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Franciscan Penitents in the Confraternity of Penitents

Confraternity of Penitents: Franciscan Penitents Living the Original Third Order Rule of Saint Francis as Lay Single or Married Persons in the Modern World

Who are Franciscan Penitents (Confraternity of Penitents)? 

Franciscan Penitents are Roman Catholics around the world who are living a counter cultural Rule of Life modeled after a Franciscan Third Order but reporting directly to our Bishop. Our way of deeper conversion comes straight from Saint Francis of Assisi to us, the Catholic laity.

We are single and married men and women from all stations of life living in our own homes a simple, prayerful, and joyful Rule of Life of penance (conversion). As

members of the Confraternity of Penitents, we are  in total agreement with all the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. We attempt to take as our constant reference point not the world or individuals, popular ideologies or our own ideas, but God and His Holy Will. We find that living a modern adaptation of the original Third Order Rule of Saint Francis of Assisi, as closely as possible to its original intent, is for us, as it was for men and women through the centuries, a most suitable way to help us surrender our own will to that of God.

Canonically ApprovedThe Confraternity of Penitents is a canonically approved Private Association of the Faithful with commendation in the Roman Catholic Church.* Our original Rule of Life was given by Saint Francis of Assisi  to the laity (married and single men and women) of his time. This Rule eventually came to be called the Rule of the Third Order of Saint Francis of Assisi. The goal of this Rule of Life is to bring those who live it closer to God and more peacefully conformed to God's Will. The object of penance is to put oneself completely at the disposal of God. This we, although imperfect, attempt to do.*. . . private associations exist by private agreement, freely made among members of the Christian faithful, with the intent to attain the aims mentioned in canon 298§1 (Canon 299§1). . . ..While ecclesiastical authority maintains a certain degree of vigilance over private associations . . . , the guidance and direction of the association comes from the members in accord with its statutes (Canon 321). . . . An association that is praised or recommended by Church authority . . . enjoys similar autonomy and flexibility. The main difference rests in the level of review by competent ecclesiastical authority. While the law does not explicitly state that the bishop must approve the statutes before praising or recommending the association, certainly no bishop will praise or recommend a group that he does not agree with. . . . Many canon lawyers legitimately hold the opinion that being “recognized” requires a formal statement from competent  authority. They further argue that being recognized is part of being praised and recommended. (from September 8, 1997 issue of Christifidelis, the newsletter of the St. Joseph Foundation)

Saint Francis of Assisi presenting the Cord of Pledging to Blessed Luchessio, first penitent to live the Rule of 1221.

Saint  Francis of Assisi accepting Blessed Luchessio of Poggibonsi as the first penitent to live the Rule of 1221 for the penitents (conversi). Luchessio is accepting the cord of penance from St. Francis. Penitents making a life pledge to the Confraternity also receive a cord of penance which they wear daily beneath their outer clothing. Luchessio's wife Bonadonna is witness to Luchessio's pledge to live a life of penance. She, too, likely became a penitent.

Saint  Francis of Assisi accepting Blessed Luchessio of Poggibonsi as the first penitent to live the Rule of 1221 for the penitents (conversi). Luchessio is accepting the cord of penance from St. Francis. Penitents making a life pledge to the Confraternity also receive a cord of penance which they wear daily beneath their outer clothing. Luchessio's wife Bonadonna is witness to Luchessio's pledge to live a life of penance. She, too, likely became a penitent.

Discernment Questions

Is your spiritual life filled with questions?

Do you wonder how you can grow closer to God?

Pledged and privately vowed penitent dad with his three sons

Do you long for more discipline to your spiritual life but don't know how to get it?
Do you know you need to change your lifestyle but can't figure out how?
Do you wish you just had more time to think about Jesus?
Do you wonder how to fit Jesus into your busy life?
Do  you know that your life is a mess but don't know where to begin to fix it up?
Do you wonder if God is trying to talk to you but you can't slow down enough to listen?
Do you want the stress to end and peace to take its place?Do you evny people who are joyful and wish you had their zest?

These questions were common to all those called over the centuries to live the original Third Order Rule of Saint Francis of Assisi. If you, like those earlier penitents, are a married or single man or woman and your goal is to live penance (experience conversion) in peace and joy, in your own home, you may have a place here among  your Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in penance (conversion). Prayerfully explore these pages and ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern a call to become a brother or sister of penance, that is, a Franciscan Penitent (one who is converted, a conversi)."Praise God! Thank you so much for everything. Nothing can take away my happiness today. Love and prayers, William (privately vowed name br. John of the Cross)" Written on the day of his pledge and private vow to live the CFP Rule for Life).

