As many know, I was privileged to attend the General Chapter of the Order in Assisi this spring. I say privileged, for although I was asked to work there as a “peritus,” it was a wonderful occasion to experience in the flesh the vast worldwide brotherhood that is the Order of Friars Minor.
So often we can view the Order through our narrow U.S. and even provincial perspective, and simply project these onto a larger screen when we speak of the Order as a whole, but the General Chapter made it clear to me just how rich and complex the Order is. One thing was abundantly clear: although in North America and Western Europe, our provinces are experiencing numerical decline and facing consolidation, provinces in Africa and Asia are expanding. Each province was asked to bring a video to the chapter illustrating its life and work: several provinces focused on the care they provided for their elderly friars, who are the vast majority of their membership; younger entities showed the new formation houses they were building to accommodate the tide of vocations that were joining them.
The Order began the year 2015 with a membership of 13,632 friars. This is 113 friars fewer than the previous year, as the growth of the Order in the younger entities cannot yet compensate for the losses in Western Europe and North America. There are 11,794 solemnly professed friars, including 9,243 priests, 59 permanent deacons, 416 friars preparing for ordination, and 1957 lay friars. There was a slight increase of friars in initial formation — 1413 temporary professed and 425 novices. In terms of age, 34% of the world’s friars are under the age of 45, 29% between the ages of 45-64, and 37% over the age of 65.
A closer look at the Order’s six regions shows considerable divergence: four registered growth from the preceding year, whereas two — dominated by elderly friars — posted declines. These were Western Europe, with 3,999 friars, which was down 125 friars from the preceding year, and North America (the U.S. and Canada), with 1,273 friars, which was down 50. On the other hand, the other four regions of the Order showed growth: Latin America, with 3,334 friars, was up 20 friars; Africa, with 1,161 friars (up 30); Asia, with 1423 friars (up 5), and Eastern Europe, with 2442 friars (up 15). To illustrate the age difference among these entities: in the English-speaking Conference, for every friar under the age of 45, there are seven friars over 65. In Africa, on the other hand, the friars under the age of 45 outnumber the seniors 3 to 1.
Holy Name Province has now slipped to the eighth largest of the Order’s 125 entities. Just two years ago, it was fifth largest. The Province of Sts. Francis and James (Jalisco, Mexico) continues to be in first place with 472 friars (120 of whom are in initial formation) The Immaculate Conception Province (São Paolo, Brazil) follows, with 379 members (40 in formation). The third largest entity is now the Immaculate Conception Province (Krakow, Poland), with 338 friars, followed closely by the Province of the Holy Cross (Sarajevo, Bosnia) with 336 members. The German province (Munich) is fifth (322), and the Province of St. Anthony (Venice, Italy), is sixth (309). Slightly ahead of Holy Name (304 friars) is now the Assumption Province (Katowice, Poland) with 307 friars.
In terms of individual nations where the Order is present, Italy still has by far the greatest number of friars (2,038), followed by the United States (1,145), Poland (1,006), Mexico (990), and Brazil (950). It is interesting to note that these five countries comprise almost half the Franciscan friars in the world.
Holy Name, with 304 friars, continues to be the largest entity in the Order’s English-speaking Conference. The other provinces of the ESC are Sacred Heart, based in St. Louis, with 207 members; the Irish Province (which now includes Great Britain), 179; St. Barbara (based in Oakland, Calif.), 168; St. John the Baptist (Cincinnati), 147; Immaculate Conception (New York), 121; Assumption BVM (Franklin, Wis.), 111; St. Joseph (Montreal, Quebec), 68; Our Lady of Guadalupe (Albuquerque, N.M.), 57; Malta, 56; Lithuania, 42; and Christ the King (Edmonton, Alberta), with 33.
— Fr. Dominic is a Franciscan historian stationed at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York. His book “Francis and His Brothers: A Popular History of the Franciscan Friars,” was published in 2009.
- “Order’s General Chapter Concludes in Assisi” — June 10, 2015, HNP Today
- “OFM Membership Statistics Released” — Aug. 8, 2014, HNP Today
- “General Minister Shares Views on Future of Franciscan Order” — June 19, 2013, HNP Today