At our Provincial Chapter in June, General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, offered some comments and reflections on the current state of the worldwide Order. He accentuated the fact that we Friars Minor are currently in a period of “tremendous movement,” as provinces in Western Europe and North America face consolidation due to declining numbers, while new entities are being formed in Africa and Asia.
When Fr. Michael gave his talk, he relied on statistics from December 2012, but since then the statistics from Dec. 31, 2013 have been published in the June issue of the Acta Ordinis Minorum. Overall, the Order continues to experience a decline in membership worldwide.
The Order began 2014 with 13,745 friars, roughly 60 friars fewer than the previous year; however, the good news is that this represents a much less significant decline than in recent years. There are 11,976 solemnly professed friars, including 9,393 priests, 59 permanent deacons, 424 friars preparing for ordination, and 1,985 lay friars. As Michael mentioned, the proportion of lay brothers (17 percent) among the solemnly professed is declining worldwide, although the opposite trend is occurring in the United States. There was a slight increase of friars in initial formation — 1,386 temporary professed and 383 novices.
The Order’s six regions show considerable divergence: three posted declines, whereas three registered growth. Western Europe, with 4,124 friars, was down more than 100 friars from the preceding year, and North America (the US and Canada), with 1,321 friars, was down 50. Latin America, with 3,314 friars, was down 30. On the other hand, the other three regions showed growth: Africa, with 1,134 friars (up 30); Asia, with 1,418 friars (up 50), and Eastern Europe, with 2,427 friars (up 40).
Holy Name Province is now the sixth largest of the Order’s 125 entities, compared to fifth largest in 2013. The Province of Sts. Francis and James based in Jalisco, Mexico, continues to be in first place with 453 friars, over 100 of who are in initial formation. The Immaculate Conception Province, based in São Paolo, Brazil, follows, with 372 members (50 in formation). The third largest province is now the Province of the Holy Cross (Sarajevo, Bosnia) with 339 members (33 in formation). The German province (Munich) is fourth (337) and the Immaculate Conception Province (Krakow, Poland), with 331 friars, is fifth. Holy Name, as mentioned, is sixth, with 317 members, followed closely by the Province of St. Anthony (Venice, Italy), with 313.
In terms of individual nations where the Order is present, Italy continues by far to have the greatest number of friars with 2,120, followed by the United States (1,190), Poland (999), Brazil, and Mexico (each with 947). As reported last year, these five countries comprise almost half the Franciscan friars in the world.
Holy Name, with 317 friars, continues to be the largest entity in the Order’s English-speaking Conference of the Order. The other provinces of the ESC are Sacred Heart, based in St. Louis, with 217 members; St. Barbara, based in Oakland, Calif., 175; St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati, 157; Ireland, 139; Immaculate Conception of New York City, 124; Assumption BVM of Franklin, Wis., 115; St. Joseph of Montreal, Quebec, 68; Our Lady of Guadalupe of Albuquerque, N.M., 58; Malta, 57; England and Lithuania, each with 42; and Christ the King of Edmonton, Alberta, with 34.
— Fr. Dominic, a widely respected Franciscan historian, served as Provincial Vicar from 2005 to 2014.