Diocesan priest and penitent living Rule of 1221

Do You Have to Be a Franciscan Lay Person to Live the Rule of 1221?

Can priests or deacons live the Confraternity Rule?

What if you are a priest or deacon? Is there a place in the Confraternity of Penitents for you? Yes! Clergy who wished to become penitents lived the original Third Order Rule of  Saint Francis, the Rule of 1221, and some priests and deacons are living this Rule today!  

"The discipline of praying the Divine Office over the past year has been very beneficial to my spiritual growth, and I trust that my prayers help others, too. . . . Also, the joy and peace that I feel when following CFP directions and the Rule lead me to believe that God wills for me to do this." --Marion M., California USA

Do you have to be a Franciscan?

How about if you aren't especially drawn to Saint Francis, if you feel drawn more to another saint or another charism? Is there a place in the Confraternity of Penitents for you ? Most definitely! We are living the Rule as closely as possible to the penitents who lived it in the year 1221. They did not identify themselves as Franciscans. They were the Brothers and Sisters of Penancepenitents. In fact, in the Rule of 1221, Saint Francis is not even mentioned. 

Saint Francis began his life of conversion by living a life of penance in a way that

Cardinal Hugolino wrote down fifteen years later to become the Rule of 1221. In other words, the penitential practices in the Rule of 1221 predated the conversion of Francis of Assisi. His embracing of these practices enabled him to grow spiritually and become the saint we know today. 


So you need not feel an affinity for Francis in order to live this Rule. In fact, Francis would not want you to have an affinity for HIM. He would want you to have an affinity for JESUS because JESUS is the One Francis set out to follow. In fact, the original Third Order of Saint Francis would be more rightly called the Laity Minor, after the manner of the Friars (Religious Brothers) Minor. The focus of both groups is on minority, simplicityhumility, poverty of spirit, faith, and all the other virtues which Saint Francis lived, not on Saint Francis himself.

Who can I ask if I'm not ready to join?

Suppose you aren't ready to consider living this way of life just yet, or maybe never, but you have some questions about penance or the spiritual life or your own path in life and you don't know who to ask. Ask us! We can't promise to have all the answers, but we will at least try to steer you in a good direction. And we will pray for you!

Penitent brother at Niagara Falls

Living Penance (Conversion) Whether Single or Married

Deeper Discernment Questions

Who is Jesus to you?


Why do you follow Him?


How  much of your life are you willing to give to Him?


What if He wants it all? Will you give it?


Can you give Him all if you are single? If you are married or widowed or divorced or separated?

Life pledged penitent receiving the Cord of Pledging

Can you give God everything and still be happy?


Or, maybe, can you give God everything and really be happy for the first time in your life? 

This is to send my heartfelt gratitude to the Confraternity of Penitents for the help it gives me in my spiritual life. The way of life envisioned by our Rule makes my relationship with God deeper. Thank you very much...Francis D, Philippines

Brief Background of the CFP

The Confraternity of Penitents is an international, non-profit, tax exempt private association of the Roman Catholic faithful laity, with commendation, under the Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, USA. Its original foundation had been in the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, in the 1990's. Its members seek to give Jesus their all, every moment of their lives, whether they are single or married. Despite its original foundation as an Order for lay people in the Roman Catholic Church, the Confraternity of Penitents, like the original foundation, is open to Diocesan priests and deacons as well as single and married laity.

How do we, as imperfect and sinful men and women, strive to do give Jesus our all? 

By doing penance, that is performing works of prayermercy, and small sacrifices, at home and, if we are able, by engaging ourselves in one or more of the spiritual or corporal works of mercy in our communities and our world. This is what the penitents did, in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi, and what we, as Franciscan Penitents, are doing today.


 I, too, am so grateful for the CFP, and for the way I am growing closer to God and neighbor through it.

Marion M, California, United States

Penitent with wild bird friend, just like Saint Francis of Assisi!

Vision of the Confraternity of Penitents

Confraternity members live, within their own homes, modern constitutions to the original rule for penitent single and married Catholic* lay people, a Rule of Life which Saint Francis of Assisi gave to the men and women of his time in the year 1221. Today a few other groups are also living expressions of this Rule of 1221 for the laity. 

However, the Confraternity of Penitents (CFP) differs from these few others in that the Confraternity's Vision is "TO LIVE THE RULE OF 1221 AS CLOSELY AS POSSIBLE TO ITS ORIGINAL INTENT." That intent was to have the penitent, whether married or single, focus on surrender to God

Life pledged and privately vowed penitent woman chatting with other penitents at CFP retreat

through faith, prayer, fasting and abstinence, simplicity of dress, and works of mercy, all forms of penance (conversion). More detailed information on the differences between the Confraternity of Penitents and similar groups is on this link.

