Franciscans Announce Departure from St. Paul and St. Joseph Parishes in Wilmington

HNP Communications News Releases

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NEW YORK – Jan. 3, 2020 — The Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province (HNP) are withdrawing from the parishes of St. Paul and St. Joseph in Wilmington, Delaware.  Ministerial responsibilities and administrative operations will be turned over to the Diocese of Wilmington this summer, ending nearly 30 years of pastoral service by the friars at these parishes in the downtown section of the city.

HNP’s Administration cited the challenges of a declining friar population, whose insufficient numbers make it difficult for the Province to staff all of the Fraternities-in-Mission it has served in the past.  The diminished numbers also make it impossible to maintain a core component of the Franciscan Order – friars living and ministering together in fraternal community.

In 1985, just 35 years ago, HNP had 708 friars, a number that dropped to 443 in 2001, and currently stands at a little less than 300.  While there are a number of men in the initial formation process, just three friars have professed their solemn vows since August 2018.

In addition to St. Paul and St. Joseph, today’s announcement identified eight other Fraternity-in-Mission sites from which friars will withdraw this summer.  One of the sites, a mall ministry in upstate New York, will be permanently closed, while responsibilities and operations of the others will be turned over to their respective dioceses.

This is the culmination of a more than two-year collegial process that HNP called “Fraternal Ecology” – an initiative that engaged the participation of virtually all friars, as well as local dioceses and lay partners, in evaluating the future sustainability of the Province’s 30 Fraternities-in-Mission, among them parishes, elementary schools, colleges, urban ministry centers, soup kitchens, and other pastoral and social justice ministries.

“This was a deliberate, measured and comprehensive process that consisted of dozens of meetings and site visits, and dialogue with all interested parties, which generated studies and reports that ultimately helped guide the Provincial Council’s final decisions on the Fraternities-in-Mission where friars would remain, and those where they would be withdrawn,” explained Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM, provincial minister of the New York City-based Holy Name Province, the largest Order of Friars Minor community in the U.S. whose members model their life after the Roman Catholic saint, St. Francis of Assisi, who founded the Order 800 years ago.

“It was collaborative and transparent discernment marked by frank discussion and honest assessment and evaluation by our friars and lay partners in ministry, as well as the dioceses where our Fraternities-in-Mission are located.  The council made its final decisions after careful thought and prayerful reflection,” Fr. Mullen said.

“Our departure from St. Paul and St. Joseph, as well as the other eight Fraternities-in-Mission, inevitably will bring disappointment and sadness – which are natural emotions because of the longtime association between the Franciscans and the Wilmington community.  The decision to withdraw from these parishes was not taken lightly,” continued Fr. Mullen, “and, in fact, was very difficult and painful – as with the other Fraternities-in-Mission where we have announced our departure.  But despite our long history and rich tradition, which dates back to 1991 at St. Paul’s and 1993 at St. Joseph’s, the reality of our declining numbers – and the challenges and strain it places on our ability to fulfill our fraternal mission – made this a pragmatic and necessary decision.”

The provincial minister added, “We have been spread too thin for quite some time.  The ‘Fraternal Ecology’ process has allowed us to reset and right-size our ministerial commitments.  Since our fraternal life is central to our vocation – living in community and serving together as brothers – this will help our friars more effectively serve the people in our ministry environments and Fraternities-in-Mission, as well as the Church.”

Fr. Mullen said the Province was grateful to the “good and faith-filled parishioners of St. Paul and St. Joseph for the support, collaboration, generosity and warm embrace” extended to friars for the past three decades.  “We are confident that we are leaving them stronger and more robust than when we first arrived,” said Fr. Mullen, who noted that the transition to the Diocese of Wilmington later this year would be a seamless one.

Within one year of arriving in Wilmington in 1991 and accepting responsibility for St. Paul’s Parish, the friars opened an urban center in the city’s downtown section to minister to the business community and under-served and marginalized of the city.  By 1993, the friars expanded their urban presence by taking on St. Joseph’s Parish.  From 1999 to 2013, HNP’s novitiate program was located in St. Paul’s former convent, which also housed the Province’s postulancy and Franciscan Volunteer Ministry programs during parts of that period.  St. Paul’s is currently the center of Spanish language ministry in the Diocese of Wilmington, making it the only parochial Spanish-speaking community in the city.  The parish school closed in 2012.

St. Joseph’s is the only African-American parish in the diocese, in a neighborhood where 24% of its residents are living in poverty and 59% of its children require food and nutritional assistance.  The parish’s most prominent social justice outreach ministries include the St. Vincent DePaul Society and Knights of Peter Claver, as well as a food pantry that also provides showers and haircuts twice monthly for the area’s homeless population.  The parish also provides space to the local community for the operation of a free health clinic and a number of addiction recovery programs.

Besides St. Paul and St. Joseph, HNP announced the withdrawal of its friars from the following Fraternities-in-Mission:

  • St. Francis Chapel – Colonie, New York (a mall ministry that is closing)
  • St. Mary of the Angels Parish – Anderson, South Carolina
  • Catholic Center at the University of Georgia – Athens, Georgia
  • St. Anthony of Padua Parish – Greenville, South Carolina
  • Parish of the Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great – New York City
  • St. Joseph-St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish – Orlando, Florida
  • St. Francis of Assisi Parish – Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Parish of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady – Wood-Ridge, New Jersey

The Province has friars in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and other locations in the U.S., as well as missions in South America and Asia.

About Holy Name Province
Holy Name Province is the largest of seven entities in the United States belonging to the Order of Friars Minor. The Order, founded in 1209 by St. Francis of Assisi, commemorated its 800th anniversary in 2009. Today, St. Francis, whose feast day is Oct. 4, remains one of the most widely known saints, revered for his affection for nature and care for creation.

Information about Holy Name Province can be found on News about its friars and events can be found on the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province Facebook page.