In order to become a Franciscan friar (or any religious), I must follow a process called formation. Formation, as the word implies, is about orienting oneself to God in a special way, allowing for changes and transformations to take place. This process lasts around six years, and though there are required steps that one must complete to move forward, the emphasis on forming a person is most important. It is not uncommon, then, for friars to repeat certain steps or to take a bit longer than others. Such instances are not punishments or failures of faith; they are simply examples of how God works in each of us differently, and that there is not a one-size-fits-all “perfect” way to grow in faith.
Though each province has the freedom to determine the specifics of each step, there are 3 main sections of the formation process that all must complete, with an additional step for those wishing to be ordained as priests (look for a post on that topic shortly):
Pre-Novitiate, or Postulancy: This step is best described as a “Come and See” year, with emphasis on exposing first-year members to the life of the Franciscans. In a lot of ways it’s an orientation for a new job and in other ways it’s like a year long interview. By taking on the life of the friars (without the formal commitment) the main goal of a postulant is to take in the experience of eating, working and praying in community, the knowledge gained from Franciscan spirituality classes, and the relationships built while traveling across the province, and decide if this is what God is calling us to do. If it is, and the formation leaders agree, then its on to the Novitiate.
Novitiate: It is as this point that the habit is received and members are considered brothers (and able to put o.f.m. after their name!) This year closely resembles a monastery, in which novices spend the majority of their time in or around the house in prayer, contemplation, community or work. To be honest, I know very little about this step, only that it is where a lot of the “forming” takes place.
Post-Novitiate: This step is where friars gain formal education to be able to articulate the nuances of our faith and prepare us for ministry positions. For many, this will be the completion of a Masters of Divinity (M.Div.), but it depends on the career in mind. During the summers, friars are assigned an internship site to gain more practical experience in ministry. It is also during this time that friars are “simply professed,” meaning that each make a one-year commitment to the three vows, renewed each year until the solemn profession, or life-long vows.
Diaconate: After graduation and solemn profession, those wishing to be ordained as priests spend a year as a deacon, giving homilies, presiding over weddings and funerals, and fine-tuning their pastoral skills. It’s important to note that ordination comes after solemn profession. In this way, all are considered brothers first and foremost, equal with one another. If some choose to seek ordination after that, it does not separate or elevate them above the rest in the order, it is merely a form of work like professor, doctor, or lawyer.
At this point, all I really know is the checklist. Postulancy, Novitiate, Seminary, Profession. But as I mentioned with the word “formation,” this process is not a checklist. It doesn’t account for the love, hardship, spiritual struggles, friendships, headaches, tears, and failures that I will inevitably face and, depending on how I respond to each, form me into a new person. It is a long road ahead, and I am very excited for what I do not know yet.