The Third Order Regular
The early history of the Third Order Regular is shrouded in uncertainty and is susceptible of controversy. Some falsely attribute its foundation to St. Elizabeth of Hungary in 1228, others to Blessed Angelina of Marsciano in 1395. The latter is said to have established at Foligno the first Franciscan monastery of enclosed Tertiary Nuns in Italy. Records clearly show a vital religious life in the Order of Penance very early on. A number of hermits and recluses (true religious in the eyes of the Church) were received into the Order and were invested with the habit by St Francis himself, such as Veridiana of Castel Fiorentino, Praxedes of Rome, Gerard of Villamagna, and Bartholomew Baro who also had founded a religious community of Penitents living under the Rule of the Third Order. Francis and his first followers when asked by the people who they were, identified themselves as: The Penitents of Assisi, thus identifying themselves with the Order of Penitents during the time prior to their approbation as Friars Minor in 1209 and thus pre-dating the formal establishment of the Friars Minor. It can thus be seen clearly that the words of Scripture, "...the last shall be first and the first last", (St Matthew 20: 16) aptly apply to the Third Order of Saint Francis, as it was the first form of the Franciscan vocation to emerge and was embraced by Saint Francis himself prior to his later establishment of the Friars Minor, but was the last to receive formal and official approbation as a distinct Religious Order.
The TOR manner of life and apostolic activity thus truly reflects the earliest manifestation of the emerging Franciscan vocation, and continues the initial ideals of the Saint himself. It is certain that early in the fifteenth century tertiary communities of men and women existed in different parts of Europe and that the Italian Friars of the Third Order Regular were recognized as a mendicant order by the Holy See. Since about 1447 the latter body has been governed by their own Minister General and its members take Solemn Vows, as do the members of all of the branches of Friars Minor and the Poor Clares. The Holy See has ranked these Friars of the Third Order Regular as one of the four principal branches of the one Franciscan Family, and has placed them on a par with the Friars of the First Order. The Minister Generals of the Friars Minor, the Friars Minor Capuchin, Friars Minor Conventual, and the Third Order Regular are regarded as the spiritual fathers of the entire Franciscan Family and are charged with providing spiritual guidance and assistance to the Second Order and the Third Order Secular.