WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Book Review: The Franciscan Story

The Franciscan Story: the Story of St Frances of Assisi and the Franciscan Movement.
by Maurice Carmody
Published by Athena Press
Joy Cowley
Jun09Maurice4655.jpg In the late 1980s, Fr Maurice Carmody studied for his doctorate in church history at the Gregorian University in Rome. His thesis dealt with the history of the Franciscans in the 19th century and the reasons that led to the amalgamation of four Franciscan families into one – the Order of Friars Minor (OFM).

During his research he realised that most histories of the Order concentrated on the period from its origins in the 13th century until 1517 when the first order of friars split into the Observants and the Conventuals. The rest of the amazingly rich and diverse history that contributed so much to church spirituality, theology, politics and art, was scattered through magazines, papers and specialist books.
It was time for a general history of the Franciscan movement.

While Maurice Carmody was lecturing in Rome on Franciscan history, he gathered materials from various archives and libraries. A vast amount of material was found in scholarly magazines and books long forgotten. He entered the task of writing and research, as both author and scholar:
‘As I wrote I became very involved with the personalities and characters… I tried to enter their world and see them as real people struggling with their faith and its practical implications, with their own ideals and deficiencies… ‘

It is this depth of involvement that brings the Franciscan Story to life for the reader. It begins, of course, with the Benadone family and the boy born in 1182 to Pica, the devout mother, and Peter Benadone, cloth merchant, ambitious for his two sons. Francis the younger, was a typical son of a prosperous family until the age of 25 when he walked away from an affluent lifestyle to identify with the poorest of the poor. There would be few people in the world today who did not know the story of St Francis.

The initiative of a charismatic leader is lost if it is not institutionalised or legally bound in some way. Usually, there is some kind of ongoing tension between the original charism and what it must become. Tension is the stuff of growth, and of schism. It is also the stuff of intrigue and it is this, told with the storyteller’s voice, that makes Maurice Carmody’s book a page turner.

I hope that the Franciscan Story will introduce readers to the rich and diverse contribution that Franciscan men and women (religious and lay) have made to society, the church, spirituality, theology, academic studies, politics, etc; as well as the human weaknesses and foibles that have accompanied that contribution. It is a human story after all.
The Franciscan Story is a historical event in itself. It will be without doubt an essential text in academic and religious libraries, but it also has a wider appeal. Those of us, who feel absolutely at home in a church that is human as well as divine, will love it.

It is available through www.fishpond.co.nz or Pleroma Christian Bookshop orders@pleroma.org.nz or toll free on 0508 988 988.