The Franciscans of the Immaculate were founded by the two Franciscan friars, Fr. Stefano Maria Manelli and Fr. Gabriel Maria Pellettieri. Together they outlined a form of life for the friars, sisters and the laity after the example of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, giving the fullest expression to the Marian dimension of St. Francis' ideal and Rule. The Franciscans of the Immaculate was established by Pope John Paul II in 1990 as a diocesan institute. The Institute was erected as a pontifical institute of religious life by His Holiness John Paul II in January 1, 1998, Solemnity of the Mother of God.
The Marian Spirit of St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226 A. D.), the poverello and troubadour of Christ Crucified, was and is one of the greatest devotees of the Mother of God in the history of the Church. Indeed his entire life was encompassed in this endeavor: “To live the life and poverty of Our Most High Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Mother, and to persevere in this to the end.” It was with St. Francis that devotion to the Immaculate Virgin began to grow with new vigor in the Church. He sung Her praises in his Salutation to the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Hail O Lady, Holy Queen, Holy Mother of God, Virgin made church...” He extolled Her incomparable union with the Most Holy Trinity in his antiphon for the Office of the Passion: “Holy Virgin Mary, among women there is no one like You born into the world. You are the Daughter and the Handmaid of the Most High King and Father of Heaven, You are the Mother of Our Most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, Your are the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, ...” Not only did St. Francis sing Her praises and invoke Her Maternal intercession every day, but he went so far as to confess his sins and failings to Her, so as to obtain more assuredly the forgiveness and pardon of Her Divine Son. St. Francis exhorted his friars to have always a fond and living devotion to the Mother of Christ. Indeed it was the example of St. Francis’ love and devotion to Her that began two great movements in the church that have characterized Marian devotion among Roman Catholics ever since. These were an unshakable faith in the Immaculate Conception and the ardent and devoted service of Her known as total consecration.
Spurred on by the example of their Seraphic Father, the Franciscans promoted and popularized devotion to the Mother of God throughout the Church and world during the last 800 years. Their work along these lines has already born fruit: Venerable Pope Pius IX, declared the fact of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a dogma of the faith in 1854. Likewise, Venerable Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be held unshakably by all Catholics as a dogma of the faith in 1950.
St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe: A most faithful follower of St. Francis
St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe (1894-1941 A. D.), a member of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, is one of the newest saints in the Roman Catholic Church. He was beatified in 1973 by Venerable Pope Paul VI and canonized in 1982. Pope John Paul II took that occasion to explain why he had chose to canonize St. Maximilian as a martyr: for in sacrificing his life at Auschwitz to save the life of a father of a family from certain death in the starvation bunker, St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe attained to a particular and exceedingly close conformity to Jesus Christ, who while we were yet sinners, laid down His own life to redeem us from the everlasting damnation of Hell.
St. Maximilian was born in Poland and studied for the priesthood as a Conventual Franciscan in Rome, Italy. While in Rome, he was inspired to found the Militia of the Immaculate, a public association of the faithful for the conversion and sanctification of all souls by means of devotion to and service of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Upon returning to Poland after WWI, St. Maximilian promoted this movement among the friars of his own religious institute as well as among the diocesan clergy and laity. In 1923, with the financial assistance of an American priest, he began a monthly magazine for the members of the Militia known as the Knight of the Immaculate.
St. Maximilian's own devotion to the Blessed Virgin, as Mediatrix of All Grace, overflowed upon all he met. By 1928 He obtained permission of his superiors to found a new friary, entirely devoted to Her service. This was and is known as Niepokalanow. It lies about 60 miles outside of Warsaw, Poland. In this friary St. Maximilian anticipated by divine grace the authentic reforms of the Second Council of the Vatican as they regard religious life. There the marian spirit of St. Francis of Assisi was lived once again by all the friars. They bound themselves to Her by vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and total consecration. They prayed, worked, and lived together for the conversion and sanctification of all souls throughout the world, in the quickest, surest, easiest manner, that is, by introducing them to the Blessed Virgin Mary according to the authentic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
By 1939 Niepokalanow had almost 1,000 friars, and published several million copies of newspapers and magazines, books, periodicals, pamphlets to promote the knowledge and love of the Blessed Virgin. The Militia of the Immaculate had grown to over 1,000,000 members in nearly all the nations of the glob. During the Second World War, St. Maximilian was imprisoned by the Nazi’s and sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where he died the death of a martyr of charity.
