Conference of National Assistants SFO - Oceania



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


            The three branches of the First Order provide spiritual assistance to the SFO in the National Fraternity of Oceania. The Third Order Regular (TOR) is not present in these countries.




            In Australia, the Provincial Ministers of the Friars Minor and Capuchins and the Custos General of the Conventuals are responsible for establishing local SFO Fraternities, visiting them pastorally, and appointing local Assistants. Each Provincial Minister delegates a National Assistant to the SFO.


            In Australia, there are fourteen OFM Assistants, four Capuchin Assistants, and four Conventual Assistants.


            Only the Friars Minor have appointed non-friars as local Assistants. Three of these are secular priests and one is a married deacon, all members of the SFO. One local Assistant is a Salesian priest, three are Franciscan Sisters, and one is a Sister of Mercy. One is a professed Secular Franciscan.


            Twenty-two friars and ten non-friars assist thirty-seven local Fraternities and three groups in Australia. A Slovenian group is attached to Concord Fraternity and meets at Merrylands. Another group has just begun to form in Bellingen.




            In New Zealand, the Capuchin Provincial Delegate and the President of the OFM Foundation are responsible for spiritual assistance to the SFO in the Regional Fraternity.


            The Capuchin and OFM friars in New Zealand took the interobediential concept seriously from the promulgation of the new Rule in 1978 and a great bond of mutual assistance grew up. Both Orders provide a Regional Spiritual Assistant, currently Fr Lucian Armstrong OFM and Fr Matthias Murphy OFMCap, who work together in complete harmony.


            There are at present 13 SFO local Fraternities, seven around the Auckland City area and six more around the North and South Islands, numbering around 170 professed members. Two of the Auckland fraternities have gone into suspension owing to age and death. The remaining members have transferred to other fraternities. There is one emerging fraternity in the North Island and the possibility of another in the southern South Island.  Three OFM, several OFMCap friars and religious provide spiritual assistance to the local fraternities.


            With sorrow we record the deaths of former Spiritual Assistants, Fr Cronan Fahey OFMCap and Br Philip Carroll OFM.


            Some Auckland fraternities have had a boost in membership, thanks to the promotion work of Linda Kilkenny, the Regional Promoter, who has spread the word by speaking at a number of parish churches.


            The formation of new members is undertaken by the individual fraternities under the guidance of the local Formator. Ongoing formation in the Auckland area is provided by four Formation Days a year. On occasion, Formation Days have been taken to outlying fraternities. An annual retreat at St Francis Retreat Centre, Auckland, is offered each year around the feast of St Francis.


            In 2006 the retreat was led by Sr Anne-Marie Joyce OSC of the Bethlehem community at Campbelltown, NSW, and drew a full house of forty participants.


            The Regional Executive meets monthly and communicates with the local fraternities on a regular basis, mainly by email. A Regional Chapter is held each year. Delegates and Regional Spiritual Assistants attend the annual National Council or Chapter in Australia. Despite the difficulties incurred by the vast distances between Auckland and the other fraternities, pastoral and fraternal visitation is carried out every three years. 

 --  Lucian Armstrong OFM and Matthias Murphy OFMCap, Regional Spiritual Assistants, SFO - New Zealand.




                At present, only the OFM Custos is responsible for assistance to the SFO in Singapore, and also in Sabah, where there are no resident friars. The only Regional Assistant is Friar John Wong OFM, who commenced his responsibilities in August 2005.

            The SFO Regional Fraternity of St Michael, constituted in 1991, is comprised of seven established local Fraternities, four of them in Singapore and three in Sabah. There are currently six emerging local fraternities in Sabah. One FMM Sister, two FMDM Sisters, nine FSIC Sisters and two Friars Minor currently provide spiritual assistance to these local fraternities, although a number of other FSIC Sisters are presently involved in groundwork related to enabling more new fraternities to emerge.

            Enquiries have been made into the possibility of a collaborative effort between the OFM friars and the SSFS Sisters to introduce the SFO in the state of Sarawak. It is likely to take some years before these discussions bear any fruit, due to the local situation.

            Over the last year, the local fraternities in Singapore and Sabah have committed themselves to short-term as well as medium-term (4-5 years) goals for themselves in terms of how they want to grow as individual fraternities, and how they will contribute towards growth of the SFO in their own State.

