The Franciscan Option

I am a Secular Franciscan and I live in the suburbs. I have a husband and a family and a job. And as the minister of my Secular Franciscan fraternity, responsibility weighs heavy on my heart.

You see, it is the role of the minister to serve the fraternity. We’re not called the president or even the leader, though ministers preside over meetings and are called to lead by example. The minister is called to serve. In the case of my fraternity, that has been a difficult call to follow in the past several years. Ministers are normally allowed to serve two 3-year terms. My six years were up six years ago, and I’m still here.

Not all Franciscans live in community and serve in the inner city or mission territories. All my life, I have known Franciscans who did this; in fact, having such Franciscans in the background of my life is surely part of the reason I followed the path to becoming a Secular Franciscan. I grew up knowing friars from the Holy Name Province of the Order of Friars Minor who ministered in New York City, in the mountains of Bolivia, and in a soup kitchen in Philly’s Kensington neighborhood (where my older son later volunteered a few days a week during his college years). Later I came to know one of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a priest who regularly takes a stand against the culture of death by leading prayerful processions to abortion clinics twice a month. When he’s not involved with that work, he serves as a leader for the Good Counsel Homes, a network of housing, educational and parenting support, and prayerful encouragement for women in crisis pregnancies and their babies. When he’s not involved with that work, he’s living in the South Bronx and serving those in need in his neighborhood.

We Secular Franciscans do not live in community and not all of us can do that kind of work. All of us, however, can pray for those who do. We can financially support those who do. We can cast our votes and contact our government representatives and advocate for those who are most vulnerable, whether they be unborn children in danger of abortion, pregnant mothers with nowhere to go, people who are hungry, or people who are lonely.

While we cannot devote our lives 24/7 to the kind of service that vowed Franciscans do, we can live our call to serve others in many ways. Anyone, no matter what their state in life, can find ways to live out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

As I watched The Franciscan Way, a video featuring one of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in the OSV Talks series, I was inspired to renew my commitment: a commitment I made 20 years ago, on October 4, 2001. I made a promise “to live my life in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Secular Franciscan Order.” I need to recommit my life of service, because I am not the same wife, mother, professional, and Franciscan I was 20 years ago.

The Franciscan Option is the belief that the radical Christ-centered incarnationalism of St. Francis, renewed in those called to engage society, has the power to transform the world. (Fr. Agustino Torres, CFR)

How can we engage society? How can we bring Christ to the world today? How can we bring Christ to our own family? How can I bring Christ to my fraternity?

Right now, my Secular Franciscan fraternity is in a time of struggle. We don’t have many members who are able to attend meetings and serve the fraternity on the Council. We can’t elect a new Council because we don’t have enough people to serve on it. Our members have served for many years, and I need to remember that some of them are now the needy I am called to serve. I’ve been trying to find ways to do this. They’re not big things, and they’re not time-consuming. But doing a little thing can be meaningful. I’m listing a few to help you think of things you can do to serve the needy in your life.

  • Each week during folk group rehearsal, I call one of our homebound members, put the phone on speaker, and we sing one of the songs we’ll be singing at Sunday Mass.
  • When our parish wasn’t giving out printed bulletins during the pandemic, I printed the PDF from the parish website and mailed it to one of our members who doesn’t have access to a computer or smartphone.
  • The week of a fraternity member’s birthday, I dedicate my holy hour for their intentions and send them a card.

Francis would say that we need to incarnate Christ in our own lives. (Fr. Agustino Torres, CFR)

Love of the poor; joy of the cross; loving a Church with the Eucharist as the center: this is the Franciscan Option.

St. Francis embracing the leper
Jim McIntosh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

Images: Wolfgang Moroder, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Jim McIntosh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This post was inspired by Fr. Agustino Torres’ Talk in the OSV Talks series, a series of topics from prominent Catholic leaders to spark discussion, explore new or re-explore old approaches, and inspire creative thinking, all from the heart of the Church.

Fierce like Francis

While all Secular Franciscans follow the same call, to live a Gospel life in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, every Secular Franciscan follows this call differently, according to his or her own abilities and state of life. Every Secular Franciscan has a particular way in which we can say that he or she is like Francis.

Eileen was fierce like Francis.

