Coming next to the present organization of the Franciscan Order, the Friars Minor, or first order, now comprises three separate bodies, namely: the Friars Minor properly so called, or parent stem, founded, as has been said in 1209; the Friars Minor Conventuals, and the Friars Minor Capuchins, both of which grew out of the parent stem, and were constituted independent orders in 1517 and 1619 respectively.
All three orders profess the rule of the Friars Minor approved by Honorius Ill in 1223, but each one has its particular constitutions and its own minister general. The various lesser foundations of Franciscan friars following the rule of the first order, which once enjoyed a separate or quasi-separate existence, are now either extinct, like the Clareni, Coletani, and Celestines, or have become amalgamated with the Friars Minor, as in the case of the Observants, Reformati, Recollects, Alcantarines, etc.
As regards the Second Order, of Poor ladies, now commonly called Poor Clares, this order includes all the different monasteries of cloistered nuns professing the Rule of St. Clare approved by innocent IV in 1253, whether they observe the same in all its original strictness or according to the dispensations granted by Urvan IV, 18 Oct., 1263 (Lift. “Beata Clara”) or the constitutions drawn up by St. Colette (d. 1447) and approved by Pius 11, 18 March, 1458 (Lift. “Etsi”). The Sisters of the Annunciation and the Conceptionists are in some sense offshoots of the second order, but they now follow different rules from that of the Poor Ladies.
Third Order: Secular and Regular
Third order of St. Francis, it is necessary to distinguish between the third order secular and the third order regular.
Secular The third order secular was founded, as we have seen, by St. Francis about 1221 and embraces devout persons of both sexes living in the world and following a rule of life approved by Nicholas IV in 1289, and modified by Leo XIII, 30 May, 1883 (Constitution “Misericors”). It includes not only members who form part of logical fraternities, but also isolated tertiaries, hermits, pilgrims, etc.
Regular The early history of the third order regular is uncertain and is susceptible of controversy. Some attribute its foundation to St. Elizabeth of Hungary in 1228, others to Blessed Angelina of Marsciano in 1395. The latter is said to have established at Foligno the first Franciscan monastery of enclosed tertiary nuns, in Italy. It is certain that early in the fifteenth century tertiary communities of men and women existed in different parts of Europe and that the Italian friars of the third order regular were recognized as a mendicant order by the Holy See. Since about 1458 the latter body has been governed by own minister general and its members take solemn vows.
New Foundations In addition to this third order regular, properly so called, and quite independently of it, a very large number of Franciscan tertiary congregations — both of men and women -- have been founded, more especially since the beginning of the nineteenth century. These new foundations have taken as a basis of their institutes a special rule for members of the third order living in community approved by Leo X. 20 Jan., 1521 (Bull “Inter”). Although this rule is greatly modified by their particular constitution, each differs widely according to each foundation. These various congregations of regular tertiaries are either autonomous or under Episcopal jurisdiction, and for the most part they are Franciscan in name only, not a few of them having abandoned the habit and even the traditional cord of the order.