            Both the Regional Assistants for Singapore-Sabah and for neighbouring Peninsula Malaysia (where the only Regional Assistant is Capuchin) are currently working together to achieve a greater sense of co-operation and fraternal understanding across borders. In addition, the SFO together with their Spiritual Assistants are doing their best to work in collaboration and communication with the local Church hierarchy.

n      John Wong OFM, Regional Spiritual Assistant, SFO - Singapore-Sabah.




            In Papua New Guinea, the OFM Provincial Minister of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and the Capuchin Provincial Minister, are responsible for assistance to the SFO, and they appoint the local Assistants.

             In spite of all difficulties, the OFM friars are responsible for seven Fraternities, one on the south coast, in Port Moresby, and the rest on the north coast, at Aitape, and inland from there. The Capuchins assist one Fraternity at Wabag, in the central Highlands. In Port Moresby, Fr Carl had a fruitful meeting with Fr Jonathan Williams, OFMCap. He is the only Capuchin Assistant in PNG.

- Tom Ritchie OFM, from an earlier report.

            The first colonisers arrived in Papua New Guinea a little over 130 years ago and the first missionaries arrived soon after. Now it is basically a Christian country. More than seventy percent of the population is Christian and half of the Christians are Catholics.


            The first OFM friars arrived in PNG in 1946, the first Third Order Regular Sisters arrived about 1952 and the Capuchins also arrived in the 1950’s with other Franciscan Sisters. The first Poor Clares came about 1970. There are now at least five congregations of Franciscan Sisters in PNG.

There was an SFO fraternity formed in Aitape from lay-missionaries in the early 1960’s but the members eventually returned to their countries of origin. The first enduring Fraternity of PNG nationals, was begun in Aitape in 1987 by Fr. Salvator Doherty OFM. A year after his death in 1991, it was canonically erected by the then OFM Provincial Minister and was called the “St. Salvator Fraternity”.


            The interest in the SFO is growing quickly. Three of the present Fraternities began almost entirely through the initiatives of lay people who had experience of the SFO. More groups of lay Catholics are requesting the formation of Fraternities in their parishes. The SFO is just beginning but has the potential to be a powerful influence in the Church in PNG and is already a vital and integral part of the Franciscan Family in the country. We are planning our first meeting of Ministers from all fraternities in the city of Lae in September 2007, with a view to moving towards a regional fraternity.


- Norbert Pittorino OFM






            In 2007, the members of the Conference are: David Huebner OFMConv., Carmel Flora OFMCap, and Carl Schafer OFM, who all reside in NSW.




            As a Conference, the three National Assistants have been meeting at least four times a year since 1999.

            We elect a President and a Secretary for a year at a time. However, we have had difficulty regrouping since late in 2005, when two members, Anthony Fox OFMConv and Patrick Colbourne OFMCap, were replaced.


Relation to SFO National Fraternity


            The Conference makes decisions collegially regarding spiritual assistance to the SFO above the local level. We coordinate our spiritual assistance and service to the Oceania National Fraternity and its governing bodies, the National Chapter, Council and Executive.

            We take turns at giving our spiritual input at the meetings of the National Executive. Planning the liturgies of the National Chapter and National Council is another regular task of the Conference.


            The three National Assistants are individual members of the SFO National Chapter, Council and Executive. We do not function in those governing bodies as a Conference of National Assistants, but we report to them regarding our activities as a Conference and, optionally, as individuals. The President of the Conference is the voting member at SFO Chapters and Councils, in accordance with the General Constitutions, Art.91.2b. We do not vote in elections or in financial matters.


Office of SFO National Secretariat


            The National Executive was offered storage space under the church at Edgecliff. The address of the Office of the Secretariat is: 14 Albert Street, Edgecliff NSW 2027. The National Executive has the use of the Edgecliff parish hall for meetings.


Pastoral Visits


            The Conference delegates its members to make pastoral visits to the regional level. Usually, the pastoral visit is combined with the fraternal visit, but occasionally it has been more convenient to make them separately. Sometimes, the pastoral visit includes a Day of reflection or even a Retreat.


            Fr Carl, Fr John Wong OFM, Regional Assistant, and Helen Britton made a combined Visit to the local Fraternities of Sabah, East Malaysia, from 18 to 23 March 2007, to assess the prospects of a Regional Fraternity separate from Singapore.


Witness at Elections


            The Conference settles arrangements with the National Executive for attendance at Regional Elective Chapters.


Meetings of the Conference with Major Superiors of Friars


            The Conference arranges a meeting with our Provincial Ministers, to discuss their responsibilities to the SFO and our delegation by them. This is meant to be an annual meeting. It has proved to be difficult for all three National Assistants and all three major Superiors to attend.


