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The State of the Order of Friars Minor: 2017

From Aug. 21 to 25, the administrations of the “US 6” provinces met in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., to chart a path forward in the process of revitalization and possible reconfiguration of the entities – an initiative with which we friars in the United States have been engaged for the past several years. Yes, this process is a major development in our particular Franciscan history, but we should realize that it is just one example of the continually changing physiognomy of the worldwide Order of Friars Minor. The annual statistical report, showing the condition of the Order as we wrapped up the year 2016, published in the latest issue of the Acta Ordinis Minorum, clearly illustrates these developments.

Five years ago, the report of Dec. 31, 2011, stated that the Order had 14,067 members and Holy Name Province, with 332 members, was the sixth largest province in the Order. Today, there are 13,302 friars and Holy Name, with 288, has now slipped to the 10th largest province. What is interesting is that three of the provinces that have now passed HNP are new ones, created as a result of the process of reconfiguration that has been happening in the Order during recent years.

The largest province is the new Province of St. Anthony, based in Milan, formed just last year by the merger of the six provinces of northern Italy, with 619 friars. In terms of territory, it effectively recreates the province St. Anthony headed as provincial minister back in the 1220s. This makes the province of Jalisco (Mexico) second, with 456 friars, and the Saõ Paolo Province in Brazil third, with 380 friars. Fourth is another new province, that of the Immaculate Conception in Madrid, formed in 2015 from the union of five of the seven Spanish provinces, with 358. The ninth in size is the German province of St. Elizabeth, with 293 friars, created by the merger of the four German provinces in 2010. What is perhaps most startling is that the eighth largest province is now Vietnam, with 295 friars. This is the first of the growing entities of Asia and Africa to break into the top ten. The remaining three – five, six, and seven – are in Eastern Europe: Sarajevo (Bosnia), with 333 friars; Krakow (Poland), with 330; and Katowice (Poland), with 299.

The statistics make clear that the over-all membership of the Order continues to decline; the 13,302 friars on Dec. 31, 2016, are about 200 fewer than the year before. The reconfigurations mentioned above reflect the continuing decline of membership in Western Europe (3,712 friars, down 150 in a year) and North America (1,194, down 50 in a year). Latin America (3,257 friars) and Eastern Europe (2,418) experienced more moderate dips – about 20 each.

Africa and the Middle East (1,234 friars) and Asia/Oceania (1,487) are the only regions that posted gains. Mainly thanks to these regions, the number of friars in initial formation continues to increase worldwide. This year, we are blessed with 1,496 simply professed friars and 385 novices. Vietnam itself has 90 simply professed and 19 novices; the two provinces in the Congo have 75 simply professed and 23 novices.

In terms of individual countries, the largest number of friars continues to be in Italy (1,935), the USA (1,068), Poland (1,009), Mexico (969), and Brazil (879), followed by Spain (540), Croatia (497), and Germany (420).

With 288 friars, 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 191 members; the Irish Province (which now includes the English Custody and the foundation in Zimbabwe), with 185; St. Barbara (Oakland, Calif.), 154; St. John the Baptist (Cincinnati), 138; Immaculate Conception (New York), 112; Assumption BVM (Franklin, Wis.), 101; St. Joseph (Montreal, Quebec), 60; Malta, 55; Our Lady of Guadalupe (Albuquerque, N.M.) 49; Lithuania, 42; and Christ the King (Edmonton, Alberta), with 32.

Fr. Dominic 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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