NEW YORK — This year, more than 30,000 Franciscan friars worldwide are celebrating the feast of their founder in an especially festive way as they mark the 800th anniversary of the founding of their Order. Today, Francis’s fratres minores (“lesser brothers”) are divided into three major branches: the Friars Minor (in the English-speaking world generally called simply Franciscans) with some 14,700 members; the Capuchin Franciscans, with about 11,000 members; and the Conventual Franciscans, with about 4,500 members.
The detailed statistics for the Order of Friars Minor, to which Holy Name Province belongs, have been published in the most recent edition of the Acta Ordinis Minorum. They indicate that the trends of recent years are still continuing, with Franciscans experiencing healthy growth in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, while Western Europe and North America continue to lose numbers.
As of Dec. 31, 2008 (the date when all religious communities calculate their membership each year), the Order of Friars Minor numbered 14,724 members, an overall decline of 300 friars from the preceding year. The friars are grouped into six geographic regions. According to size, they are: Western Europe (4,769 friars), Latin America (3,530), Eastern Europe (2,485), North America (1,554), Asia/Oceania (1,305), and Africa/Middle East (1,081). Only the Asia/Oceania region registered an overall membership gain from the preceding year, while Africa and Eastern Europe remained just about the same; the other three regions posted declines.
In terms of individual countries, Italy continues to have the greatest number of friars (2,419), followed by the United States (1,398), Poland (1,047), Brazil (1,044), and Mexico (927). The countries with the most novices are Brazil and Poland with 39 each, Italy (36), Mexico (35); and Indonesia, one of the Asian countries in which the Order is growing significantly, 30. At the close of 2008, the United States had 11 novices.
Holy Name Province, which numbered 369 friars on Dec. 31, continues to be the third-largest province worldwide. The largest is the Province of Sts. Francis and James (based in Jalisco, Mexico) with 436 friars, followed by the Immaculate Conception Province (São Paolo, Brazil) with 398. St. Anthony Province (Venice, Italy) is fourth with 363 friars, and the fifth largest is now the Holy Cross Province (Sarajevo, Bosnia), with 353 friars.
Holy Name is the largest entity in the English-speaking Conference; other provinces of the ESC are Sacred Heart (based in St. Louis), with 246 members; St. Barbara (Oakland, Calif.), 201; St. John the Baptist (Cincinnati), 178; Immaculate Conception (New York), 149; Ireland 146; Assumption BVM (Franklin, Wis.), 141; St. Joseph (Montreal), 91; Malta, 67; Our Lady of Guadalupe (Albuquerque, N.M.), 61; England, 56; Christ the King (Edmonton, Alberta), 45; and Lithuania, 42.
— Fr. Dominic, the Provincial Vicar of Holy Name Province, is a widely-respected Franciscan scholar.