The Birth of the Franciscan Orders:
Gradually, a number of men were attracted to Francis and joined him in his way of life. As St. Francis said: "The Lord gave me brothers." From the beginning Francis insisted that they were all to regard one another as brothers and indeed, "lesser brothers" (or "friars minor"); that is, that they were to be at the service of all. Some were priests but Francis himself was never ordained a priest. Unlike other religious Orders, where leaders were given titles like "abbot" (father) or "prior" (first), Francis insisted on the equality of all the brothers. The basic "rule" of their community was simply "to live the Gospel" and when he sent his brothers out to spread the Gospel, he would tell them: "Proclaim the Gospel; and, if necessary, use words!" For it was by the example of their lives and the cheerfulness and joy that they showed, that people could really appreciate the "Good News" of Jesus Christ.
As numbers grew, Francis decided to look for approval from the Pope for the way of life he had adopted. So in 1209 he went to Rome and after some delays managed to see the Pope. At first the Pope, Innocent III, was not very impressed by Francis. But, so the story goes, during the night he had a dream in which he saw a poor and ragged man propping up a collapsing Church, and he recognised the man as Francis. So he gave Francis verbal approval for his Order.
It was not only men who were attracted by the example of Francis. In 1212 Clare (Clara), the daughter of a wealthy Assisi family, was also inspired by Francis's vision and, much against the wishes of her family, ran away from home to join Francis. She was accompanied by a cousin, Pacifica and shortly afterwards by her younger sister, Agnes. This first group of "Ladies" were temporarily accommodated by Benedictine nuns, but later were established at San Damiano. This formed the nucleus of the "Poor Clares", an Order of contemplative nuns. To see one of their websites Click Here
St. Francis knew that the call to live the Gospel was for all, and so set up the Franciscan "Third Order", meant for people who could be part of the Franciscan family without necessarily entering religious life. It was open to married people, and people of all walks of life: kings, queens, workers, farmers. They would live simple lives of prayer and penance in whatever circumstances they found themselves. In the past this Order included many saints: St. Louis of Francis, Elizabeth of Hungary, and many more. Pope John XXIII was also a member. Today it is known as the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO). To access an SFO website, please Click Here