Religious Communities for Men
Chapter 4:


St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) founded the Order of the Friars Minor (the Lesser Brethren or Little Brothers).  After his death (and ever since) there have been many reforms breaking the Order into different groups.  In 1897, Pope Leo XIII regrouped the Friars Minor into three branches:

1.      The Order of Friars Minor of the Leonine Union

2.      The Order of Friars Minor Conventual

3.      The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin

The Conventuals and the Capuchins were already in existence but the Friars Minor of the Leonine Union were brought together from smaller groups; they are also called quite simply “The Order of Friars Minor”, “Observants” or “Franciscans”.  All three Orders are truly Franciscan; they all follow the Rule of St. Francis: they differ in their constitutions and there are slight differences in their habits, for instance the Capuchins are bearded while the others are shaven.

The Capuchins are the strictest observants of the Franciscan Rule, while the Conventuals are the most relaxed.  The Observants or the Franciscans are in between but perhaps closer to the Capuchins. The Capuchins were started in 1525 in Italy by Blessed Matthew of Basci; he wanted to return to the pure spirit of St. Francis.  Even our habit is closer to the original.  The name comes from the Italian “cappuccino” (“ little hood”) : the children made fun of the new friars’ hoods which were not little but big in comparison with the other Franciscans’.  Capuccino coffee gets its name from its color, which is supposed to be like our habit also.

"Give me souls and take the rest!"

The Spirit of St. Francis

Saint Francis’ ideal was to follow and imitate Christ poor and crucified: poor in His birth in the stable, poor in His ignominious death on the Cross, poor in the Blessed Sacrament under the humble appearance of bread and wine.

The first Capuchins wanted to live as close as possible to this ideal by a life of prayer and penance in poverty, chastity and obedience according to a strict interpretation of St. Francis’ Rule; our Constitutions have remained the same since 1525 undergoing only very minor modifications such as in 1909 when the General Chapter set our Constitutions in order, tying up loose ends and correcting abuses which had crept in: these revised Constitutions (revised, not new) were approved by Pope St. Pius X.  In 1925, they were adapted to the revised Code of Canon Law; however these adaptations and revisions were nothing like the sweeping changes made in 1968.

The Second Vatican Council called upon the religious Orders to revise their constitutions “conveniently” each according to the “original spirit of the institute”; in no way did the Council ask for a new constitution.  However what happened in 1968 was a revolution.  The Capuchins changed their constitutions completely, changing their whole way of life and their conception of themselves.  Many tried to resist but were obliged to leave and start up new groups but they were no longer Capuchins.

Our Community at Morgon

Our community was founded by the late Father Eugene of Villeurbanne (1904-1990 R.I.P.) who was a very active member of the Order before the Council.  After the Council he got permission to live outside the community as a hermit.  When young men started coming to him who did not want to join the modern Capuchins but wanted to become real capuchins like him, Father Eugene saw it as a sign of God that he should begin a novitiate to keep alive the true capuchin and Franciscan spirit, and that is how our community started.

Rev. Fr. Eugene de Villeurbanne (+ June 10, 1990),
the Founder of the Traditional Branch

Our Way of Life

Our way of life is mainly contemplative, but our priests also go out into the world to preach missions and retreats and they hear confessions.  A large part of our day is taken up with the recitation in common of the Divine Office.  We go to bed at half past eight, then rise at midnight for Matins and Lauds and we go back to bed after Matins and Lauds at about ten to one.  We next get up at twenty to five for mental prayer, so that makes seven hours of sleep even though it is interrupted.  Not all the friars can do this; those studying for the priesthood, the lay brothers for the time of their novitiate and the three years of simple vows, as well as the priests who have a heavy charge like teaching or getting ready to preach a mission or retreat, are not obliged to follow this program in its full rigor; but the friars who do, generally have a siesta in the early afternoon.

We have two hours a day of mental prayer, in the morning and evening.  Then there is the rest of the Office and the Mass: during our thanksgiving after Mass, another Mass is celebrated; we leave the choir after the Pater.  There is the Rosary as well, Stations of the Cross and private devotions and spiritual reading.  Every morning for half an hour, we read the Bible. 

The Capuchins have three “Lents” or period of fasting, from All Saints’ to Easter.  The first is from All Saints’ to Christmas.  The second is from Epiphany (or the day after rather, the seventh of January) for forty days (however there is no fasting on Sundays).  This Lent is called the “Benedetta” (the Blessed Lent) because St. Francis promised us great blessings if we kept it.  Then of course there is the Great Lent of the Church.  We fast every Friday as well.

The fast consists of a very light breakfast and supper, but the midday meal is a full meal.  During the rest of the year (and every Sunday), we have three meals a day. The friars who find it too hard to fast for six days of the week can do it every second day.  We abstain from meet every Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; but we eat meat at the midday meal the other days.  We have wine with our meals – but not for breakfast! We have coffee.

