NEW YORK — On July 1, the four historic provinces of Germany officially amalgamated to form one new province. At a ceremony in Munich, presided over by General Minister Fr. José Rodriguez Carballo, OFM, the four previous entities (the Bavarian province of St. Anthony, the Cologne Province of the Three Kings, the Thuringian Province of St. Elizabeth, and the Saxon province of the Holy Cross) were suppressed and a decree was read establishing the new Provincia Franciscana Germanica S. Elisabethae — “the German Franciscan Province of St. Elizabeth.”
The new Province is headquartered at Franziskanerkloster St. Anna (St. Annastrasse, 19, 80538 Munich, Germany). Its leadership was appointed by the General Definitorium on May 14 and consists of Provincial Minister Fr. Norbert Plogmann, OFM, Provincial Vicar Fr. Cornelius Bohl, OFM, and Provincial Councilors Fr. Heribert Arens, OFM, Fr. Damian Bieger, OFM, Fr. Michael Blasek, OFM, and Fr. Maximilian Wagner, OFM. Fr. Norbert was formerly Provincial Minister of the Saxon province, and Fr. Cornelius, Provincial Vicar of the Thuringian (Fulda) Province.
Merger with a Mission
The new German province has 379 friars (according to the statistics of the various entities as of Dec. 31, 2009) of which 361 are solemnly professed (with 272 priests), 14 temporary professed, and four novices, thus making it the third largest province in the Order of Friars Minor. It is slightly larger than Holy Name Province, which on the same date numbered 359 friars, of which 345 were solemnly professed, 12 temporary professed, and two novices.
This merger of the German provinces — all of which can boast of long and proud histories — is so far the most significant step in a re-structuring process that the Franciscan Order faces as it comes to terms with declining membership in Western Europe and North America. Within the last several years, the two Austrian provinces have merged into one, as have the two Hungarian provinces. The six French-speaking provinces in Europe had already merged into two in the 1990s. In the United States, two provinces — St. John the Baptist and Assumption — are currently considering a possible merger.
It is important to note that the impetus of these mergers was not simply to achieve more efficient management in light of smaller numbers, but out of a sense of mission. It was clear from the German friars with whom I spoke when John O’Connor, OFM, and I went to Fulda after Easter for the closing chapter of the Thuringian Province, that the friars — especially the younger ones — were feeling a certain sense of paralysis in the existing provinces.
Discussions tended to be centered on how to preserve “our” existing ministries, to which the aging members of each province naturally felt a sense of commitment, even as they were forced to peel them away, one by one. With a new province, and a leadership team drawn from all the entities, they feel they might achieve a broader vision that will enable the friars to revitalize their evangelizing mission in contemporary German society.
The Friars Minor now number 14,525 friars, a decline of 200 from the previous year. Most of this loss took place in two of the regions of the Order: Western Europe (4,612 friars, a drop of 150 from 2008), and North America (1,510 friars, down 50). Latin America (3,496 friars) registered a smaller decline. Asia/Oceania (1,302) remained just about the same, and two regions — Africa/Middle East (1,109 friars) and Eastern Europe (2,496) — showed gains.
In terms of individual nations, Italy currently continues to have the greatest number of friars (2,349, with 41 novices), followed by the United States (1,359, with 11 novices), Poland (1,049, with 25 novices), Brazil (1,021, with 54 novices) and Mexico (938, with 49 novices).
The largest province in the Order is again the Province of Sts. Francis and James (Jalisco, Mexico) with 439 friars, followed by the Immaculate Conception Province (São Paolo, Brazil) with 401. As mentioned above, the new German Province is now third (379), followed by Holy Name Province (359). The fifth largest is again Holy Cross Province (Sarajevo, Bosnia) with 354 friars. The Province of St. Anthony (Venice, Italy), now with 352 friars, has dropped from fourth to sixth place.
Holy Name is the largest entity in the English-speaking Conference of the Order; the other provinces of the ESC are Sacred Heart (St. Louis) with 243 members; St. Barbara (Oakland, Calif.), 199; St. John the Baptist (Cincinnati), 172; Ireland and Immaculate Conception (New York), each with 145; Assumption BVM (Franklin, Wis.), 131; St. Joseph (Montreal, Quebec), 86; Malta, 69; Our Lady of Guadalupe (Albuquerque, N.M.), 62; England, 53; Lithuania, 46; and Christ the King (Edmonton, Alberta), 43. All of these posted declines from the previous year, with the exception of Lithuania, Malta, and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
— Fr. Dominic is a widely-known Franciscan historian who wrote Francis and His Brothers: A Popular History of the Franciscan Friars. He is Provincial Vicar of Holy Name Province.