Despite the many difficulties, health crises, and hardships she endured in her later years (or maybe because of them), Eileen was not about to waste time thinking but never acting. She challenged us: are we doing enough? Are we praying enough? Are we listening to God enough? What is God telling us to do?

Sometimes Eileen would come to a Secular Franciscan gathering and ask bold questions, seemingly out of nowhere. But those questions were born of her deep faith and constant prayer. When she was not physically able to do more, she always prayed and contemplated.

In Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, Pat Gohn noted,

The good of the Gospel is that it leads us to new life in Christ and, ultimately, eternal life in heaven. This gospel of life has a very practical application for Christians. A woman’s influence in the world consists of being a guardian of life. We give witness to it in our very nature, and that should extend to the moral leadership we have wherever we live and work. (161)

Indeed, Eileen was a mother and grandmother, giving witness to the gift of life; but her work did not stop there. Eileen had a deep concern for the unborn, and she participated in the March for Life as she was able. Throughout the year, she worked to keep the cause of the vulnerable unborn in the public eye by writing letters to the editor of our local newspaper, many of which were published.

St. Francis had many fierce moments in his life: his embrace of the leper, his journey to Egypt with the aim of converting the Sultan, his refusal to stay in the fine monasteries he’d advised the brothers not to build, his renunciation of his father’s wealth. Some might call these reckless moves, but they were not at all reckless. They were born of faith and prayer and a wish to live up to very high ideals. They required courage and fierceness.

The dream of Pope Innocent III: Francis holds up the Lateran Basilica with his shoulder. Giotto di Bondone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Early in his ministry, St. Francis traveled to Rome to receive papal approval of his rule of life. Pope Innocent III hesitated in granting this approval, thinking that Francis’ way of life was impractical. But according to legend, Innocent dreamed he saw Francis propping up the Basilica of St. John Lateran with his shoulder — and this convinced him to give his blessing to the Franciscans. It’s fitting, then, that we celebrate Eileen’s life today, on the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the first physical church building and the symbol of the Church that Francis had set out to rebuild.

Not all of us are courageous enough to be fierce like Francis. But Eileen was, and all of us who knew her are better for her boldness.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

fierce like francis

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you!

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Franciscan Saints

In the month when we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (which is actually a solemnity if you’re a professed Franciscan), it’s only fitting to read about some notable figures among his followers. There’s a long list of official Franciscan saints, but author Robert Ellsburg did not limit the selection to canonized saints in his new book The Franciscan Saints (Franciscan Media, 2017).

Franciscan saints

I discovered quite a few surprises in the table of contents, noting that the foundresses of several religious orders of women in the nineteenth century were listed: sisters from some of these orders educated members of my own extended family. And once I saw that the table of contents was organized chronologically (by year of death) I immediately went to the back of the book to discover more about contemporary Franciscans notable for their heroic virtue.

Father Mychal Judge, OFM, was listed, of course. The first certified victim of 9/11 died as he ministered to others dying after the attack on the World Trade Center. Judge, like a few of the other figures who died since 2000, has not had his cause for sainthood advanced enough (yet) to be referred to as “Servant of God,” an early step in the canonization process.

Learn more about the process of canonization in this video from Busted Halo:

I was also surprised to learn that St. Roch, to whom many members of my family have had a particular devotion, was a Franciscan. (I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by that; for over 100 years my family attended a parish staffed by Franciscan Friars.) My grandmother had a relic of St. Roch — the first holy relic I had ever seen.

The saints in this book come from all walks of life: missionaries, princesses (yes, a princess!), poets, widows, martyrs, reformers, Secular Franciscans, prophets, mystics, stigmatists, and popes.

This book will be useful when members of my Secular Franciscan fraternity choose patron saints at the beginning of the year. We’ll have quite a few new names to choose from and new saints to get to know.

Teens preparing for Confirmation would do well to check out this book; the biographies of each saint are brief (averaging 2 pages) and include a quote (usually a quote from the saint).

I enjoyed this peek into the “who’s who of the Franciscan family” and flagged several saints for further study. If you like to learn about saints and you’re particularly interested in Franciscans, The Franciscan Saints is an excellent starting point.

