ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Southwest is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Fr. Jack Clark Robinson, OFM, provides some province history in the March 18 issue of OLG’s newsletter, Padres Trail. He writes: “Our Lady of Guadalupe Province of the Order of Friars Minor formally came into existence during a celebration of evening prayer in St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe, N.M., on the third of January 1985.”
The roots of OLG Province go back to 1897, when the friars of St. John the Baptist Province in Cincinnati decided to send missionaries to work among the Navajo nation at the encouragement by St. Katherine Drexel, who was highly committed to work among Native American peoples. The first friars arrived in 1898, founding St. Michael’s Mission, Arizona, to serve the Navajo. In the early 20th century the work of the friars expanded to minister among the Pueblo people, neighboring Hispanic villages, and parishes in such cities as Roswell and Clovis. The friars’ ministry continued to expand through the 1950s.
As Fr. Jack explains, changes within the Church and Order in the 1960s and ’70s that encouraged local decision making, a growing realization of the value of diverse local cultures, and the emergence of Franciscan leaders such as Fr. John Vaughn, OFM, Fr. John Altman, OFM, and Fr. Jeremy Harrington, OFM, were all factors leading to the decision of the 1984 chapter of St. John the Baptist Province to let the friars in the Southwest form an independent province.
“Undeniably, the biggest single fact in the history of the province since its founding has been the reduction of the number of friars within it. Once the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe was born in 1985, a number of factors contributed to the decline in the number of friars from 100 in 1985 to 60 in 2010, even as the friars struggled through the years to maintain the ministries which the friars who formed the Province conducted at the time,” he wrote.
“Almost 200 different men were at one time or another part of the province during the years, some very briefly. Amazingly, more than 40 friars have been part of the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province for the entire time of its 25-year existence. All in all, the friars did an amazing amount of work.”
Fr. Jack wrote that the friars’ perseverance and faithfulness to their call during trying conditions of the first 25 years are an inspiration for the future.
The challenges facing the friars of OLG Province are not unique but typical of those confronting most religious communities, according to Franciscan historian Dominic Monti, OFM. “Our own Holy Name Province has seen a large decline in membership. In 1985, we had 708 friars, and we now have 359.”
Past issues of OLG’s newsletter can be found on the province’s website. A detailed history of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province can be found in the “Who We Are” seciton of the site.