Snapshot of the Order 2016

Dominic Monti, OFM Franciscan World

As a student and teacher of Franciscan history, I find it interesting to keep up with developments in our brotherhood to get a sense of where we Friars Minor are heading today. Thus, I have enjoyed providing these annual “snapshots” of the current state of our Order, based on the detailed report issued in the Acta Ordinis Minorum each spring, which, in turn, reflects the statistics provided by the various entities of the Order as of Dec. 31 the preceding year.

As we entered 2016, our worldwide brotherhood numbered some 13,507 friars — a significant number to be sure, but just about half the size of the 26,300 friars the Order had in 1960. (This decline is not atypical: the Society of Jesus fell from 35,000 to 16,000 members during the same period). In the early ‘60s, by far the largest number of friars was in the provinces of Western Europe and North America — those regions which have unfortunately been hit the hardest by powerful forces of secularization in society and the consequent decline of Christian religious practice, along with a reduction in the size of families. Fewer men in these regions have considered a religious vocation in recent decades and so the provinces there are declining in membership, with a majority of friars over the age of 65. Our own country is typical: in 1960, there were 3,600 friars in the United States; this year, there are 1,100.

The last 15 years have thus seen a process of reimagining our Franciscan presence in these countries, with a consequent restructuring of the Order’s entities. Last year, for example, six of the historic provinces of Spain merged to form the new Provincia de la Inmaculada Concepción based in Madrid, which, according to this year’s report, is now the second largest entity in the Order.

The Order is growing substantially in the former “mission countries” of the Southern Hemisphere, but this cannot keep pace with the numerical decline taking place in the rest of the world. Of the six regions of the Order, only two reported gains over the course of 2015: Africa and the Middle East, with 1,221 friars (up 60) and Asia and Oceania, with 1,467 (up 44). Eastern Europe pretty much remained the same, with 2,437 friars (down just five from the preceding year). The other three regions reported considerable losses: Western Europe, now 3,862 (down 137); Latin America, 3,279 (down 55), and North America (the U.S. and Canada), 1,241 (down 31).

Of the 13,507 friars in the Order, 11,609 are solemnly professed: 9,152 priests, 56 permanent deacons, 1,896 lay brothers, and an additional 386 solemnly professed friars preparing for ordination. There are thankfully a healthy number of friars in formation, with 1,481 simply professed and 417 novices. As far as individual nations, Italy continues to lead the list with 1,980 friars; the U.S. is second with 1,111, followed by Poland with 1,007, Mexico 980, and Brazil 908.

Holy Name Province is now the ninth largest entity in the Order, slightly lower in ranking than last year. The Province of Sts. Francis and James (Jalisco, Mexico) continues to be in first place with 450 friars. As mentioned above, the new Immaculate Conception Province (Madrid, Spain) is now second, with 375 friars, followed closely by another Immaculate Conception Province (São Paolo, Brazil), with 372. The fourth largest entity is a third Immaculate Conception Province (Krakow, Poland), with 338 friars, followed closely by the Province of the Holy Cross (Sarajevo, Bosnia) with 335. Next are a number of provinces with just around 300 members: sixth is the German Province of St. Elizabeth (Munich), 306; seventh, the Assumption Province (Katowice, Poland), 307; eighth, the Province of St. Anthony (Venice, Italy), with 300, and ninth, Holy Name, with 295.

With close to 300 members, Holy Name Province 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 200 members; the Irish Province (which now includes Great Britain), 182; St. Barbara (Oakland, Calif.), 166; St. John the Baptist (Cincinnati), 146; Immaculate Conception (New York), 119; Assumption BVM (Franklin, Wis.), 105; St. Joseph (Montreal, Quebec), 64; Malta, 56; Our Lady of Guadalupe (Albuquerque, N.M.), 52; Lithuania, 43; and Christ the King (Edmonton, Alberta), with 33.

— Fr. Dominic, Provincial Vicar of Holy Name Province from 2005 to 2014, is the author of several articles and books about the Franciscans. He is stationed at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York. 

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