Barb's Book shelf blog title

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: A Gathering of Larks

A contemporary poet writes to St. Francis of Assisi as she explores his life with a focus on his choices, mistakes and faith. A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2017) isn’t exactly a biography, but author Abigail Carroll covers the important events in St. Francis’ life while she tries to make sense of the inexplicable in current events.

a gathering of larks by abigail carroll back (1)

Abigail Carroll refuses to fall into the trap of stereotyping St. Francis–and that was a great relief, as I relate to this statement:

For most of my life, the St. Francis I have encountered has been as garden statuary, prayer card images, children’s book illustrations, and stained-glass windows. . . . I attempt to bridge the gap between who Francesco Bernardone really was and who we have made him to be. (viii)

The book begins with a short biography of St. Francis that does not gloss over the tough-to-think-about parts or romanticize anything. The poem I enjoyed most is a prose-poem titled “Dear Reluctant Saint” that describes modern-day Assisi, explaining how commercialized it’s become without exactly saying how much he’d hate something like that.

Don’t skip the Conversation with the Author at the end of the book, in which she discusses faith, poetry, and what most intrigues her about St. Francis.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the various titles Carroll uses to address St. Francis. Reminiscent of the stock epithets in Greek poetry, these titles help to define St. Francis and are thematically related to the issue explored in each particular poem.

This book is highly recommended for anyone with a devotion to St. Francis of Assisi.

Barb's Book shelf blog title
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

Via @franciscanmom

Small Success: Perfect Joy!

Thursdays at begin with a look at the past week’s Small Successes!

On Monday, the Secular Franciscans celebrated the Transitus of St. Francis, marking his passage from earthly life to eternal life in heaven. It is a solemn moment with a prayer service that includes readings from a biography of the saint along with the Gospel, Psalms, prayer and music.

Transitus of St. Francis @franciscanmom
Copyright 2016 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS. All rights reserved.

I spent the day Monday putting out all kinds of fires, some related to the Transitus and others completely separate from it, but all serving as a distraction from what was about to take place. From missing copies of the readings to sheet music that didn’t include all the verses to a soccer practice that ran late and a request by someone I respect that I do something that would compromise my integrity (I declined), by midafternoon I was DONE and tweeted:

Via @franciscanmom
Copyright 2016 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS.

In the end it all turned out fine, at least as far as the Transitus was concerned. We were happy with the turnout and participation. The parts of the song I messed up because I was trying to track lyrics and guitar chords for a song with 7 verses went unnoticed by the assembly, who knew the song so well and sang so enthusiastically that I was basically drowned out.

As we enjoyed light refreshments and conversation after the Transitus, I observed to one of my fellow Franciscans that it had been a crazy day. She said the same (she was on the other end of the missing-readings problem, and had other things happening as well.) Later she emailed me and said that she remembers this happening every year. All The Things seem to go wrong on Transitus day.

Here we are, trying to remember one of the holiest people who ever lived, someone after whose example we wish to model our lives, and things are just a mess.

Maybe that’s what St. Francis meant when he talked about Perfect Joy.

Small Success dark blue outline 800x800

Share your Small Successes at by joining the linkup in the bottom of today’s post. No blog? List yours in the comments box!


This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.
"Worth Revisit: The Pope Redefines St. Francis" by Barb Szyszkiewicz @franciscanmom

Worth Revisit: The Pope Redefines Saint Francis

On September 17, Franciscans celebrated the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis. That’s what Francis is really all about–uniting himself so closely to the Gospel life that his own body bore the same wounds as Christ on the cross.

"Worth Revisit: The Pope Redefines St. Francis" by Barb Szyszkiewicz @franciscanmom
License [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Ten years ago, then-Pope Benedict XVI spoke about who St. Francis really was. Here’s my reflection, written September 14, 2006, on an article from Chiesa News.

He’s not just that guy in the birdbaths. He’s not some enviro-hippie.

Benedict XVI said he wanted to correct the “abuses” and “betrayals” that distort the true character of Saint Francis. And to recall the false view of Saint Francis, Benedict XVI needed just two words: “environmentalist” and “pacifist.” …The truth of Saint Francis – the pope emphasizes – is his “radical choice of Christ,” the conversion awakened in him by the words of the crucified Jesus: ‘Go, rebuild my house.’

