Many upcoming public events will commemorate the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy. For the Secular Franciscans in Corning, that day’s observance is among a number of prayer and service activities held by the group throughout the year.
St. Pius X Fraternity has been in existence for nearly a half-century, having been founded in 1956. According to Gloria House, the group’s leader, there are currently 17 fully active members, with two new members having been added in the past year. The Secular Franciscans meet on the second Saturday of each month, beginning at 9 a.m., at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Painted Post.
Coincidentally, the regular monthly meeting for September 2004 falls right on the 11th, for which the Secular Franciscans have established an annual remembrance. This year’s event will be a Mass for Peace that begins at 9 a.m. and is open to the public.
The Sept. 11 event stems from a Mass held for the group in 2001, three days after the infamous terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. House recalled that the visiting Franciscan priest, Father Leon Dicks, “gave a homily reminding us of forgiveness — the need to forgive and be peacemakers.”
Along those lines, St. Pius X Fraternity instituted a weekly Holy Hour for Peace beginning two years ago on Sept. 11. It is held at 7:15 a.m. each Wednesday in the chapel of St. Mary’s Church, following 6:45 a.m. Mass.
Another weekly ritual recently added by the Secular Franciscans is a rosary chain begun last year when Father Francis Davis — a retired diocesan priest who resides in Corning’s All Saints Parish — underwent surgery. This effort has continued in the form of a 7:30 a.m. Saturday rosary at St. Mary’s chapel, followed by a Chaplet of Divine Mercy. “Usually Father Davis and Father Billotte (Father Philip Billotte, sacramental minister at All Saints Parish) are there almost every week,” House said.
Regular activities also include an annual observance of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Whereas the actual feast day is Oct. 4, House said the Secular Franciscans especially prioritize Oct. 3 — the day of St. Francis’ transitus, or death.
In addition to scheduled events, St. Pius X Fraternity immerses itself in an array of service projects: a support group for the unemployed; a ministry where Catholic reading material is sent to inmates at Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, Seneca County; assisting at Elmira Free Community Kitchen; and advocating on hunger issues.
“The Secular Franciscan Order is no longer the devotional society it used to be considered by some,” House said, explaining that Pope Paul VI in 1978 changed the order’s rule — now known as the Pauline Rule — to a more service-oriented focus.
St. Pius X is a part of the National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order’s Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Region, which covers most of New York state. Several groups from the Diocese of Rochester are listed on the national order’s Web site.
A typical meeting of the fraternity begins with prayer, most often a Liturgy of the Hours. This is followed by formation. Guest speakers — usually with a Franciscan connection — highlight some of the meetings. House said that spiritual formation of members is ongoing, with the emphasis on “following Jesus through the footsteps of St. Francis.”
The lay order is open to men and women of any age or marital status who wish to follow the ideals of St. Francis. House said that new members are always welcome in St. Pius X Fraternity. For more details, call her at 607/936-4535 or Father Billotte at 607/936-4689, ext. 27.
House, a parishioner of All Saints, noted that Father Billotte and Father Davis are both professed Secular Franciscans and are among a very dedicated group within St. Pius X Fraternity.
“The level of commitment is very high,” remarked House, saying this applies even to members who are in their 80s and cannot easily get around. “They’re still attending meetings and supporting us, however they can, through their prayers, because we have a prayer line and prayer chain.”
How about this for support? House’s brother, Paul “Al” Pell, is secretary for the group and writes the fraternity’s newsletter — even though he is blind.
House joined St. Pius X Fraternity six years ago. She connects her current involvement to a seed planted in childhood by Franciscan sisters and friars in her native Philadelphia.
“The last 15 or 20 years I had been searching — to find my place as to how I could fulfill a call to serve the Lord in a greater way,” she said.