NEW YORK — The provinces of the English-speaking Conference (ESC) of the Order of Friars Minor are in the process of studying the possibility of establishing one common novitiate program.
Although this idea had been considered briefly several times in the past, it surfaced again in July 2008 when the ESC Secretaries of Formation and Studies began comparing statistics at their annual meeting, according to Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM. The information revealed that the 14 entities of the ESC had a total of 17 novices; ten years earlier there had been 34. The secretaries concluded that it was time to look again at this possibility, and so forwarded this suggestion to the provincial ministers, who in turn commissioned the secretaries to examine both the desirability and feasibility of establishing a common novitiate.
Dominic, chair of the ESC Secretaries of Formation, presented a preliminary report to the meeting of the ESC provincial ministers earlier this month. Currently, there are three novitiates operating in North America: Holy Name Province’s in Wilmington, Del.; St. Barbara Province’s at Old Mission San Miguel in California; and the joint novitiate maintained by Assumption, Sacred Heart, and St. John the Baptist Provinces in Cedar Lake, Ind. In recent years, the Western Canadian Province of Christ the King has been sending their novices to Wilmington, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Province has sent theirs to San Miguel. Depending on numbers, the Immaculate Conception Province has conducted its own program or sent its men to another. In addition, the English and Irish provinces maintain a joint novitiate at Ennis, County Clare, Ireland.
These novitiate programs typically have enrolled between three and six novices each in recent years. Facing a similar situation, the Conventual Franciscan provinces established a joint novitiate several years ago, and the Capuchin Conference for North America and Oceania did so in 2005. These have been operating successfully, Dominic said.
Dominic also reported that the secretaries have “decided to limit their discussion, at least initially, to the possibility of having a common novitiate for the United States provinces due to the wide diversity of cultural situations in the ESC, with the understanding that other countries may well decide to use such a program for their men.”
A task force has been established composed of the directors of the current U.S. novitiates as well as representatives of the other two provinces to study the advantages and disadvantages of establishing a common novitiate as well as elements of a possible joint program. They are due to submit a report to the Secretaries of Formation in February, who in turn will make recommendations to the spring meeting of the ESC.
Dominic said, “Even if such a proposal were to be acted on affirmatively, a joint novitiate for the United States or the entire ESC would probably not begin until 2011.”
Currently, Holy Name Province novices reside at the friary in Wilmington, Del., on the grounds of St. Paul Church, shown in the above picture.