More than 60 friars, representing the 14 regional conferences of the Order and other delegates from around the world, assembled from June 12 to 28 in Nairobi, Kenya, for the Plenary Council of the Order. This gathering is held mid-way between general chapters and serves as a sounding board for our general leadership to get a better sense of what is happening at the grassroots of Franciscan life today. One of the main factors with which friars must contend, as our General Minister, Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, mentioned in his closing homily, is that we friars are “in the midst of a world and a cosmos that are changing at an ever-increasing rate,” affecting the context of our fraternal lives and ministries, often leaving a sense of dislocation. Not least of these is the changing face of the Order itself – exactly who we friars are, where and how we live and work. The very fact that the Plenary Council was held in Africa for the first time is itself a testimony to the increasing prominence of that continent in the life of the Order of Friars Minor.
This year’s full membership statistics have not yet been released in the Acta Ordinis Minorum, but the General Secretary’s office kindly forwarded enough of them to me so that I could provide this annual “snapshot” of the face of the Order today. These figures are based on the detailed report submitted by each of the entities of the Order as of Dec. 31, 2017.
As we entered 2018, our worldwide brotherhood numbered some 13,153 friars (11,228 solemnly professed), a decline of about 150 from the preceding year. Although vocations are quite robust, as we will see, in many of the former “mission territories” in the Southern Hemisphere, this cannot compensate for the large number of deaths in the older provinces of Western Europe and North America, as well as a sizeable number of men withdrawing from the Order. Last year world-wide, we were blessed with 420 men being received as novices into the Order, and with another 1,502 friars in temporary vows. But this healthy growth was cut back by some 208 men withdrawing from the initial formation process. In addition, some 65 solemnly professed friars left the Order and another 293 friars died.
Of the six regions of the Order, half reported gains over the course of 2017: Asia and Oceania, with 1580 friars, reported almost 100 more than the previous year; Africa and the Middle East, with 1,265, also registered an increase. What surprised me is that Western Europe reported 3,725 friars – a gain of about 10 from last year, the first growth that region has shown in years. However, I realized that this figure includes, not only the friars who belong to the native provinces of those regions, but all the friars who are living there for purposes of ministry or study. For example, there are some 399 friars reported as living in Germany, but only 279 of them belong to the German province; over the years a sizeable number of ministries in that country have been entrusted to friars from Eastern Europe. There were 2,399 friars in Eastern Europe itself, a slight decline. Latin America, with 3,228 friars, also declined slightly, but North America (the U.S. and Canada), with 1,194 friars, posted a significant loss (down about 70 in one year).
Overview of Countries
In terms of individual nations, Italy continues to lead the list with 2,009 friars living and working in that country; the USA still maintains the second position that it has held for decades, with 990 friars, but now followed very closely by Mexico (988) and Poland (986). Brazil, with 870 friars, is next. Almost 40 percent of the OFMs in the world are in these five countries.
Holy Name Province is now the ninth largest entity in the Order. The Province of St Anthony, created by the merger of the six provinces of Northern Italy in 2016, is in first place, with 611 friars. Sts. Francis and James (Jalisco, Mexico) is second with 456 friars, and the Saõ Paolo province in Brazil (368 friars) is third. Fourth is another new province, that of the Immaculate Conception in Madrid, Spain (2015) with 344 friars. The fifth largest entity is the Province of the Holy Cross (Sarajevo, Bosnia), with 327 friars, followed closely by the Immaculate Conception Province (Krakow, Poland), with 315, and the Province of Vietnam (Hochiminh City), with 310. Rounding out the top 10 are the Assumption Province (Katowice, Poland), with 306, our Holy Name Province, with 282, and the German Province of St. Elizabeth (Munich), with 272.
With its fewer than 300 members, Holy Name Province continues to be the largest entity in the English-speaking Conference of the Order. As we know, we voted this spring to enter into a process with five other U.S. provinces to form one new province: those are Sacred Heart (St. Louis), with 175 members, St. Barbara (Oakland, Calif.), 150; St. John the Baptist (Cincinnati), 125; Assumption BVM (Franklin, Wis.), 92; and Our Lady of Guadalupe (Albuquerque), 45. The two Canadian provinces, St. Joseph (Montreal, Quebec), with 56 friars, and Christ the King (Edmonton, Alberta), with 34, are set to unite in October to form a new Holy Spirit Province. The remaining provinces of the ESC are the Irish Province (which now includes Great Britain), with 177 members; Immaculate Conception (New York), 95; Malta, 52; and Lithuania, 41.
— Fr. Dominic, a former provincial vicar of Holy Name Province, is the author of several articles and books about the Franciscans. He is stationed at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York.
Editor’s note: Details about Holy Name Province’s member statistics can be found on the Who We Are page of HNP.org.
- “Order Update: General Minister Releases Follow-up Letter to Plenary Council” – Aug. 8, 2018, HNP Today
- “The State of the Order of Friars Minor: 2017” – Aug. 25, 2017, HNP Today
- “Dominic Monti Marks 50 Years as a Friar” – May 12, 2015, HNP Today