A Current Look at a Worldwide Order

Dominic Monti, OFM In the Headlines

The Order of Friars Minor began the year 2011 with some 14,200 members, according to the official statistics of the Order published in June in the Acta Ordinis Minorum.

The Vatican asks each religious congregation to submit a detailed census of its members each year as of Dec. 31. The two other branches of the “First Order” Franciscan friars, the Capuchin and Conventual Franciscans, numbered 10,845 and 4,891, respectively.

The 14,247 Friars Minor — or OFMs — in the world as of Dec. 31, 2010, comprised some 12,448 solemnly professed members, of whom 9,714 were priests, 77 permanent deacons, 2,077 lay friars, and 466 others preparing for ordination. It is encouraging to report that there were some 1,800 friars in initial formation throughout the world (1,400 simply professed and 400 novices).

The fact that the Order welcomed 400 new brothers last year, however, does not compensate for substantial losses. As the General Minister remarked at a gathering I was at some months ago, we continue to lose the equivalent of two large provinces a year, with 320 deaths and almost 280 departures. Although most of the men who left did so during their initial formation years — which is to be expected — the departures also included more than 80 solemnly professed friars. In addition, another 75 friars sought exclaustration, or permission to live outside of fraternity. Many of these friars were beginning the process to become diocesan priests. As a result, the Order posted an overall loss of 250 members from the previous year.

Trends by Region
A closer breakdown of these statistics for the six regions of the Order makes these trends clearer. Two of them — Western Europe (4,507 friars, showing a decline of 105 from last year) and North America (1,461 friars, down 49) — are marked by many deaths and relatively few new vocations in their highly secularized environment. Holy Name Province is typical: in 2010 we admitted two new brothers to novitiate but had 14 deaths, for a total membership of 349 friars. There is one interesting historical footnote, however. For the first time in decades, no friar — whether novice, simply or solemnly professed — left the Province during the year.

Two other regions, Eastern Europe (3,465 friars, down 31) and Latin America (3,413 friars, down 83) have a significant number of new vocations to the Order but also large numbers of departures. The two smallest regions, Africa/Middle East (1,100 friars) and Asia/Oceania (1,301), show the most growth. Here the Order attracts a substantial number of new vocations; although many of these men do leave during initial formation, because these provinces are young, they are gaining membership overall. The Order is growing most rapidly in the countries of Indonesia, where the two provinces have a total of 151 solemnly professed friars with 115 in initial formation; Vietnam, with 150 solemnly professed friars and 64 in formation; and Togo, with only 66 solemnly professed friars, but 48 in formation.

To put this in perspective, Holy Name Province was experiencing the same type of rapid growth in the early 20th century; in 1925, of our 280 friars, 130 were in initial formation. In other words, the same factors that helped draw such large numbers of young men to the Order in the days of the US “immigrant church” of the 1920’s — large families, the opportunity for a good education and a setting to use one’s talents, social advancement – are operative in countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, and Togo today. And they definitely are no longer factors in contemporary North American or Western European society.

Trends by Nation and Province
In terms of individual nations where the Order is present, Italy currently continues to have the greatest number of friars (2,307), followed by the United States (1,314), Poland (1,027), Brazil (1,001), and Mexico (914). These five countries comprise almost half the Franciscan friars in the world.

Of the Order’s 108 provinces worldwide, the largest is again the Province of Sts. Francis and James (Jalisco, Mexico) with 442 friars, followed by the Immaculate Conception Province (São Paolo, Brazil) with 395. The new German Province, formed last year, is third (375), followed by Holy Name Province (349). The fifth largest is now Immaculate Conception Province (Krakow, Poland) with 344 friars.

Close behind are the Province of St. Anthony (Venice, Italy) and the Holy Cross Province (Sarajevo, Bosnia), each with 340 friars. If membership is calculated on the basis of solemnly professed members, Holy Name, with 337, is still fourth; Germany has the most — 360, followed by Jalisco and Immaculate Conception in Brazil.

Holy Name continues to be the largest entity in the English-speaking Conference of the Order; the other provinces of the ESC are Sacred Heart (based in St. Louis) with 234 members; St. Barbara (Oakland, Calif.), 189; St. John the Baptist (Cincinnati), 171; Ireland, 146; Immaculate Conception (New York), 136; Assumption BVM (Franklin, Wis.), 122; St. Joseph (Montreal, Quebec), 82; Malta, 68; Our Lady of Guadalupe (Albuquerque, N.M.), 61; England, 52; and Lithuania and Christ the King (Edmonton, Alberta), with 42 friars each.

— Fr. Dominic, a widely respected Franciscan historian, is Provincial Vicar of Holy Name Province.