Meetings of the SFO National Executive with Major Superiors of Friars


            The members of the Conference, as members of the National Executive, try to meet with the friar major Superiors once a year. Not all three major Superiors have managed to attend.


Monthly Spiritual Message


            On behalf of the Conference, the National Assistants take turns in publishing a Monthly Spiritual Message, which the author sends to the Regional Ministers, including New Zealand and Singapore, who photocopy and post it to the Ministers of their local Fraternities. Each National Assistant sends it to the Regional Assistants of his Order, who photocopy and post it to their Order’s local Assistants. The Secular Franciscans often express their appreciation of this message.


Committees of the National Executive


            The members of the Conference are delegated to various National Committees.


National Committee for Evangelization and Promotion


            After completing the work on the Manual for Promoting the Secular Franciscan Vocation, this Committee was disbanded in October 2004.


National Committee for Care of Inquirers


            Fr Carl prepared a paper, “Care of Inquirers” in an attempt to answer the need to do something positive for isolated inquirers. It was presented to the National Executive. On 18 December, a National Executive Committee was constituted to prepare a working paper on the matter. Guidelines for the Care of Inquirers were approved by the National Council in 2006. The Committee contacted the Regional Executives to appoint Regional Carers.


National Committee for Reviewing Statutes


            The National Committee for Reviewing Statutes was given the task of coordinating the results of the discussion groups at the National Chapter in 2004, and of drawing up a position paper on future governance and administration of the National Fraternity. The result was a clarification of the role and functions of a National Secretariat.

            The Statutes of the Regional Fraternity of Singapore-Sabah were approved by the National Council in 2006. No other regional statutes have come to us for final review since 2004.


            The Statutes of the National Fraternity of Oceania were sent to the Presidency of the International Council, returned for corrections, redrafted, and will be presented to the National Chapter for approval and eventual confirmation by Rome. In the meantime, the National Statutes of 1998 remain in force.


Seminar for Spiritual Assistants in Australia


            The Seminar for Spiritual Assistants appointed since 2003, approved by the Provincial Ministers for 2008, has been postponed owing to WYD in 2008.


Weekend Workshop for Formation of Secular Franciscans as Spiritual Assistants


            It is very difficult to find friars or other suitable and prepared persons as spiritual Assistants. Most of the friar Assistants are over 70 years of age and are assisting SFO Fraternities on several levels.


            The National Assistants are also Regional Assistants in Australia, and local Assistants in NSW.

            In 2005, the three major Superiors of the friars delegated the Conference to hold a weekend workshop for the formation of Secular Franciscans as Spiritual Assistants. Nominations of candidates were sought from the National Executive and Regional Ministers.


            The Conference is organizing a workshop for a small group of Secular Franciscans, on Queens Birthday weekend, 8 to 11 June 2007, at the Capuchin Conference Centre, Plumpton NSW. Together with receiving spiritual formation, the participants will decide on a programme of ongoing formation suitable for their Australian conditions. The Provincial Ministers of the friars asked for a budget and have offered financial support.


Franciscan Youth Meeting


            On 15 November 2006, the Conference wrote a letter to Bishop Anthony Fisher requesting that St Francis School, Paddington, be reserved from 12 to 14 July 2008 for the accommodation of up to 150 Franciscan Youth during their customary meeting before World Youth Day and during the WYD week. The Presidency of the International Council conducts the programme.


World Youth Day 2008


            The Conference has expressed to the major Superiors the need to coordinate the plans of the three Orders for WYD08, to be hosted by Sydney from 15 to 20 July 2008.

St Francis Exhibition 2008


            This initiative of Holy Spirit Fraternity, Waverley, was adopted by the National Council in 2006 as an activity of the National Fraternity. The original project was vast and far too expensive. The Conference of National Assistants supports Holy Spirit Fraternity and the NSW Regional Executive who are working on a smaller project.


Association of Spiritual Assistance of Oceania


            The Association of Spiritual Assistants of Oceania meets annually in conjunction with the National Chapter or Council. It is open to all Assistants, but usually only those Assistants attending the Chapter or Council meeting are able to attend. The meeting discusses matters of particular interest to the spiritual Assistants, friars and non-friars, in the SFO National Fraternity of Oceania. The meeting appoints a President and a Secretary for a year.


Carl Schafer OFM


Conference of National Assistants - SFO, Oceania