We Franciscans owe our inspiration to Francesco di Bernardone, an affluent young merchant from the Italian town of Assisi, who in 1206 renounced his wealth and social status in favor of a life dedicated to God and the least of God’s people. Soon, other men and women joined him to begin a vast movement of Gospel renewal within the medieval Church.
Although Francis began his life of penance as a hermit, devoting himself to prayer, working among lepers and rebuilding churches in the Assisi area, other men were soon attracted to his company. By 1209, there were 12 brothers, and so they approached Pope Innocent III to gain approval of their way of life “according to the Holy Gospel.” The Order of Lesser Brothers (ordo fratrum minorum) — now formally known as the Order of Friars Minor — had begun.
Meanwhile, Clare, a young noblewoman of Assisi, along with some companions, also renounced her family status and property to join Francis’s Gospel movement. Clare’s Poor Sisters primarily dedicated themselves to a life of prayer and contemplation. In addition, numerous laypeople also desired to respond to Francis’ call of Gospel conversion while living in their own homes and maintaining their normal livelihoods and family ties. These “Brothers and Sisters of Penance” were soon being referred to as the “Third Order” of St. Francis, the Friars Minor being considered the “First Order” and the Poor Clares, the “Second Order.”
The Gospel life of the Friars Minor, as Francis describes in our Rule, has four central components: first, to be men of prayer, “desiring above all things to have the Spirit of the Lord and its holy operation;” second, to live as lesser ones, “not making anything our own,” but serving the Lord in poverty and humility; third, to create a brotherhood of mutual care among ourselves, “showing we are members of the same family;” and fourth, to “go about the world” entering people’s everyday lives as heralds of God’s reign and agents of Gospel peace.
Over the course of time, Franciscan friars came to differ significantly among themselves on how best to live out these values, and in the 1500s they divided into three independent branches: the Friars Minor (OFM), the Friars Minor Conventual (OFM Conv.) and Friars Minor Capuchin (OFM Cap.). Together, these three congregations have some 30,000 members, the largest family of religious men in the Catholic Church.
We Franciscans of Holy Name Province belong to the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), commonly known as Franciscan Friars, which, as of early 2013, numbers some 14,000 members and is present in more than 100 countries. At our last general chapter (2009), we reiterated our fundamental mission: “We are called to respond to the gift of the Gospel by offering it to the men and women of today, traveling the paths of the world as Lesser Brothers, evangelizers with our hearts turned to the Lord.”