DAYTON, Ohio — Historian Dominic Monti, OFM, spoke to the friars of St. John the Baptist Province last month, giving them encouragement as well as reasons for the declining membership of religious orders. Holy Name’s Provincial Vicar gave a presentation to the Ohio-based Franciscan community during its May 20 to 24 All Province Assembly that “went a long way toward reducing the anxiety that often accompanies a discussion of vocations,” according to its newsletter. Dominic emphasized to his audience that because “the realities of aging and the diminishment cannot be denied,” it’s important to ask “how do we adapt to a changing world” rather than to ask “what are we doing wrong,” according to the May 30 issue of SJB News Notes publication.
The newsletter’s report on Dominic’s talk at the University of Dayton includes a summary of the “statistical revelation” about the friar population in the United States. “Of the 1,210 friars in American, the average age is 68. This means “the number of people you need to keep a province going — running it — is decreasing,” he said.
The reduction in friars is not new, said Dominic.”Friars gathering 100 years ago probably fretted about the precipitous decline in numbers from 77,000 in 1760 to 13,000 in 1880,” according to the May 24 issue of SJB News Noteswhich included a photo of Dominic.
The event’s planning committee “worked hard to make this an enjoyable and fruitful gathering of the brotherhood,” according to the May 9 issue of SJB News Notes which said 80 percent of the members are registered.Dominic was chosen to speak because of his knowledge of Franciscan history and of his previous involvement with St. John the Baptist Province.
“We invited Dominic because of his knowledge of Franciscan history, but also because he was with our province for a plenary council earlier and he had some knowledge and experience with our province,“ said Fr. Jeffrey Scheeler, OFM, provincial minister of SJB. “He also participated in the meeting with the councils of the US and the General Minister, General Vicar, and General Council in December. We invited him to speak about what he saw emerging through the council retreat in Malibu — which he could not attend — and the meeting with the General Minister in the context of the larger Franciscan history, especially here in the U.S. How is “what is happening now” part of our larger history?”
In 2007, Dominic spoke about restructuring at an interprovincial convocation of the four mid-America provinces — Assumption, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sacred Heart and St. John the Baptist. Dominic is part of the Interprovincial Collaboration Commission, which last met in April.
As preparation for the assembly, the SJB newsletter published reflections by friars in a three-part series titled “Hopes and Dreams for the APA.” The writers talked of their interest in strengthening relationships with friars to help them strengthen their ministry work.
Next year, the more than 150-year-old province will hold its next chapter. Like Holy Name Province, it is scheduled for June 2014.
For several years, the provinces of the United States have been discussing the value of increased collaboration. From 2008 to 2011, the friars of St. John the Baptist Province were engaged in a discernment process with Assumption Province to explore possibly creating a new entity out of their two communities. Last December, close to 60 friars gathered for the first-ever meeting of the leadership teams of the OFM provinces in the United States. Provincial Council members of Holy Name Province and the other six provinces discussed the future of Franciscan life and mission with then-General Minister Fr. José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.