A 2020 Snapshot of the Order of Friars Minor

Dominic Monti, OFM Franciscan World

Holy Name Province friars gathered at the 2018 Provincial Chapter. (Photo courtesy of HNP)

We friars of Holy Name Province are certainly aware of change. The province that the majority of us joined back in the 1950s, 70s, or even 90s looks and feels vastly different in 2020.  The decisions our provincial leadership has made this year in the wake of the Fraternal Ecology Process have made clear that friars today are called to minister in a very different world than that of past generations.

Earlier this year, our general minister, Michael Perry, OFM, challenged us Franciscans to join the “Laudato Sí revolution”: a global campaign to promote integral ecological conversion: “not a revolution in the political sense, but a spiritual revolution. A conversion of mind and heart that brings us closer to the reality of life.” At the same time, working for such an agenda demands we take stock of our own reality. Exactly who are we friars in 2020?

One thing has been clear for some years: there are fewer of us, for in the highly secularized societies in much of today’s world, younger people tend not to identify with institutional religion. Although young adults may well be attracted to Franciscan ideals, not many of them are inspired to join organized religious life. As a result, the number of Franciscan men and women continues to shrink.

The annual statistical report of the Order of Friars Minor, submitted on Dec. 31, 2019, testifies to this reality. As we began 2020, our worldwide brotherhood numbered some 12,660 friars – about 240 fewer than the previous year. This decline was evident in all categories of friars: the number of solemnly professed (10,888), temporary professed (1,409), and novices (363). We are not alone: our Franciscan brothers — the Capuchins (now 10,461) and Conventuals (4,070) — are experiencing the same trends.

Yes, there are regions where new vocations are very robust. The two provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have 89 simply professed friars and 23 novices; the Province of Kenya and Madagascar (Nairobi) has 106 young friars and novices. The two provinces of Indonesia – an overwhelmingly Muslim country – have 95 simply professed and 37 novices; the Vietnamese province has 115 friars in initial formation.  Closer to home, the province of Jalisco in Mexico has 67 friars in temporary vows and 13 novices.  But highly secularized regions of the world tell a very different story:  Italy was blessed with 29 novices as of Dec. 31, but among the other countries of Western Europe, only Spain had novices – two! These include nations which 60 years ago were contributing greatly to world-wide Franciscan mission efforts. The provinces of North America had 11 novices, and we are grateful that we are continuing to attract some idealistic young men despite our cultural challenges.

The coat of arms of the Order of Friars Minor. (Graphic courtesy of Wikipedia)

This year, all six regions of the Order lost membership: Africa and the Middle East reported 1,272 friars (compared to 1,329 in 2018);  Asia and Oceania, 1,481 friars (down slightly from 1,495); Latin America, 3,107 (down from 3,131), Eastern Europe, 2,347 (down from 2,388); Western Europe, 3,401 (down from  3,481 friars), and North America, with 1,052 (a decline from 1,078).

In terms of individual nations, Italy continues to lead the list with 1,806 friars living and working in that country. The second-largest number of friars is now in Poland (995), with Mexico (980) third. The United States, with 924 friars, holds fourth place. Brazil has the fifth-largest number of friars, with 835. After that, come Croatia (483) and Spain (482).

Holy Name Province – with 279 friars – is again the ninth-largest entity in the Order. The Province of St. Anthony, created from the provinces of northern Italy in 2016, is in first place, with 566 friars. The province of Sts. Francis and James (Jalisco, Mexico) is second with 445 friars, and the Saõ Paolo Province in Brazil (364 friars) is third. The fourth-largest entity is now the Province of Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City), with 327 friars. Fifth is the province of the Immaculate Conception in Madrid, Spain, formed in 2015, with 315 friars.  Next come two Polish provinces: Immaculate Conception (Krakow), with 311 friars and Assumption (Katowice), with 301. Then comes our Holy Name Province (273), and the German Province of St. Elizabeth (Munich), with 250.

We in Holy Name Province are the largest entity in the English-speaking Conference of the Order. The other provinces in the US-6 – those working toward unification — are: Sacred Heart (headquartered in St. Louis), with 160 members, St. Barbara (Oakland, California), 141; St. John the Baptist (Cincinnati), 117; Assumption BVM (Franklin, Wisconsin), 87; and Our Lady of Guadalupe (Albuquerque), with 47.

The new Holy Spirit Province of Canada (Montreal), formed in 2018, numbers 73 friars. The remaining provinces of the ESC are the Irish Province (which now includes Great Britain), with 161 members; Immaculate Conception (New York), 106; Malta, 50, and Lithuania, 41.

Dominic Monti, OFM, is a distinguished professor of Franciscan research at St. Bonaventure University. He served as Provincial Vicar of Holy Name Province from 2005 until 2014.