ROME — Current membership figures for the Franciscan Order have been published in the latest issue of the Acta Ordinis Minorum. They indicate that the trends evident over the past several years are still continuing. Although the Order is experiencing healthy new growth in some parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, this is not keeping pace with the “graying” of the Order in other countries.
As of Dec. 31, 2007, the Order of Friars Minor numbered 15,030 members, an overall decline of 226 from the preceding year. The friars are distributed in the following six geographic regions: Western Europe (4,917 friars), Latin America (3,609), Eastern Europe (2,499), the U.S.A. and Canada (1,616), Asia-Oceania (1,301), and Africa-Middle East (1,088 friars). Only the last two regions registered an overall membership gain from last year; the other four posted losses, although not as significant as in some recent years.
U.S. Home to Second Most Friars
Italy has the greatest number of friars (2,474), followed by the United States (1,460), Brazil (1,064), and Poland (1,044). The countries with the most novices are Italy and Mexico with 44 each, Poland (35), Brazil (30), and Indonesia (28). The United States had 14 novices.
Holy Name Province, which numbered 375 members on Dec. 31, is tied with the St. Anthony Province, Venice, Italy, as the third largest unit in the Order. The largest is now the Province of Sts. Francis and James, Jalisco, Mexico (426 friars), followed by the Immaculate Conception Province in Sao Paolo, Brazil (424 friars). The fourth largest unit in the Order is the Immaculate Conception Province, Krakow, Poland (352 friars).
Other provinces in the English-speaking Conference (ESC) are Sacred Heart (based in St. Louis), with 255 members; St. Barbara (in Oakland) 208; St. John Baptist (Cincinnati) 185; Immaculate Conception (New York) 155; Ireland 153; Assumption BVM (Franklin, Wis.) 141; St. Joseph (Montreal) 99; Malta 70; Our Lady of Guadalupe (Albuquerque) 65; England 57; Christ the King (Edmonton) 47; and Lithuania, 46.
Stats Reflect OFM Challenges
The May issue of Fraternitas reflected on the OFM membership trends:
“The numbers do not speak to us about the quality of our life; they do, however, contain a significant message. They speak of us, of our family. They help us to understand the challenges which we have to face up to: the visibility of our charism, the pastoral care of vocations, the promotion of culture, the collaboration needed to seek ways which would allow us to give quality to our life and mission together.”
In Holy Name Province, the average friar age is 65.
Statistics show that, for the last 12 years, the average age of Holy Name friars at death is 83. On average, 15 friars die each year.
— Fr. Dominic, the Provincial Vicar of Holy Name Province, is a Franciscan scholar.
Editor’s Note: an issue of Parade magazine from earlier this year announced that members of religious communities live longer than most people. According to the March 9 issue, “When researchers compared occupations with life expectancy, they found that clergy men were among the longest-lived men and nuns were among the oldest women Although the reasons aren’t yet clear, most centenarians reported having some kind of regular religious practice or belief.”