They are known by different names: Secular Franciscans, Lay Carmelites, Augustinian Secu-lars. These are just a few of the many secular orders in the Catholic Church which have local connections.
Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of laypeople - and some diocesan clergy - choose to model their spirituality along the lines of a religious community.
People seeking membership in a secular order may enter into a period of formation, usually from one to six years, as they study the history and Rule of the order they choose and how to apply those precepts in the everyday circumstances of their personal and professional lives.
Daily prayer is an essential element. Eventually, the candidates make a formal commitment to grow in their relationship with God through this special affiliation.
Internationally and locally, one of the largest of these groups is the Secular Franciscan Order, whose members often put the initials SFO after their name.
Robert and Mary Stronach, SFO, officers for the order's the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha region (which includes the Albany Diocese), told The Evangelist that the order's worldwide professed members number 400,000.
They said the largest growth is occurring in Latin America, Africa and Asia. However, in the United States, they are seeing increases in the number of groups and fraternities seeking official status as well as an increase in people joining.
The training to become a Secular Franciscan has three stages. First is a period of orientation lasting three or more months, which introduces the candidates to the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare, their relationship to the fraternity, prayer and dialogue with other members.
The second stage is inquiry, when the candidates undertake more in-depth study of Franciscan history and charism, as well as discernment of their vocation; this lasts for about six months.
The final stage, candidacy, takes 18 months; it is a period which immerses people in the life of a fraternity and prepares them for their permanent commitment. Members then continue with a lifelong program of formation in a fraternity.
Eight fraternities are active in the Diocese with meetings in Albany, Amsterdam, Catskill, Fonda, Loudonville, Schenec-tady and Troy (see www.kateriregion.org).
Among them are sub-groups that focus on helping specific projects like the area Catholic Worker houses and studies in eco-spirituality. In fact, Dr. Riobart Breen, SFO, a professor of political science at Siena College, said he founded the Franciscan Earth Corps in Syracuse "in response to Pope John Paul II's exhortation, especially for young people, to respond to the Holy Spirit's call for a renewed 'ecological vocation.'
"Our future vision is to promote it as a model for YouFra [the youth branch of the SFO's] and Catholic environmental education to all young adults," the professor added. (Search for a previous story on his work at www.evangelist.org.)
Another international secular order with a local chapter is the Lay Carmelites, who meet at St. Joseph's Church in Troy. Catherine DuBois serves as both the regional director for New York State and the local director.
Their chapter has three finally professed members, five members in the two advanced stages and 11 people in the initial reception stage of formation.
Ms. DuBois said the recent influx of new candidates is rooted in their desire for "more commitment in their spiritual life. They're seeking discipleship and a deeper prayer life and they seem to have found that when they study the Carmelite materials."
The Lay Carmelites' formation period includes three stages, but their training lasts for six years before a candidate is accepted.
(Formation classes are held the fourth Sunday and Monday of the month at St. Joseph's Church in Troy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 755-3171.)
St. Augustine's Church in Troy is the headquarters for the New York chapter of the Augustinian Seculars, open to men and women who wish to live in the spirit of St. Augustine and make a formal promise to strive to be of one mind, and one heart, intent upon God.
Rev. Joseph Getz, OSA, is the area director and resides at the Troy parish. He said the Augustinian Seculars formed a chapter in the Albany Diocese 20 years ago through the initiative of the late Rev. Anthony Tomasulo, OSA.
The chapter meets on the third Saturday of each month. Its formation program lasts about a year and includes study of Scripture, especially the Gospels, as well as study of the life and writings of St. Augustine and his Rule. (For information, call St. Augustine's parish office, 235-3861.)