It’s not about peace protests. It’s not about ecology. It’s not about blessing our household pets.

Being Franciscan is about conversion. All the rest is incidental.

In the spiritual travail that the young Francis was living through, he perceived these words of vocation and mission as being in the first place an invitation to carry out completely the conversion that had already begun, making his own the concern and plans of Christ for his Church.

So my priority, as a Franciscan, is to ask myself how I can better turn myself toward God, and serve Him in my daily life. That’s what conversion is about–turning TOWARD God.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

#WorthRevisit: Pray the Franciscan Crown Rosary

Since the month of May is a time when we honor the Blessed Mother, I’m looking back at a post explaining my favorite Franciscan way to pray the Rosary.

Here’s a how-to for my favorite variation of the Rosary:  the Franciscan Crown.

It’s got that name because, according to legend, the Blessed Mother asked an aspiring Franciscan friar to weave her a crown of prayers.

While the Dominicans are credited with the creation of the Rosary, Franciscans also have a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother:

In his devotion to the Mother of Christ, the Franciscan, who is united with and transformed into Christ, makes Mary his own Mother. How can it be otherwise, for it was Mary who begot Christ, and hence it is Mary who has given the True Life to the Franciscan. Mary is our Mother because she is the Mother of the Head of the Mystical Body, of which we are members — she is the one Mother of the One Christ. Thus Francis “embraced the Mother of Jesus with an indescribable love, because she made the Lord of Majesty our brother.”

My favorite "pocket Rosary." Durable. Washable. And with a Franciscan touch!
My favorite “pocket Rosary.” Durable. Washable. And with a Franciscan touch! Get yours at Mary Devotions, an Etsy shop.

The Franciscan Crown is a 7-decade Rosary. If you don’t have a 7-decade set, use your regular Rosary and just backtrack a bit. Unlike the regular Rosary, you start at the medal and end at the cross.

For each decade, pray 1 Our Father, 10 Hail Marys and 1 Gloria.

Here are the meditations for each decade:

  1. The first Joy in the Crown of Mary is the joy of Our Lady at the Annunciation. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Your word.” May I become your humble servant, Lord.
  2. The second Joy in the Crown of Mary is the joy of Our Lady at the Visitation. “Rising up, Mary went into the hill country and saluted her cousin Elizabeth. Grant us true love of neighbor, Lord.
  3. The third Joy in the Crown of Mary is the joy of Our Lady at the Birth of Jesus and the Adoration of the Magi. “She brought forth her first-born son…and laid him in a manger.” Give us true poverty of spirit, Lord.
  4. The fourth Joy in the Crown of Mary is the joy of Our Lady at the Presentation and Purification. “They carried him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord…as it is written in the law of the Lord.” Help me obey all just laws.
  5. The fifth Joy in the Crown of Mary is the joy of Our Lady at the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. “Not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem seeking him.” May I never lose you through serious sin, Lord.
  6. The sixth Joy in the Crown of Mary is the joy of Our Lady at the Resurrection of Jesus. “The Lord is not here; He is risen.” May we share your glory, Lord.
  7. The seventh Joy in the Crown of Mary is the joy of Our Lady at her Assumption into Heaven and her Coronation. “A woman clothed with the sun; upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” Mary, may we share your crown of eternal life.
After you have prayed the seven decades, pray two more Hail Marys to make a total of 72–honoring the 72 years of Mary’s life (according to legend). Then, for the intentions of the Holy Father, pray one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Gloria.
You don’t have to be a Franciscan to pray this beautiful devotion.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

#WorthRevisit: Earth Day According to One Secular Franciscan

With Earth Day coming up this Friday (it’s even on the freebie church calendar along with all the saint of the day and what Sunday of Easter happens this week, and Passover, even) I’m looking back at an Earth Day post from 2008.

Saint Francis of Assisi has apparently come to be considered the Patron Saint of Earth Day, ecology, and all things “green.”

But the green movement does Francis no justice when insistence is placed on “green for green’s sake.”

The only thing the Francis was interested in for its own sake was God.