Might you be seeking to live in your own home, as closely as possible to its original intent, a Rule of Life which spawned at least thirty saints?

*Non-Catholics may join the Confraternity of Penitents as Associates and may also complete the formation lessons and attend Confraternity functions along with Catholic members of the Confraternity. See the Rule and Constitutions of the Confraternity of Penitents for details.

800 Year Old Rule Adapted to Today's World 

The Confraternity of Penitents Constitutions adapt the Rule of 1221 to modern times so that penitents do not appear singular or novel while doing penance in modern society, just as they did not appear singular or novel in their own society of 1221, while still requiring clothing parameters as did the original Rule. 

The CFP members follow the same days of fast and abstinence, pray the same prayers, hold the same sorts of communal gatherings, and participate in works of mercy just as did the penitents of Saint Francis's time who lived the original Rule of 1221.  

Can you picture yourself living your life in this peacefuljoyful, and organized way? Does becoming a Franciscan penitent seem appealing?I thank God for letting me come upon your site by chance, was not even looking for it. Becoming a Penitent has changed my life. Dolores V.

Penitents in formation at ceremony of induction into the next year of formation

Can You Live It Today?

Is it possible today to live, in joyful penancean 800 year old Rule of Life, that spawned many saints, in one's own home? Our nearly thirty professed members prove that it is! 

Explore these pages and see what the Confraternity of Penitents has to offer! Whether married or single, you may be surprised that a joyful life of penance (conversion) will be your path to surrender to God and holiness!

Some penitents from a CFP Chapter that meets in Michigan, USA

When I first came upon the CFP website in my research, I never imagined how it would all turn out. As I struggle to live it out, I am brought more and more to an assurance that the CFP is truly inspired. I am awed that I would come to even an awareness of such a gift, let alone be allowed to participate. Again, thank you and God bless you. Lucy F., Indiana, United States

Uniqueness of the CFP Rule--Nothing Else Just Like It!

The original Rule of 1221 for the penitents was the starting point for several Third Orders in the Church. Some of these groups are religious brothers and sisters taking vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience. Others are groups of married and single men and women who use the Rule of 1221 as a way to do more penance (mortification) in their lives or who have chosen the spirit of the Rule of 1221 as the inspiration from which springs their own Rule of Life with its own special prescriptions.

Pledged penitents at CFP Retreat Celebration

I have been blessed by God through the Confraternity. Thank you for your ministry and your work for God to keep the Rule of 1221 alive for penitents. Thank you. Peace and all joy, Thomas K., West Virginia, United States.

The Confraternity of Penitents differs from each of these groups in that, while Diocesan priests and deacons may join the CFP, go through formation, and pledge, the CFP is primarily for married and single lay people who live the Rule and Constitutions in their own homes and families as was the case when the Rule was written in 1221. 

In addition, rather than taking the Rule of 1221 as a starting point or inspiration for a new Rule or using it to incorporate more penance (mortification) into their lives, Confraternity of Penitents members seek "to live the Rule of 1221 as closely as possible to its original intent."

My life has been improved since I became a penitent in the Confraternity. I thank God for leading me towards this life.-- Dolores V, Florida, United States.

Life pledged penitent who originally contacted us while in his early teens

This means that the Rule of 1221 for the penitents, adapted by its Constitutions for living in modern times, is lived day in and day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by members of the Confraternity of Penitents. This is what the penitents did in the time of Saint Francis (the original intent of the Rule of 1221) and, to the best of our knowledge, the CFP is the only group in the world doing this today. 

In doing this, the CFP also focuses on the virtues called for by the Rule, often called the Franciscan virtues as these particular virtues were especially emphasized by Saint Francis, although they are certainly common to all charisms (Carmelite, Augustinian, Dominican, Benedictine, Franciscan, Opus Dei, and so on) which seek to have their followers become conformed to Christ.

Please keep up your wonderful work. I am sure many people are being inspired by your mediations. Thank you for all you have given me by way of inspiration over the years. May the Lord and His Blessed Mother along with St. Francis continue to bless your Franciscan life and your work of evangelization. God love you! Gratefully Yours in Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R.

