American Michael Perry Chosen as New General Minister

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

ROME — A member of Sacred Heart Province, Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, General Vicar of the Order of Friars Minor since 2009, was elected Wednesday as the new General Minister, the 120th successor of St. Francis of Assisi. The Indiana native fills the vacancy left by Fr. José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM, who in April was named by Pope Francis as secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Society of Apostolic Life.

The Order of Friars Minor announced Fr. Michael’s selection earlier today. On Wednesday morning, Fr. Michael celebrated a Mass of the Holy Spirit at the General Curia in Rome, which offers photos on its website.

Joy and History 
“It was with a sense of great joy that I received the word today of the election of Michael Perry,” said Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM. “I have known Michael for a number of years both as a brother friar and as a good friend.

“Michael is going to be an excellent General Minister,” John continued. “He is forward thinking, has the charisma needed for the job, is well-liked by the friars, and has the kind of prophetic vision that is needed at this moment in the Order’s history. He is a collaborative leader who will not be afraid to reach out to his brothers on the General Council, and among the provincials, seeking their advice and insight. We provincials of the English-speaking Conference are indeed very proud that one of our own is now the leader of our Order.”

The election to replace Archbishop José was historic, said Fr. Thomas Washburn, OFM, secretary of the English-speaking Conference. This was the first time this process was used to fill a vacancy during a General Minister’s term, according to Provincial Vicar and historian Dominic Monti, OFM. “The last time a vacancy needed filling was when Fr. Augustine Sepinski, OFM, was appointed an archbishop in the 1960s and Fr. Constantine Koser, OFM, became General Minister.” The 34 electors included members of the Order’s General Council along with the presidents and vice presidents of the 13 conferences of the Order.

Fr. Michael, 58, is the third American to serve as General Minister. Fr. John Vaughn, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, held the post for two terms, from 1979 to 1991, and Fr. Valentine Schaff, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province, was General Minister from 1945 to 1946. Fr. José, a native of Spain, had served since 2003 as leader of the Order, which comprises roughly 14,000 members.

The president of the English-speaking Conference, Fr. John Puodziunas, OFM, offered congratulations to the new General Minister in a special edition of the ESC newsletter distributed May 22. He said, “There was a genuine sense of celebration and joy as we journey forward.”

Personal Background
Fr. Michael joined the Order in 1977 and professed his final vows in 1981. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1984. He holds a doctorate in religious anthropology, a master’s degree in theology, a master’s in divinity in priestly formation, and a bachelor of arts in history and philosophy.

Throughout his years as a friar, Michael has held a variety of roles, including:

  • member of the vicariate of St. Benedict in Zaire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, from 1982 to 1990
  • a staff member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2002 to 2005
  • a lobbyist for Franciscans International from 2005 to 2008
  • senior technical advisor to Catholic Relief Services from 2005 to 2008
  • provincial minister of Sacred Heart Province, based in St. Louis, from 2008 to 2009, when he was elected General Vicar of the Order at the 187th General Chapter.

Fr. Michael will serve the two remaining years of Archbishop José’s term. An election to fill the General Vicar position, sometimes called Vicar General. he vacates has yet to be scheduled.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.