Status of the Order Today

Dominic Monti Franciscan World

The coat of arms of the Order of Friars Minor. (Graphic courtesy of Wikipedia)

On Feb.13 of this year, Michael Perry, OFM, our general minister, offered some interesting “Reflections on the Life and Future of the Order.” His talk eloquently described Franciscans today as “caught in the vortex of rapid change” in so many aspects of our life, raising fundamental questions about the nature of our commitment to being Friars Minor.

As he pointed out, friars today are challenged to embark on a process of “identity-construction” of what it, in fact, means to be disciples of Jesus and followers of St. Francis in the context of our times. This task includes the “ongoing restructuring of the organization, methods, and locations of where the friars live and minister.” (The Revitalization and Restructuring Process within the US-6 provinces, and the Fraternal Ecology process underway in Holy Name Province itself are both expressions of this). The annual statistical report of the Order, as of Dec 31, 2018, illustrates this ever-changing reality.

As we began 2019, our worldwide brotherhood numbered some 12,903 friars – with 11,031 solemnly professed, a decline of 200 from the preceding year. As Michael pointed out, vocations are quite robust in a number of countries: “…in Vietnam, there are more than 120 young friars and novices. In East Africa, there are more than 100 young friars, more than 50 in Madagascar, in the Democratic Republic of Congo more than 90 in initial formation, in Indonesia more than 70.” But this cannot compensate for the continued numerical decline of the older provinces of Western Europe and North America, as well as some of the more secularized areas of Asia and Latin America.

In addition, we continue to see a sizeable number of men withdrawing from the Order. Last year worldwide, we were blessed with 403 men being received as novices into the Order, with another 1,490 friars in temporary vows. But this new growth was cut back by some 208 men withdrawing from the initial formation process – to be expected during this time of discernment. However, some 77 solemnly professed friars left the Order – 29 to become diocesan priests — and another 272 friars died.

Of the six regions of the Order, only one – Africa and the Middle East — reported a gain in membership over the course of 2018, registering some 1,329 friars. The others all reported losses: some had slight drops, such as Asia and Oceania, with 1,495 friars; Latin America, with 3,131, and Eastern Europe, with 2,388. The other two regions, however, registered significant losses: Western Europe, with 3,483 (a decline of about 250 friars), and North America, with 1,078, a decline of more than 100.

In terms of individual nations, Italy continues to lead the list with 1,824 friars living and working in that country. However, the United States lost the second position that it held for decades; with 951 friars, it fell to fourth place. The second-largest number of friars are now in Mexico (993), with Poland (984) in third place. Brazil has the fifth-largest number of friars, with 841. Almost 40 percent of the OFMs in the world are in these five countries.

Holy Name Province – with 279 friars – is again the ninth-largest entity in the Order. The Province of St. Anthony, created by the merger of the six provinces of northern Italy in 2016, is in first place, with 598 friars. The province of Sts. Francis and James (Jalisco, Mexico) is second with 453 friars, and the Saõ Paolo Province in Brazil (373 friars) is third. Fourth is another new province, that of the Immaculate Conception in Madrid, Spain,(formed in 2015), with 331 friars. The fifth-largest entity is the Province of Vietnam (Hochiminh City), with 321 friars, followed by the Holy Cross (Sarajevo, Bosnia), with 314 friars, followed closely by the Immaculate Conception Province (Krakow, Poland), with 312. Rounding out the top 10 are the Assumption Province (Katowice, Poland), with 298, our Holy Name Province (279), and the German Province of St. Elizabeth (Munich), with 263.

Holy Name Province continues to be the largest entity in the English-speaking Conference of the Order. The other provinces in the US-6 are: Sacred Heart (headquartered in St. Louis), with 164 members, St. Barbara (Oakland, Calif.), 148; St. John the Baptist (Cincinnati), 123; Assumption BVM (Franklin, Wis.), 87; and Our Lady of Guadalupe (Albuquerque), with 45.

The two former Canadian provinces, St. Joseph and Christ the King, united last fall to form the new Holy Spirit Province (headquartered in Montreal, Quebec) with 86 friars. The remaining provinces of the ESC are the Irish Province (which now includes Great Britain), with 176 members; Immaculate Conception (New York), 94; Malta, 52, and Lithuania, 41.

— Fr. Dominic, a former Provincial Vicar, is a distinguished professor at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y.