Franciscan Virtues for Every Follower of Christ

Because the Confraternity of Penitents emphasizes the virtues of humility, simplicity, cheerfulness, peacefaith, open-handedness, generosity, littleness, detachment, self-emptying, self-giving, and love which Saint Francis particularly cultivated in his followers, we are most appropriately called Franciscan penitents. We seek to incorporate these virtues not so much by studing Saint Francis as by studying Jesus and the Gospels as Saint Francis did. Francis' sought to possess (this is, hold on to) nothing in this world but Jesus and to "live the Gospel." That is the call of the Confraternity of Penitents as well. 


If you, whether married or single, clergy or lay, feel called to live a life of conversion as a Franciscan Penitent, please contact us. We here at the Confraternity of Penitents would love to share our way of life with you.

I feel blessed to be able to belong to the Confraternity.   -- Susan S.

Daily Thought

September 17

Daily Thought

Today Franciscans celebrate the feast of the Stigmata of Saint Francis because, around this time in the year 1224, St. Francis' body was imprinted with the wounds of Christ. The physical wounds were a sign of Francis' interior union with, love for, and obedience to his Crucified Lord. Today is a good day to reflect on our commitment to Christ.

A Few Thoughts on Penance

"Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation." --Pope Francis, explaining why he chose the name Francis, 16 March 2013


"Conversion is to go against the current, where the 'current' is a superficial lifestyle, inconsistent and illusory, which often draws us, controls us, and makes us slaves of evil, or, in any case, prisoners of moral mediocrity. . . Conversion is the total "yes" of the one who gives his own existence to the Gospel, responding freely to Christ." -- Pope Benedict XVI, 17 February 2010

"Penance does not necessarily mean turning away from sin; its primary note is that of a turning to God, of putting oneself completely at the disposition of God, and in a second moment this will mean turning from sin if one has been in sin. Accepting this notion of

penance, it is clear how the Apostolic Constitution 'Poeniteminicould call Christ 'the supreme model of penitents--he willed to undergo penance for sins which were not his own but of others.'" (Lawrence D. Isabell, OFM, "The Practice and Meaning of Confession in the Primitive Franciscan Community according to the Writings of Saint Francis of Assisi and Thomas of Celano." Assisi, Italy: Pontificia Univeritas Gregoriana, 1973)


"You begin with penance; then, after you remove from your life the two 'N's' which stand for 'no-no's' and 'nonsense,' what are you left with? Peace." -- Father Tom Devery

"It's always easier to talk about reform when the target of the reform is "out there," rather than in here.  The Church does need reform.  She always needs reform, which means she needs scholars and liturgists and committed laypeople to help guide her, and pastors who know how to lead with humility, courage and love.  But what she needs more than anything else is holiness—holy priests and holy people who love Jesus Christ and love His Church more than they love their own ideas.  Today, just like 800 years ago, the structures of the Church are so much easier to tinker with than a stubborn heart, or an empty hole where our faith should be.  Reforming the Church, renewing the Church, begins with our own repentance and conversion, our own humility and willingness to serve—and that's the really hard work, which is why sometimes so little of it seems to get done.  But it can be done.  Francis showed us how.  Now it's up to us to do something about it." - Archbishop Charles Chaput

The San Damiano Crucifix is the crucifix of conversion. About the year 1205, Saint Francis of Assisi prayed repeatedly before this Crucifix, "Most High, Glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my mind, give me right faith, a firm hope and perfect charity, so that I may always and in all things act according to Your Holy Will. Amen." From this crucifix, the Holy Spirit gave Saint Francis his mission, "Go and repair My House which, as you can see, is falling into ruin." The Confraternity of Penitents have made Francis' prayer and mission their own. The San Damiano Crucifix is the Confraternity's symbol. 

We know that, following the post-Gregorian restoration, the religious life of the laity was seen as a kind of partial or halfway Christianity. The basic idea was that the only states of life that supposedly allowed or deserved religious consecration were the monastic and clerical states. The life of a perfect Christian, a saint, was inconceivable except in monastic terms. In other words, perfection was still attained exclusively through renunciation of the world and practice of the virtues demanded by that choice.

Francis profoundly changed this state of affairs, championing the dignity of laypeople and their ability to live the gospel life as well as, and perhaps better than, monks. The Letter to the Faithful is a wonderful witness to this. In it, Francis showed that mysticism is not reserved only to certain individuals; it is a state that is proper to every Christian. All Christians of either sex and every state can attain the fullness of God. The laity becomes the people of God, those who live the life of the Trinity. Holiness is available to all; it is a share in the life of the Trinity. (E. Menesto, A Rereading of Francis of Assisi’s Letter to the Faithful. Greyfriars Review 14.2, p. 109)

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