The Life and Mission of St. Maximilian Kolbe Reborn
The religious community begun at Casa Mariana (Frigento, Italy), along the lines and in accordance with the counsels of St. Maximilian, was erected by His Holiness Pope John Paul II as a religious institute of diocesan rite in 1990. On that occasion the Holy Father explained that this was for the preservation and propagation of the life and mission of St. Maximilian Kolbe in the Roman Catholic Church.
This new religious institute is known as the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. (There is also an institute of women, living the same charism, known as the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate) The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate began with about 30 friars and one house in 1990 have already grown to over 200 friars in 14 houses on 5 continents. Three of these friars came to America in the winter of 1991. Today the community in the USA has grown to 29. Fourteen of these new vocations are presently studying for the priesthood. Their studies are conducted faithfully according to the mind of the Sacred Magisterium of the Church so that they may be holy and god-fearing sons of Holy Mother Church.
Our Life and Charism
A community of prayer, of poverty, of penance, in the spirit of total consecration to the Immaculate Virgin in the manner of St. Maximilian Mary, so that She may transform us, like St. Francis, into Jesus Crucified, and may let us be consumed in the conquest of all souls for God.
Thus do we love to formulate the manner of Franciscan life of a Casa Mariana (or Marian Friary), in which observance prevails of the Rule and Constitutions according to the model of primitive Franciscan communities and after the recent example offered us by St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe.
It is the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, who guided us along this course with his inspired and enlightened word. It is he who recommended that we be completely faithful to the Holy Rule of our father St. Francis according to the spirit and the letter: "Do not relax the spirit of the ancient Rule nor contradict the letter of it." It is he who urged "the faithful, continued embodiment of the example and teaching of our Seraphic Father" as we see it in St. Maximilian's life.
Like our father St. Francis, we must perceive that we are called to become like Jesus ("to be conformed to the image of His Son" - ROMANS 8:29), crucified with Him ("I have been crucified with Christ" - GALATIANS 2:19), configured, patterned, according to His death ("grown into union with Him through a death like His" - ROMANS 6:5), transformed into Him, identified with Him ("I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" - GALATIANS 2:20).
Like our father St. Francis, in total devotion to the divine mysteries if the Incarnation and Redemption, we must constantly seek to reproduce in ourselves Jesus' conditions of immolation. At Bethlehem it was a condition of poverty; at Nazareth, a hidden life of toil; in the wilderness it was a condition of seclusion, penance and contemplation; during His public life He gave Himself over to works of zeal, at the same time suffering persecution; in His Passion and Death He suffered contempt, pain, and defeat; in the Eucharist He offers Himself as an example of silence and abasement.
Like our father St. Francis, we want to live a condition of brotherhood in the love of our divine Brother, Jesus, and of our Immaculate Mother, Mary, so as to succeed in becoming true friars ("brothers") on the supernatural level of perfect theological charity.
Like our seraphic father St. Francis, we ought to achieve a love for Jesus which would be utmost, which would be passionate, and thus a love in Jesus for our brothers in our common life of prayer, poverty, and penance.
These should make up the distinctive features of our religious life according to the thought of Pope Paul VI, who recommended that we be faithful to the spirit of St. Francis, "which is a spirit of prayer, of austere living, of poverty, and especially of burning love for Jesus Christ and the brethren" (from the address of Pope Paul VI to the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, June 25, 1969).
"The more we belong to the Immaculate Virgin, the better we will understand and love the Heart of Jesus, God the Father, the Holy Trinity"
And in order that all this may be achieved in the "shortest, safest, easiest" way, as St. Maximilian says, we want to be "instruments," "materials," unobtrusive "nobodies" in the hands of the Immaculate Virgin, our Mother and Queen, consecrated to Her unconditionally, irrevocably, with no limit set, until we reach a perfect union with Jesus.
These are St. Maximilian's words:
"Our life must be an extension on this earth of Jesus' life by means of Mary" (from a conference on July 5, 1936). "The more we belong to the Immaculate Virgin, the better we will understand and love the Heart of Jesus, God the Father, the Holy Trinity" (from a letter written after November 10, 1934). "One who is consecrated knows that in the Immaculate Virgin and through the Immaculate Virgin one will, in the quickest and easiest possible way, become one with Jesus, on with God. He knows that in and through him She will love Jesus in a matchless, perfect manner, in whatever one may seek to do, whatever be the way... He knows that this is the only way to that sanctity which is the easiest and most sublime, tending to God's greatest glory" (from "Material for A Book").
Our Ardent Life of Prayer
Our Seraphic Father St. Francis commands us in the Holy Rule to "pray always with a pure heart to God" (CHAPTER X).
