This page outlines the history of the Secular Franciscan Order in the United States.
The Secular Franciscan Order is an "Association of the Christian Faithful".  More specifically, it is an association whose members lead an apostolic life and strive for Christian perfection while living in the world and who share the spirit of some religious institute [i.e. one of the branches of the Franciscan First Order and the Third Order Regular] under the higher direction of that same institute...."  It is governed by the universal law of the Church, and by its own: the Rule, the Constitutions, the Ritual, and the particular statutes. The Constitutions have as their purpose: to apply the Rule; to indicate concretely the conditions for belonging to the SFO, its government, the organization of life in fraternity, and its seat. The Secular Franciscan Order is divided into fraternities of various levels - local, regional, national, and international. Each one has its own moral personality in the Church.These various fraternities are coordinated and united according to the norm of the rule and of the constitutions.(NAFRA Statutes, "ad experimentum", Approved on November 27, 2003)
1. See Code of Canon Law, Can. 298.
2. See Code of Canon Law, Can. 303.
3. See General Constitutions, Article 4, 1.
4. See General Constitutions, Article 4, 3; also Code of Canon Law, Can. 304.
5. See Code of Canon Law, Can. 687 [309,313].
6. See Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, 20.
HISTORY OF THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
IN THE UNITED STATES: 1919 – 2007
The writing of the modern history of the Secular Franciscan Order (formerly called the Third Order Secular) in the United States begins with a significant event that occurred in Cleveland, Ohio on February 19, 1919. Prior to that time the influence of Pope Leo XIII encyclical “Auspicato” and the promulgation of his Rule of 1883 rallied, for a while thereafter, the Church to embrace the spirit of St. Francis. It was Pope Leo’s strong belief that the church could be renewed in his time by having every Catholic become a member of the Third Order. This proclamation resulted in an increase in membership of the Third Order Secular in the late 19th century.
In the United States, early in the 20th century, “there was no organized Third Order. We might almost say that it was “wild-cat” - popping up here and there, thriving or dying with little attention except from interested Directors”  A gathering of friar provincials in 1919 “concluded with the program not only to hold a national congress but to set up a national organization.” There an executive board was formed. The first national congress of the Third Order of St. Francis was held in Chicago in 1921, where it was decided to form a “national Tertiary organization with Tertiaries divided into provinces under the jurisdiction of the three branches of the First Order and the Third Order Regular.” In 1922 friar provincials met at St. Bonaventure University where a National Constitution was approved, and a National Third Order organization was confirmed by Ministers Provincial at the meeting. The publication Third Order Forum came into being in January 1922 as an organ for Directors of the Third Order. The Forum later became known as the Franciscan Herald. The following year, 1923, in Carey, Ohio the National Executive Committee put itself on record as strongly favoring the establishment of “Tertiary Provinces,” every Fraternity lining up with a Provincial organization, and, through it, entering a National organization.
 A Short History of the Third Order, Marion A. Habig, O.F.M. and Mark Hegerer, O.F.M
In 1956, the National Board became the North American Federation, which included Canada. Thirty-three provinces were represented, each by a friar and a Tertiary Provincial Minister. A ritual and a handbook were published. Leadership conferences and Youth Congress were held. The Third Order received General Constitutions in 1957 which were based on the Rule approved by Pope Leo XII, (in 1883). In 1969 Franciscan leaders from around the world gathered in Assisi and drafted 17 points; this introduced a secular spirituality component to the proposed Rule. Pope Paul VI approved a new Rule in 1978 that incorporated the spirit of the writings of the Second Vatican Council, and encouraged apostolic activity in the world. No longer to be known as the Third Order of St. Francis, The Secular Franciscan Order became independent of the friars in leadership, but remained connected by Canon Law through altius moderamen.
The first International Fraternity (CIOFS) was formed 1984 with an election of leaders held in Madrid, Spain. In the United States, Apostolic Commissions were formed. Our National Statutes were approved by CIOFS in1985.
The process of Regionalization called for by the Pauline Rule began in 1988. New General Constitutions, compatible with the Pauline Rule, were approved in 1990. In 1991 the first U. S. Regional Fraternity was formed in Hawaii, 'Ohana '0 Ke Anuenue. The thirty-first, and final, Regional Fraternity, The Tau Cross Region in New York, was approved in 1997.
A revised version of the General Constitutions was approved in 2000, and promulgated in 2001. Revised National Statues were approved in 2003 by CIOFS . At their Annual Meeting in October 2007, NAFRA voted to restructure the four Apostolic Commissions into one Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Committee.
 History compiled by Marie Amore, SFO and William Wicks, SFO, Quinquennial Congress XVII Program Book, Pittsburgh, PA 2007.