Silence is kept from eight o’clock in the evening till after the Mass the next morning: also in the early afternoon for an hour or so.  During the day, if we have to speak, the novices and those who have made simple vows talk to each other kneeling, so as to stop us from “chatting” and to make us only to say what has to be said.  After the midday and evening meal we have a community recreation: the community spirit is a very important aspect of the Franciscan.

The Friary

How to Become a Friar?     

            First of all you enter as a postulant: the postulant is in civil garb but lives in the community.  The period of postulancy is two months for a cleric (a candidate for the priesthood) and six months for a lay-friar (however he does wear the habit).

            The second step is the novitiate which is for a year.  Now the habit is worn with the hood.  The novice does manual work and studies Franciscan spirituality and the religious life.

            The third step is the profession of simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience which are binding for three years.  The lay brothers continue studying Franciscan spirituality, the religious life and the catechism, while the clerics start philosophy.

            The fourth step is the profession of solemn vows which are binding for life; it is at this stage that the cleric starts theology.

What is the Difference between the Priests and the Lay Brothers?

The lay brothers (lay friars) have a more contemplative life than the priests because their life is more hidden and withdrawn.  They do gardening, cooking, look after the sacristy, and the brother who answers the door is traditionally a lay brother.

The priests are of course involved with their ministry and are often away from the friary.  However “often” does not mean “always”: it is the priests who instruct the novices and young religious in catechism, etc., who give spiritual conferences and who preach the monthly retreat to the community.  They also look after the library, and teach philosophy and theology to the clerical brothers.

Cleric or Student to the Priesthood

The clerical friar begins as a postulant for two months; then he is a novice for a year and he wears the habit; he does manual work like helping in the kitchen, cleaning and gardening and he attends courses and reads books on Franciscan spirituality, the religious life and Christian doctrine.

Next he makes simple vows for three years and begins philosophy; after three years he makes profession of solemn vows for life and starts theology.  He is ordained to minor orders during philosophy, and to major orders during theology; he is ordained a priest after three years of theology and then continues for another year studying pastoral theology and sacred eloquence (learning how to preach).  So, two months as a postulant, a year as a novice, three years of simple vows and philosophy, then the solemn vows and four years of theology in the third year of which he is ordained to the priesthood.

The priests and clerics wear the clerical tonsure or “crown”, i.e. the circle of hair; the lay friars are close-cropped completely.

The clerical also study Church history, the history of the Order and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.  We also teach Latin, but if you can learn, even a little, before you come, it would be better.

Conditions of Entry

1.       First of all, of course, the elementary conditions required by Canon Law for all aspirants for the religious life.

2.       To be at least sixteen, and no more that thirty-five.

3.       To be a Catholic, faithful to the Church and Pope.

4.       Having a good health and sound judgment.

5.       Moreover to be well decided to live according to the Gospel, following St. Francis.

6.       To be a friend of peace and concord.

We would also advise you very strongly if you want to come here to Morgon and join us, that you try and learn French before you come: you should do a part-time course or even a full-time course.  For Latin, it would be helpful, but for French almost indispensable.  Don’t worry about time: time is nothing.  The Friar who is writing this article for you, went to University and did a full-time course in French and Latin, for the express purpose of coming here.  What difference is one, two or three years going to make if you’re going to live for the rest of your life in the monastery?  You can only be better off for it.

The cloister

Capuchin Saints 

Some better known Capuchin saints are: St. Felix Cantalice (+1587); St. Lawrence of Brindisi (+1619); St. Fidel of Sigmaringen (+1622); St. Crispin of Viterbo (+1750); Bl. Diego-Jose of Cadiz (+1801); St. Conrad of Parzham (+1894); St. Leopold Mandic of Castelnuovo (+1942). The most famous Capuchin saint is certainly Padre Pio (+1968), the stigmatized Italian priest.  It is said that he was afflicted by all the changes in the Order and in the Church and that he asked God to take him out of this valley of tears which is the world. 

A Final Word

The Capuchin life is not easy: it is hard.  But it is not impossible.  One of the Popes described our life as “una vita disparata” – a disparate life.  “Disparate” is not “desperate”!  “Disparate” means completely unlike, not the same, utterly different or even “at odds”.  When Our Lord first called St. Francis, he said to him by inspiration, “Francis, leave now the worldly and vain pleasures for the things of the spirit; prefer what is bitter to what is sweet, despise yourself, if you want to know Me.   Once you have changed, you will understand the truth of My words, even if the order of things seem upside-down.”

Another time, shortly before his stigmatization (in 1224, two years before his death) by which God set His seal on the Rule, some dissatisfied friars came to him to complain that the rule was too hard.  This Rule was the second that St. Francis had drawn up; the Pope had deemed that his first rule was a bit harsh: the second rule is the one that we follow today.  When these friars came to complain about the second revised Rule, a voice was heard from Heaven, Christ voice Himself, saying, “Francis, let them understand that it was I who inspired you this rule.  If they cannot follow it, let them leave the Order. I know how fragile human nature is: let them know how much I want to help those who embraced this Rule.”

Morgon is in Beaujolais, sixty kilometers north of Lyon.
Rev. Father Guardian
Couvent Saint François
F-69910 Villie-Morgon

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