ROME — Like any living organism, our Franciscan Order experiences periods of growth and times of decline and retrenchment. The annual statistical snapshot provided in the June issue of the Acta Ordinis Minorum reveals that the Order of Friars Minor continues to experience an overall decline in membership worldwide. We began 2013 with 13,805 friars, a decline of 262 from the previous year. This includes 12,057 solemnly professed friars — 9446 of whom are priests — and 1748 friars in initial formation, including 1365 temporary professed and 383 novices.
Of the Order’s six regions, the only one that showed overall growth from the preceding year was Africa, with 1104 friars (up 16). Asia, with 1369 friars, and Latin America, with 3346, went down very slightly. Eastern Europe, with 2383 friars, was down over 50 from the preceding year. North America — including the United States and Canada — had 1374 friars, a loss of 49, and Western Europe, with 4229, lost 163 members.
A glance at the number of friars in initial formation clearly illustrates the areas of growth and decline in the Order. The provinces of Western Europe and North America, that largely dominated the Order at the time of Vatican II, today have many elderly friars and only a few vocations. For example, 50 years ago, France — along with the French-speaking region of Belgium — comprised six provinces; today, it has two, with a total of 216 friars, only one of whom is in initial formation. Those two provinces are in the process of merging. On the other hand, the Vietnamese province now has 239 friars, 76 of whom are in initial formation. Likewise, the Province of St. Benedict the African in Congo now has 235 members, with 70 friars in formation.
Seven of the Order’s 108 entities have more than 300 members. The largest is again the Province of Sts. Francis and James (based in Jalisco, Mexico) with 449 friars, 94 of whom are in initial formation. The Immaculate Conception Province (São Paolo, Brazil) follows, with 375 members (46 in formation). The new German province, formed three years ago, is third (352), and the Immaculate Conception Province (Krakow, Poland), with 337 friars, is fourth. Holy Name Province, with 327 members, is fifth, followed by the Province of St. Anthony (Venice, Italy), with 319, and the Assumption BVM Province (Katowice, Poland), with 307.
In terms of individual nations where the Order is present, Italy continues by far to have the greatest number of friars (2,162), followed by the United States (1,228), Poland (1,011), Brazil (963), and Mexico (938). It is interesting to note that these five countries comprise almost half the Franciscan friars in the world.
Holy Name, with 327 friars, continues to be the largest entity in the English-speaking Conference of the Order. The other provinces of the ESC are Sacred Heart, based in St. Louis, with 220 members; St. Barbara (with headquarters in Oakland, Calif.), 181; St. John the Baptist (Cincinnati), 163; Immaculate Conception (New York), 144; Ireland, 143; Assumption BVM (Franklin, Wis.), 116; St. Joseph (Montreal, Quebec), 71; and Our Lady of Guadalupe (Albuquerque, N.M.) and the province of Malta, each with 61; England, 45; Lithuania, 41, and Christ the King (Edmonton, Alberta), with 38.
— Fr. Dominic, a widely respected Franciscan historian, is Provincial Vicar of Holy Name Province. His book, Francis and His Brothers: A Popular History of the Franciscan Friars, was published in 2009 to coincide with the 800th anniversary of the Order.