The Secular Franciscan Order is a community of Catholic men and women, of any of the Rites in communion with Rome (Latin, Byzantine, Melkite, etc.), in the world who seek to pattern their lives after Christ in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi. Secular Franciscans are territories, or members of the Third Order of St. Francis founded by St. Francis of Assisi 850 years ago. Originally known as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the Order is approved and recognized by the Holy See by the official name of OrdoFranciscanusSaecularis (OFS). It is open to any Catholic not bound by religious vows to another Religious Order. It is made up of the laity (men and women) and also secular clergy (deacons, priests, bishops). Although Secular Franciscans make a public profession, they are not bound by public vows as are religious orders living in community. The Third Order Regular (TOR), which grew out of the Third Order Secular, do make religious vows and live in community. The Holy See has entrusted the pastoral care and spiritual assistance of the Secular Franciscan Order, because it belongs to the same spiritual family, to the Franciscan First Order (Friars Minor) and Franciscan Third Order Regular (TOR).
The preaching of St. Francis, as well as his own living example and that of his first disciples, exercised such a powerful attraction on the people that many married men and women wanted to join the First or the Second Order, as is witnessed to in some writings of Francis addressed to them: the two Letters to the Faithful as well as the contents of Chapter 23 of the Regula non bullata, which constitute the basis and spiritual reference for what would become, in time, The Franciscan Third Order. Francis formed his third order because of circumstances that he had not foreseen. As he preached penance in one place after another, devout lay persons who were bound by family responsibilities begged to be taught a more perfect way of life. He showed them how they must lead the Gospel life at home and at their work, and spread the Gospel teaching by word and example among their neighbours, in imitation of the poor and suffering Christ. St. Francis found a middle way: he gave them a rule animated by the Franciscan spirit. In the composition of this rule St. Francis was assisted by his friend Cardinal Ugolino, later Pope Gregory IX. This way of life was quickly embraced by many couples and single men and women. They zealously practiced the lessons Francis had taught them concerning prayer, humility, peacemaking, self-denial, fidelity to the duties of their state, and above all charity. Like Francis himself, they cared for lepers and outcasts.
It was during the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), who was an OFS member himself that the OFS was officially implanted in India. It was his desire to spread OFS everywhere. The pope wrote to the provincial minister of the capuchins of Lombardy in northern Italy, that he wished the Third Order to spread farther and farther, day by day. Let us propagate and propagate the Third Order. Let us take great pains to do so. It was in this response that the Italian capuchins, who worked as missionaries in North India during the later part of the nineteenth century, under took the task of implanting the Third Order in several of their mission territories. With the departure of the Italian capuchins, the Third Order fraternities, established by them, showed signs of decline and gradually became extinct in North India but proved to be more successful in South India. The beginning of the OFS in India took place at different times and in different states.
>> In Goa in the year 1770
>> In Kerala in the year 1868
>> In North India in the year 1886
>> In Karnataka in the year 1927
>> In Tamil Nadu in the year 1933
>> In Maharashtra in the year 1964
In India today totally there are 87 Regions with 725 established local Fraternities and over 18, 000 and more members.