A paperback that illustrates the origins and history of the Franciscans in the United States has been released by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press. Franciscan Friars: Coast to Coast, a 128-page book by Jack Clark Robinson, OFM, provincial minister of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province, is part of the Images of America series.
This compact treasure, a perfect Christmas gift, tells the story of the Franciscans through 150 historic images, many of them vintage photographs that capture friar life and their work in numerous ministries around the country, such as parishes, schools, Navajo reservations, social service environments, and other settings. The images — the most recent a 2019 photo of the leaders of the US-6 provinces standing in front of a San Damiano cross — were researched and compiled by the archivists of the six provinces participating in the unification process of the U.S. OFM communities.
In one place or another, Franciscan friars have been in what is now the United States without interruption since the 16th century, according to the book’s three-page introduction, which details the history of the more than 800-year-old Franciscan Order and its presence in North America.
“The images in this book will attempt to tell some of the stories of Franciscans who came both to spread the Gospel and serve European immigrants in the 1800s and their growth into six provinces, or autonomous units, of the worldwide Order of Friars Minor,” says the introduction.
The introduction goes on to say that the six provinces are only part of the Franciscan story in the United States. “The thousands of friars who belonged to these provinces over the last 170 years literally touched the lives of millions of Roman Catholics and others. One book cannot tell their story but it can invite reflection on some of what they have done and encourage readers to look further into this amazing story of Franciscan friars from coast to coast.”
Men of Faith and Service
The US-6 provincials have expressed their gratitude to the archivists of Assumption BVM, Holy Name, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sacred Heart, St. Barbara, and St. John the Baptist provinces for their work in compiling the historic images for the book – which is divided into seven chapters, one about each province, and the last titled “It Is Not Over.”
Each chapter opens with a one-page description of the history of the particular province, with the ensuring pages letting the photos tell the story. The origins of Holy Name Province are defined by three waves of immigrants.
“What we tried to do is to share a thin slice of the pie that is Franciscan history in the United States,” Jack said. “I wanted people to see friars in their natural state, so to speak, as men of faith, men of prayer, men of service and, of course, brothers to one another,” the author added.
An overview of the book describes the Franciscan friars entering the religious landscape of the United States in 1539 and seeing their numbers peak in the 1960s. “In the midst of that boom, they engaged in such issues as civil rights and the changes that came to the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council,” says the overview.
Minister General Michael Perry, OFM, said the story of the friars in the United States is “anything but dull, repetitive, static or uniform.” Michael, who has led the Order since spring 2013, wrote in the book’s foreword, “From the time of their first arrival on the shores of Florida to those of more recent immigrants who have joined Franciscan life, the Franciscan message has, fundamentally, stayed the same.”
Jack, who has studied and taught history for 25 years, began this book project in July 2018. In the acknowledgments page, the author thanks the Franciscan novices “who have inspired and challenged me with their energy and enthusiasm for their Franciscan vocations.”
In two videos produced recently by OLG Province, Jack describes the content of the book and what he most enjoyed about this undertaking. The first of these videos is shown here:
Part two of this video can be viewed on YouTube.
Serving as OLG provincial since 2014, Jack professed his first vows as a friar in 1981. He holds a doctorate in American history from the University of California at Santa Barbara and, while studying there in 2009, served as a teaching assistant and the instructor of record for an undergraduate American Catholic history course. The Kentucky native has also taught at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, and at novitiates around the country.
“Anyone reading this book is bound to get a strong sense of our Franciscan history and the work of the friars in the United States,” said Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM. “Friars will no doubt enjoy learning more about where their brothers have served in the United States.”
– Jocelyn Thomas is the director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- “Holy Name Province to Unify with Five Other Provinces” – May 30, 2018, HNP Today
- “American Michael Perry Re-elected General Minister” – May 27, 2015, HNP Today
- “Provincial Vicar Writes Book on OFM History” – Dec. 3, 2008, HNP Today