Everything about our life gives evidence that the life of prayer ranks first in importance, according to the teaching and example of our Blessed Father Francis and St. Maximilian Mary.
In every friary of ours there must be a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament -- truly the center of affection for the whole place, as for every consecrated heart. If possible, it is even to be located at the physical center of the friary, in a recollected and silent area, to facilitate the friar's visits to the most Holy Sacrament.
In every friary an enclosure is established, comprising as much of the space and as many of the rooms as possible. No one may enter this enclosure, or cloister, except for some objective reason and with express permission, so that silence may be safeguarded and recollection preserved in almost all of the friary.
The community excludes with all promptness everything that brings into the brotherhood the noise, the distraction, the dissipation, and the spirit of the world - radio, television, profane literature, etc. - and during the time and places of greatest activity, efforts increase to preserve the high place of contemplation by means of interior recollection and continued silence, in obedience to the precept of our Holy Father St. Francis expressed in Chapter V of the Rule: "Let them labor faithfully and devoutly in such a way that they will not come to the point of extinguishing the spirit of prayer and devotion, to which all temporal things must yield."
The friars rise early and pray the night office (Office of Readings) long before dawn in order to express our resolve to praise the Lord even by night, and to begin each day in a personal contact with Him. Holy Mass and the entire Liturgy of the Hours, mental prayer and Eucharistic adoration, spiritual reading and the Rosary are practiced faithfully every day according to the horarium set for the community. Thus each day begins and then is spent entirely animated by an unceasing spirit of prayer: "pray without ceasing" (1 THESS. 5:17).
"Our friaries are true houses of Prayer in which silence and recollection reign, in which there is an atmosphere of prayer and contemplation."
In our life of prayer we look to and faithfully strive to imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary who "pondered all these things in Her heart" (LK. 2:51), especially in Her humble and hard- working life at Nazareth, where we reflect on Her being "full of grace" (LK. 1:35) and where She lived in the profound and loving intimacy with Jesus.
Our friaries are true Houses of Prayer in which silence and recollection reign, in which there is an atmosphere of prayer and contemplation. And on the face of each friar, recollected and modest, there is always the gentle grace and steady light of the Virgin in prayer.
Our Seraphic Father Saint Francis declared that he wanted to follow "the life of poverty of our most high Lord Jesus Christ and His most holy Mother," and commanded his sons and to do the same. This is why in Chapter VI of the Holy Rule for the friars (the Regula Bullata) he wrote that his brothers should "not appropriate anything to themselves, neither house, nor place, nor anything," but rather should be "as pilgrims in this world, serving the Lord in poverty and humility, confidently begging alms." We are permitted nothing of our own, therefore, neither in private nor in common, neither in desire nor in actuality, neither internally nor externally. Why? Because Our Lord Jesus Christ and His most holy Mother chose poverty.
This is the "sublime height of exalted poverty" which is the most distinguishing characteristic of Franciscan life, and the only jealously guarded possession of the Order of Friars Minor! We, the sons of the Poverello (THE "LITTLE POOR MAN") of Assisi, in imitation of him, ought to be fit witnesses of the poverty of Jesus and His Mother.
Pope Paul VI, in a discourse to the Franciscan Order given on July 12, 1966, asked, "Which virtue should chiefly distinguish your religious life? Whoever knows the Franciscans answers: poverty, a poverty that changes into love, which wants to imitate and love the poor Christ, and which considers God to be the only true riches of the religious soul." We can sum up our life of poverty in this way: to live like truly poor people, happy with what is strictly necessary and purely indispensable for supporting ourselves and doing our work, that is, in the words of our Holy Mother Saint Clare, "always to practice the poverty and humility of our Lord Jesus Christ and His most holy Mother." We therefore forsake any right to the effective ownership of anything, either as individuals or in common. Even strictly necessary things are not ours, but charitably entrusted to us by our benefactors for our use. St. Maximilian explained in a conference to the brothers on May 6, 1937,
"We of the Order take the vow of poverty, in virtue of which we cannot own anything and must furthermore ask permission for the use of things. At the same time, we cannot lend anything of our own accord. None of us can have even a cent. Not even what we wear is ours. It is only given us for use."
While the materially poor in the world can strive to better their condition in society, we must rule out every possibility of bettering ourselves, of raising our level from being poor. "Let our houses always be so poor," St. Maximilian wrote in an article, "that if St. Francis were to return, they could be chosen by him to dwell in." Like the poor, we make use of only poor things for our personal needs, our dwelling, and for the necessary means to carry on the apostolate. Hence, all purchases of comforts, everything intended merely for pleasure and light diversion are ruled out, such as tobacco products, sightseeing tours, cameras, television sets and radios, vacations, etc. Our friaries, according to the desire of St. Maximilian, must be simple and modest, with frugally furnished cells, wooden beds with straw mattresses, chairs and tables of rough wood, walls painted or plastered unpretentiously, in the refectory the greatest simplicity and frugality (tables of rough material without tablecloths, with plain utensils and dishware).
