ST. LOUIS — The leadership team of the Franciscan Friars of Sacred Heart Province met last month with three other Franciscan provinces to continue discussions on restructuring.
No decision to merge the four Franciscan provinces has been made.
“It may never come to that,”said Sacred Heart Provincial Vicar Fr. Kenneth Capalbo, OFM, “but that is among options now being studied.”
The Sacred Heart Province, which covers 12 states, is headquartered in St. Louis. The annual meeting of four provincial councils took place Sept. 6 to 8, in Albuquerque, N.M. In addition to the Sacred Heart Province, the other three Franciscan provinces involved in discussions are Assumption Province, based in Franklin, Wisc.; St. John the Baptist Province, based in Cincinnati; and Our Lady of Guadalupe Province, based in Albuquerque.
The four provinces have been working together on various efforts for more than a decade. For example, the provinces provide an interprovincial formation program for both the novitiate and post-novitiate years. They also have interprovincial ministry projects, including a prayer ministry and aid to immigrants. Because of the success of these and other collaborations, coupled with the diminishing numbers and overall aging of the members of the four Franciscan provinces, it seemed like a natural progression to consider further integration, Fr. Capalbo said.
The issue of restructuring was first formally raised at the September 2005 annual leadership meeting, Fr. Capalbo said. It was decided then to use the next 12 months before this September’s meeting to study the issue at all provincial levels. Included in that study was “extensive consultation of all grass-roots members” within the four provinces.
Provincial services staff in the Sacred Heart Province has been brought into the discussion, the provincial vicar said. The province also had a task force study the experiences of other male religious groups who have dealt with restructuring, such as the Marianists in St. Louis.
“We’re trying in a sense to learn from other experiences and also are looking to our own reality the best way we possibly can,” Fr. Capalbo said.
A spectrum of options is under consideration, including continuing exactly as the four provinces now exist to merging together. “There is no timeline, and I couldn’t predict what will happen next,” Father Capalbo said.
The Sacred Heart Province has 275 members. The average age of the Franciscans in the province is 66. In addition to Missouri, the province covers Alaska, California, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. In much of this area it overlaps St. John the Baptist and Assumption provinces.
Franciscan priests and brothers arrived in the Midwest as early as 1858 to minister to German Catholic immigrants. St. John the Baptist Province also first served German immigrants. Assumption Province Franciscans were first called to work with Polish immigrants, while Our Lady of Guadalupe Province began as a western extension of St. John the Baptist Province and today serves Native American indians.
Capalbo noted the Franciscans “are not just territories of an order; we are members of one order. … We started with a specific focus, and yet, I think we never really lost the fact that we’re Franciscans. The borders between us have been vanishing for years and years in terms of these territories. I think if we go in that direction, we can certainly give witness to that main truth without losing our presence in places where we’re needed.”
The four provinces will address the issue of restructuring again at an inter-provincial convocation in June 2007 in Racine, Wisc. Recommendations resulting from the discussions will be taken back to the chapter meetings of all four provinces in 2008 for further consideration.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 1, 2006 issue of The St. Louis Review, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and has been slightly edited.