(Above): Some of the then post-novices pictured with some of their formators at a student formation conference
Since no one is born a Capuchin, the Capuchin formation program seeks to form the young men who enter the Order to be Capuchin friars and to live the Capuchin Franciscan charism. With open hearts, the young friars learn to live the Gospel as men of prayer and as lesser brothers. There are different stages in the formation process and these are outlined below.
In general, the total time in formation from when a candidate enters the Order until he professes perpetual vows is about 7 years. The total time between entry and ordination to the priesthood is about 8-9 years. You will note that this is a little longer than in a diocesan seminary (which is usually about 7 years). This is because our candidates first spend time learning to be a Capuchin Franciscan friar and only then begin their studies for priesthood – which they do as brothers in the Order i.e. living fraternal life in the friary, daily prayer in community, doing ministry to the poor, etc.
All of our candidates are formed to become Capuchin friars. However, not all go on to become priests – some remain as brothers in the Order. Therefore, the stages of postulancy and novitiate are identical for both priest and brother candidates. The difference in the program begins to be featured in Post Novitiate Stage 2.
See each of the stages below:
Postulancy is the first stage of Capuchin formation. It is a period of “coming, seeing and experiencing” the basic way of life of a religious and of the Capuchin Order. The postulant spends one year in close contact with the friars so as to become familiar with their way of life and so as to discern and to discover the deepest reasons for his vocation. The postulancy period also gives the friars an opportunity to observe and get to know the candidate so as to discern his calling and suitability for the Order (PCO4, p. 36). The Postulancy is a period of initial formation (Const. 28:1) and so the postulant will complete his catechesis of faith, be introduced to apostolic work and gain an experience of brotherhood (PCO4, p. 36). Hence, it is a time in which the postulant will come to experience and learn the basic rhythm of the Capuchin way of life in the areas of prayer, ministry, study and fraternity in the reality of the Australian Capuchin Province today. The postulant is not yet a brother in the Order and does not yet wear a habit.
After the Postulancy period, if the Postulant feels he is called to follow the Capuchin way of life, he may then apply for the next stage of formation: the Novitiate. The Novitiate is a more intense period of prayer and discernment and an opportunity to experience more deeply the Capuchin community life and charism. It lasts for one year in which the novice will also study the Capuchin Franciscan life and charism, Rule, and Constitutions.
The Novitiate is a time of deep reflection and personal prayer guided by the help of experienced spiritual directors. It is also a time for experiencing more fully the rhythm of community prayer (especially the Liturgy of the Hours). The Australian Capuchin Province sends its novices to the International (English-speaking) Novitiate which is situated on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, California – a peaceful environment to free the novice from the distractions of normal day-to-day life and give him the space and quality time to be able to truly hear and discern the will of the Lord. The novice learns to live in a fraternity, with a number of peers (there were 23 novices in 2014) so that both he and the Order can discern if he is truly suited to a fraternal way of life. The year also involves some ministry to the poor and fraternal house duties.
At the beginning of the Novitiate year, the novice is clothed with the habit (which, for this year, is technically referred to as “the clothes of probation” – since it includes a caperone, which is a piece of material that he wears over his shoulders) in an investiture ceremony. At the end of the Novitiate year the novice returns to Australia and makes his temporary profession (for three years) of the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience – conforming himself to Christ who, for us, was poor, chaste and always obedient to His Father. There is some footage below of one of the friars making his temporary profession:
POST NOVITIATE STAGE 1
Once the student friar has made his temporary profession, he enters into post-novitiate formation. The first stage of Post Novitiate is a two year period of further maturity and preparation for making a full life-long commitment to the Gospel way of life (Const. 30:1). It is also a time of consolidating and integrating, in a normal functioning friary, all that has been learnt in the initial periods of formation (FTF 28). This does not exclude study, yet for the first two years, the study remains in-house and will include the study of Sacred Scripture, Franciscan history, spirituality and hagiographical studies. This period will include apostolic work with a particular focus on the poor and marginalised as well as the youth of the Church. The student will be expected to develop and to grasp an effective emotional and sexual maturity and an adult faith (Const. n. 30,3). Importantly the post novice will demonstrate that he can live the life of a Capuchin according to our contemplative, active, fraternal, simple, joyful, and lesser manner.
POST NOVITIATE STAGE 2
The second stage is when a temporarily professed friar will make a concrete choice as to his preferred path, that is, as a brother in formation for or without Orders (priesthood). Despite this, there will be no separation in fraternal life or duties as we are all considered brothers without distinction (PCO IV, 22). The friar will commence
At the end of the 1st year the student friar will have the opportunity to renew his temporary vows or to leave. Each member of the community will also have an opportunity to make known their views on the suitability of the student to renew his vows. About two years after the renewal of his temporary vows, the student friar will make his perpetual profession, vowing to live the Life of the Friars Minor in poverty, chastity and obedience for the rest of his life.
Once the friar is fully professed, he continues to carry out his special formation – either for priesthood if he is going to be ordained, or in a special area if he will remain a brother. Those going on to priesthood need to complete their philosophical and theological studies (much of which is done during the second stage of Post Novitiate). He will then be ordained as a transitional deacon and between six months to a year, be ordained as a priest.
An important thing to remember is that just because a friar has made his perpetual vows it does not mean that his formation has finished for the rest of his life (PCO4 p.40). Ongoing formation is about having the right attitude of renewal, of continuous renewal acknowledging that we all have a need for continuous conversion. In this period a friar should keep returning to the sources of Christian life and to the traditional spirit of the Order (Const. n. 41, 2). This period involves both education and keeping up to date so as to be competent in the world and effective in our mission (Circular letter n.8 pg. 2) The fraternity is the pre-eminent place for this formation (Const. n. 43, 3).