Yes, he had a great reverence for Creation–the earth, nature, the sun and moon and all the animals, plants and trees. But his reverence was born from his awe of the power and creativity and genius of God. To Francis, every bit of God’s creation reflected God’s glory–and that is what made creation something to be revered. Francis saw God’s glory, power, creativity and genius in everything and everyone, and strove to act accordingly. …

Let us remember that while it’s great to reduce waste, recycle or reuse what we have, and try to create less garbage, the reason we do this is to treat God’s creation with care–to be good stewards of what we have been given.

It’s not enough to be “green.” We should also be grateful.

when saint francis saved the church

If you want to know what St. Francis of Assisi was really about, read When Saint Francis Saved the Church by Jon M. Sweeney. You’ll find that his priorities were very different from the picture of him painted by environmental activists who claim to be acting in his name.

Saint Francis set out to save the Church. Not the earth.

The fine print: Link to Jon Sweeney’s book is an Amazon affiliate link. Your purchases through my affiliate links help support

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

#WorthRevisit: Baby Jesus Wore a Blue Snowsuit


Baby Jesus wore a blue snowsuit with a faux-fur-trimmed hood.
All the Angels had puffy coats under their robes.
The Shepherds sported blue jeans and white Nikes.
The pastor contributed his own “capuch” and a deacon’s stole to complete Francis’ costume.

Mary had a kidney transplant three weeks ago.
The Sheep was played by a three-year-old boy who had to be persuaded to take off the Eagles hat underneath his furry-eared cap.
Due to a shortage of teenage boys, there were almost Two Kings instead of Three.

Mary’s pony stopped along the path to Bethlehem to graze on some leftover autumn leaves.
The goat butted the Shepherds and the Sheep.
Most of the choir members had colds and couldn’t sing.
We were right next to a Dumpster.

It was a beautiful sunny day.
There were so many people we didn’t have enough chairs.
But there were plenty of cookies and lots of hot cocoa.
All the children played their parts wonderfully.
The pastor sang with the choir, and at the end everyone sang “Joy to the World.”

Today we reflected on the miracle of Greccio and the miracle of Bethlehem.
We were thankful for our warm clothing. Baby Jesus probably wasn’t so lucky.
We were thankful for the children who eagerly donned angel wings and shepherds’ robes.
We were thankful for a young girl’s new lease on life thanks to a generous organ donor.
We were thankful for the cookies, and the cocoa, and the fellowship shared around some pots of delicious homemade soup after it was all over.
We were–and are–thankful for the miracle that brought us all here in the first place.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Living & Serving in the Way of St. Francis


Barb's Book shelf blog title

My older children’s high school and college experiences have been marked by many, many opportunities for community service. From Habitat to AIDS Outreach to Special Olympics to soup kitchens and more, both the Big Kids have made it a point to find ways to help others.

Some of my older son’s friends have gone on to spend a year doing volunteer work. Some of them volunteer through the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM) program, which ministers locally in Philadelphia and Camden at homeless shelters, soup kitchens and urban parishes.

living and serving in the way of st francisLiving & Serving in the Way of St. Francis is a book of reflections by and for Franciscan volunteers. Edited by Julie McElmurry, this book is full of the lived experiences of these volunteers. Each short chapter is introduced by a quote from St. Francis’ Testament and ends with two reflection questions, perfect for prayer and journaling. In the middle, there is a reflection by one of the volunteers, and these reflections are as different as the individual volunteers themselves and the situation in which they serve. There are stories, meditations on their own faith and motivation for service, and memories shared.

Some of these short (2 pages or less) reflections left me wanting more from the author. Collectively, they reminded me, as a mom, that youthful idealism can lead to great things–and that I want to keep encouraging my children to find ways to serve others.

My older son looks forward to reading this book next, so he can see what his friends had to say about their time as FVMs, some ministering in the very soup kitchen where my son volunteered several hours per week during his years in college.

This book would be a valuable prayer companion to a young would-be volunteer. I’d like my daughter to read it before she heads to Appalachia for a week-long volunteer experience this summer. It should be a part of any Catholic campus ministry’s library of resources.

Learn more about this book at

If you’re interested in purchasing this book, consider stopping in at your local Catholic bookstore first. It’s also available online, and if you use my Amazon link, gets a small percentage of the sales.