(Australia, New Zealand, Singapore-Sabah, and Papua New Guinea)


Helen Britton, National Minister SFO-Oceania


The National Fraternity of Oceania is the union of all the Catholic Secular Fraternities that exist in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore-Sabah and Papua New Guinea. This is a very large geographical area and consists of five nations and very diverse cultures.   It consists of eight Regional Fraternities: 37 fraternities in Australia (within six Regional Fraternities which are determined by the State boundaries of the country); 13 fraternities in New Zealand (one Regional Fraternity); six fraternities in Singapore-Sabah (one Regional Fraternity) with eight fraternities in Papua New Guinea (not yet established as a Regional Fraternity). 


To animate and guide these Regional Fraternities is a mammoth task for the National Executive, the major problem being distance between regional fraternities and the cost of travel as well as the time required for such work.  All the work is done voluntarily by members dedicated to the task of leadership.


The National Executive is given Spiritual Assistance by the Conference of National Assistants which consists of a friar from each Obedience in Australia: Capuchin, Conventual and Friar Minor.  We are extremely grateful to the First Order for this National Assistance and for the time and effort these three friars give to our Order.


Each Regional Fraternity has a Regional Executive which animates and guides it.  Each now has effective leadership which assists the local Fraternities in developing the Order throughout the National Fraternity.  Some of the Regional Fraternities in Australia are very small but this is because of the geographic situation.  They are separated by extreme distances so they need to operate in this way to be effective.  There is no regional structure as yet in Papua New Guinea.  The eight fraternities are often in very inaccessible terrain and operate mainly with the support of the local communities of Franciscan religious.


Recently, late in 2006, moves have come from Papua New Guinea regarding the formation of a Regional Fraternity.  Much education and formation needs to be

done before a Regional Fraternity can be established.  


As was mentioned in the Report to the First Asian-Oceania Congress, it had been envisioned by the National Fraternity of Oceania that when the time is ripe the National Fraternity of Oceania divide into possibly three National Fraternities:

(1)   Australia; (2) New Zealand; (3) Singapore with Malaysia.


It was also mentioned in the Report that the Regional Fraternity of Singapore/Sabah has not been able to operate in a totally successful way at this stage and we see it would in no way be capable of being constituted as a National Fraternity. Nor can we see at this stage that Singapore and Sabah are ready to be constituted by the National Council of Oceania as separate Regional Fraternities.


In the past the Regional Fraternity of New Zealand did look at forming a National

Fraternity, but after consideration by the members it was decided to remain within the National Fraternity of Oceania at this stage.  Perhaps this will be looked at again.


General Description/Characteristics of Membership


The SFO in Oceania has approximately 1,200 members, around 860 of whom are active and 340 are inactive because of age, sickness or distance from established fraternities.  There are approximately 200 in Formation.  The average member is in the 60+ age bracket.  Up till now, we have not had youth groups or children’s groups. However, in recent years a group of young people of Croatian heritage has been meeting at St Johns Park, in suburban Sydney. Hopefully it will emerge as a Franciscan Youth Group.  Yet another hopeful sign is the recent (2006) initiative of the Victorian Regional Council in establishing a youth group at Springvale, in suburban Melbourne, Victoria.


Most of our members have completed secondary schooling while many have completed tertiary education.  They work in varied occupations and come from both urban and rural backgrounds.  Most of our Fraternities are in major cities and towns, although we are now seeing interest shown in smaller non-urban areas and country towns.


Formation Concerns


The National Executive, in acknowledging the prime importance of Formation, voted to send our National Formator, Susan Casey, to attend the first of the Formation Courses for Formators organized by the International Formation Commission,  held in Rome in March 2006.  Susan was accompanied by our National Vice-Minister Helen Jarick who subsidized her own way to the Course.  Since returning from Rome, the two have formed a committee within the National Executive and they plan Formation Days.  Sue and Helen both addressed our National Council Meeting held in Sydney in April 2006. Sue visited the Victorian Regional Council in late 2006.  Later this year, Sue and Helen will visit Singapore to impart their knowledge to the Formators of the Singapore/Sabah Regional Fraternity.




Local Fraternities engage in many apostolates, e.g., support of Franciscan Missions, work within a soup kitchen, financial support of homeless children in the Philippines, financial support of Genesis” a Pregnancy Support Service. Individual members serve within local ecclesial structures as catechists, readers,   Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, choir leaders as well as working  with street people in an inner city area, visiting the sick, elderly and lonely.


Each Regional Fraternity has its particular apostolates, e.g., annually writing to Members of Parliament enclosing the Franciscan Prayer Calendar and supporting Putting Christ in Christmas advertising campaign.  The SFO in Oceania supports underprivileged Franciscan Families in India through Project Adoption, which provides ongoing financial support.


Special Difficulties and Challenges


As was mentioned in our first Report, the major difficulty for the National Executive of Oceania is the tremendous size of the national fraternity and its different nationalities and customs.  The tyranny of distance makes it very difficult for Visitation and support.  In most cases, our Visitations are carried out at the time of presiding at Regional Elective Chapters, which is not the ideal, but travel is so very expensive. 


By means of the Internet, we are able to keep our Regional Ministers and Regional Assistants up-to-date with both National and CIOFS exhortations.  Through our National Fraternity Newsletter, the Oceania Newsletter, we endeavour to keep our members informed of both national and international (CIOFS) affairs. This publication is usually published three times a year.


The other major difficulty of the National Executive of Oceania is the composition of the National Executive.  Up until 2001, the National Executive was made up of people from within the metropolitan area of Sydney, Australia.  This was again because of the impossibility of distance and cost.  In the last two Executive terms, two members have been elected or have moved interstate.  Since 2001, two

members have traveled bi-monthly to Sydney at their own expense.  Currently, both the International Councillor and the National Minister travel from Victoria to Sydney for the National Executive meetings.  This situation, which was raised at the first Asian-Ocean Congress, still remains, although raised at the 2004 Elective Chapter.  We need a better system to work under.


Prospects for the Future


Despite the fact of our ageing membership, there are signs of growth in many areas of Oceania.  Those in Formation have increased, particularly in New Zealand and Sabah.  There is the emergence of people who want to become Secular Franciscans but who are currently prevented from doing so by the great distances and by the lack of Franciscan Religious and others for spiritual assistance. 


The National Committee for Care of Inquirers was formed in 2006 in an attempt to answer the need to do something positive for isolated inquirers. 


The emergence of the young Croatian group in suburban Sydney and the young Franciscan group in Springvale, suburban Melbourne augurs well for Australia. 


The Weekend Workshop for Formation of Secular Franciscans as Spiritual Assistants, to be held in Sydney on the weekend of 8 to 11 June 2007 is a positive initiative to try to augment the number of Spiritual Assistants. 


It is hoped that the establishment of an Office of Franciscans International in Bangkok to serve the endeavours of Franciscans at the grass roots level in the Asia Pacific region will be an impetus for our way of life.  The SFO has worked and supported prayerfully and financially this common Franciscan project since it was first mooted with our National Minister attending the Franciscan Superiors’ Meetings both in Singapore (2005) and Bangkok (2006).


Let us look to the future with faith and trust in the Lord, bearing in mind that we “are called to build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively.” Rule 14.



Helen Britton sfo

National Minister, SFO – Oceania


24 March 2007