"We forsake any right to the effective ownership of anything, either as individuals or in common. Even strictly necessary things are not ours, but charitably entrusted to us by our benefactors for our use."
As for money, it is unthinkable for us to have a reserve of money in safekeeping, or a bank account in our possession. We are to use only the money necessary for the present needs; the remainder goes to the poor. We ordinarily cannot accept projects and work that have a fixed income attached, such as a school or parish. In this way we share intimately the economic insecurity of the poor and keep untouched our availability to serve the bishop and clergy. We refuse inheritances, perpetual legacies, fixed incomes, insurance that is not required by law, and anything else of value that does not match our condition as poor persons. For the application of Holy Masses, for the work of the sacred ministry, and for any other work we do, we take no offering unless it be a mere alms. We are ready and glad to give all without receiving anything. And in case of true necessity, we trustfully have recourse to what our Blessed Father Francis called "the table of the Lord," that is, asking alms for the love of God.
Franciscan poverty is the source of great joy and peace for us, since it is, in the words of St. Maximilian, "the bottomless money-box of Divine Providence." It is "a virtue of royal rank," our Holy Father Saint Francis insisted, "for above every other it shone in the King and Queen," and "truly makes us heirs and kings of the kingdom of heaven, poor in earthly goods, but rich in virtues" (HOLY RULE, CH. VI).
Our Life of Penance
In the Testament which he dictated shortly before he died in 1226, our Blessed Father St. Francis makes reference to the beginnings of his religious life in these terms: The Lord granted me, Brother Francis, to begin to do penance in this way... And at his death, he gave this exhortation to us, his sons: Do penance with the blessing of God. The first companions and the early friars, in obedience to and in imitation of their Father who had become, in Brother Elias' words, a living crucifix, did just that, and with what fervor! And we mean to do the same, with the help of Our Lady.
St. Maximilian, whom Pope Paul VI called, in beatifying him, Francis come alive again for our age, that is, because of his perfect imitation of our Blessed Father, said: Penance, penance, penance! the Immaculate repeated this to Bernadette. And is not this the goal of our Order, the Order of Penitents? Is it not above all fitting for us to accept the Immaculate Virgin's invitation to this and carry this invitation all over the world as something for all times?
What must be the motive of our life of penance, of our daily penances? conforming to Jesus Crucified, completing in our flesh what is wanting in the Passion of Jesus (viz. our cooperation, our sharing in His sufferings), suffering for the salvation of souls, paying the penalty for our sins and those of others.
It is not simply a matter of doing this penance or that individual acts of penance, but rather of willingly and lovingly imposing upon ourselves a continuing program of penitential living which puts us in a state of being continually offered as victims with Christ. What is costly and displeasing to fallen nature must stand out among our choices and our behavior so that we may chastise our bodies and bring them into subjection (1 COR. 9:27) and always bear about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be made manifest in our bodies (II COR. 4:10).
"We willingly and lovingly impose upon ourselves a continuing program of penitential living which puts us in a state of being continually offered as victims with Christ."
In the words of St. Maximilian: Our immolation must be total, without reservations. This evangelical spirit of penance shapes and animates our common life: rising in the dark before dawn; extended hours of prayer in common; uninterrupted silence throughout the friary; faithfulness and punctuality in the common exercises; hard work with no thought to fatigue; fasting during two Lents (one in preparation for Christmas, one in preparation for Easter) and on the vigils of Our Lady's feasts; a frugal, plain diet, eating "of whatever is put before us" according to the Holy Rule; the use of the discipline; no shunning of discomfort and hardship and, on the contrary, avoidance of ease and convenience; frugality in all the areas of the friary enclosure.
Penance must shine in our whole person as we go always clothed in the habit, day and night, a habit of penance in the form of a cross, a perceptible sign of our death to the world and our conformity to Christ Crucified, as we keep our hair cut very short, wear sandals on sockless feet summer and winter, dressed in a habit and underclothes of cheap material and, according to the Rule, patched with the blessing of God, ridding ourselves of all that merely gratifies (smoking, liquor, vacations, theater-going, sports events, etc.) as not being reconcilable with our vocation of penance and victimhood.
