a grey robe in Patriot Hall one evening. "For the love of God, could you spare a meal?" the man asked. Windsor gladly used his flex dollars to buy food for Brother Sean Patrick.

Brother Sean Patrick is one of seven Franciscans of Primitive Observance (FPOs) who arrived in Emmitsburg last June. The FPOs came to prepare four of their men for the priesthood at the Mount and currently live in a house off campus. This group includes two priests, two friars enrolled in the seminary, two friars studying philosophy at the college, and another friar who helps care for his brothers.

The FPOs live a simple life in imitation of the apostles, walking where they need to go, begging for food, and sleeping on the floor. They strive to be completely reliant on God's providence and to be "totally emptied of self," explains Brother Sean Patrick. Their physical poverty is a "material expression of a higher spiritual goal."

Brother Sean Patrick, 24, joined the FPOs when he was 20 years old. He was impressed by the friars who had very little, but were joyful and seemed to have "something real, something deep." He is now studying philosophy and hopes to become a priest.

The Franciscans of Primitive Observance began with six friars in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1995 and now includes sixteen members. Their apostolate is evangelization and working with the poor.

Brother Sean Patrick says that evangelization is often "re-evangelization" in today's world. The brothers run retreats for men, women, and children, give talks in local schools, visit people door-to-door, pray outside of abortion clinics, and help parishes who need priests.

The friars also assist other religious orders in their missions, minister in prisons, and help people living in impoverished areas. They remain available to help where needed and "try to be the presence of Christ" wherever they go.

Prayer is the FPOs' "top priority," says Brother Sean Patrick. "It's in prayer that we receive strength to keep up the apostolate." The friars structure their day around prayer. They attend Mass every morning, say or chant the Liturgy of the Hours, pray the rosary together, and have Eucharistic adoration for an hour each day. In addition to daily private prayer, each brother is required to make several solitude retreats a year to different hermitages.

Another essential element in Franciscan charism is penance. The brothers do penance for their sins and for the sins of the world. They try to make it known that people can always turn back to God. The friars' effort is "not just social work, but spiritual work," states Brother Sean Patrick.

The brothers try to serve as a witness to family life as they pray and work together in their community. Windsor enjoys seeing the brothers around campus. He says, "Not only they, but all the different orders are so nice."

Brother Sean Patrick has found Mount Saint Mary's to be "friendly." He hopes that it will become a place where "faith can be nurtured, taught, and upheld and that the college will become known for that."

Where will the Franciscans of Primitive Observance be in the future? According to Brother Sean Patrick, "Wherever God wants us."


A Simple Sinner said...

This group is altogether different from the Missionaries of the Immaculata (AirMaria folks) and Father Benedict G's group, right?

You need a score card to keep track of them all.

Brad Watkins said...

Not eniterly different from Fr. Groeschel's order. The FPO's split off from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal almost as soon as the CFR's split off from the Capuchins. As I understand it, and I could be wrong, the Friars who left the CFR's to found the FPO's felt they were called to live a life much closer to that of that found in St. Francis' original rule. From what I know of them, they are certainly far closer to doing it that any other Franciscan order in the United States and probably join only a few other Franciscan communities in the world living out such radical poverty. From my encounters I have been deeply impressed by their deep spirituality and the sense of peace they radiate. As one who has a deep Franciscan spirituality, I will say it would have to be a certain calling to join this order. The FPO's are not for the faint of heart or those who think it might be neat to be a Franciscan and wear a habit. From everything I have read and conversations I have had, theirs is an extremely radical life of prayer, poverty, and penance. I think it is safe to say that they are about as close as you can come to being in a community like the early Franciscans.

A Simple Sinner said...

OK - where do the Franciscans that run Air Maria fit into the picture?

I really need a score card.

Brad Watkins said...

OK, you've got me on that one. There's a joke I've heard for years that is appropriate here...Only God know the actual number of protestant denominations and Franciscan Orders.

Joseph Woodard said...

Regardless, I'm glad they exist. They're really beautiful. And, this might be the same Br. Sean I met while I was studying Spanish in Ave Maria in Nicaragua (they have a friary near the campus there).