Indeed, we wish ever more and more fervently to answer the invitation Our Lady has given us to live the life of the Friars Minor according to its most primitive spirit, expressed so poignantly by St. Maximilian in a letter to another friar of the Order who was desirous of joining him: Come with us to die of hunger, of fatigue, of humiliations, and of suffering for the Immaculate. CH. VI).
Our Life in Common
The goal of our life is to be a community of brothers in Christ, sons of a common Father in Heaven, who are joined by the Holy Spirit of Love, a little family of which the Immaculate Virgin is Mother and Queen: to live in a fraternity of mutual love that draws life from the fullness of giving ourselves to Jesus, who is really and personally present in the Holy Eucharist, the center and heart of our community, present mystically in the brothers, in particular in those who are lesser--the minores--present in all creatures inasmuch as only "by Him all things have their existence." (1 COL 1:17)
We are called to give this witness of total love in the bosom of the Church and among men. We are to give it in humility and simplicity, in poverty and gladness, like Holy Father St. Francis and the first companions.
The measure of our fraternal charity is Jesus Himself: "Love one another as I have loved you." (JN 13:34-5) For this, the firm desire to deny ourselves is the indispensable prerequisite. The love of Jesus is the content and essence of this charity. Our availability to serve others, and our dedication to our brothers--these things should correspond to the delicate, refined thinking of our Holy Father St. Francis: "If a mother loves and provides for her natural child, how much more devotedly should one not love and provide for his spiritual brothers?" (RULE, CHAPTER 6)
What sustains and guides community life is supernatural obedience, that perfect obedience that makes us look upon having our own selfish way as "vomit," according to the Seraphic Father's teaching.
An evangelical life of prayer, poverty, penance demands but a few structures: a timetable for the common exercises of the community; distribution of work to all members by the guardian; the custody of the frugal, necessary goods that serve the community. Very useful instruments for promoting the community life, marked by fraternal participation, are the Council meetings and community chapters.
It is of primary importance that the love of Christ be always animating us--"The charity of Christ urges us on" (II COR 5:14)--to live in a perfect sharing of prayer and action, sorrow and joy.
Two features govern all of our apostolic activity: it should be Marian and, as befits the Ordo Minor, it should be lesser.
The first of these qualities, essential to a Marian community, must render Marian all apostolic activity according to the wonderful example of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe (1898-1941), whom Pope Paul VI ranked "among the great saints and prophetic spirits who grasped, venerated, and sung the mystery of Mary."
"In the bosom of the Immaculate the soul is reborn according to the likeness of Jesus Christ." (St. Maximilian)
By virtue of our vow of unlimited and total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is our mission and duty to give Mary to souls, to cause them to discover and know Her, to make all hearts love Her, using every means in order that She may bring souls to Jesus and transform them into other Christs "in the swiftest, surest, most beautiful way." (St. Maximilian)
St. Maximilian wrote:
"We have one freely chosen and beloved, fixed ideal ... it is the Immaculate. For Her let us live, toil, suffer, and long to die."
"We have one freely chosen and beloved, fixed ideal ... it is the Immaculate. For Her let us live, toil, suffer, and long to die.
Like Niepokalanow, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate are marked by this distinctive endeavor: "to take pains, under the Immaculate Virgin's protection and through Her mediation, to convert souls and make them holy," by every licit means and animated by a missionary spirit that preconceives no restrictions to time or place. The other quality, the preservation of a "lesser-ness" makes us "subject to everybody." And thus our priestly ministry will always be subject to the will of the local Bishop and his pastors.
It was St. Francis' idea to practice an auxiliary apostolate in service to the pastors of the Church. To safeguard this complete availability for unrestricted service to the clergy, we take precautions not to accept as an apostolate any fixed operations (schools, colleges, etc.) or "to be the last to take them" (by way of exception or when such a charge is urged upon us).
This quality of "lesserness" colors our apostolic works, which give preference to serving the poor and humble and most needy, in a ministry of "love for souls and a fondness for assisting them, whether it be in a group to be served by good, popular sermons, or an individual, particularly in the ministry of confession and spiritual direction--always so necessary." (Pope Paul VI)
Indeed, "lesserness" constitutes the most concrete expression of our poverty and penance, which are animated by that ceaseless prayer for the fruitfulness of the priestly ministry. "I have experienced," wrote St. Maximilian, "that only prayer obtains the grace of conversion;" and as he says elsewhere, "All the fruit of our labors directed to the conversion and sanctification of souls depends on prayer." Prayer enables us to keep receiving the maternal care of the Immaculate Heart.