Franciscan Order in modern times

This article chronicles the spread of the Franciscan Order of Roman Catholic friars in Modern Times.

New Congregations

The regulations of Pope Leo X brought a notable increase of strength to the Observantist branch, and many conventual houses joined them -- in France all but forty-eight, in Germany the greater part, in Spain practically all. But this very growth was fatal to the internal unity and strength of the strict party. The need for new reforms soon became apparent, and the action of Leo X, far from consolidating the order, gave rise to a number of new branches.

The most important of these are: the Capuchins, founded in 1525 by Matteo Bassi and established in 1619 by Paul V as a separate order; the Discalced Franciscans, founded as a specially strict Observantist congregation at Bellacazar in Spain by Juan de Puebla toward the end of the fifteenth century, compelled by Leo X to unite with the regular Observantists, but soon afterward reestablished as an independent branch by Juan de Guadelupe (d. 1580), and subsequently obtaining some importance in Spain and Portugal; the Alcantarines, a very strict congregation founded in 1540 by Peter of Alcántara, and distinguished by remarkable achievements in the mission field; the Italian "Riformati", founded about 1525 near Rieti by two Spanish Observantists, and becoming comparatively wide-spread from the beginning of the seventeenth century through the favour of Pope Clement VIII and Pope Urban VIII; the French Recollects, originating at Nevers in 1592, formed into a distinct congregation by Clement VIII in 1602, and important in later missionary history, especially in Canada.

Current status

The Franciscans also rendered important services to the cause of the Counterreformation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, rivaling the Jesuit order in zeal, and frequently suffering martyrdom for their faith in England, the Netherlands, and Germany. During the nineteenth century the possessions of the order have been much reduced by the storms of the French Revolution, the German secularizations since 1803, and the political changes of Spain, Italy, and France. On the other hand, there has been a considerable extension in many parts of the order.

Order of Friars Minor

1,500 houses, comprised in about 100 provinces and "Custodiae", with about16,000 members. In 1897 distinctions between the Observants, Discalced, Recollects and Riformati were dissolved by Pope Leo XIII and they were joined under general constitutions. This lead them to be referred to as The Order of Friars Minor of the Leonine Union, a name which they rarely used. Instead they are called simply the Order of Friars Minor. Despite the tensions caused by this forced union the Order grew from 1897 to reach a peak of 26,000 members in the 1960s before declining from the 1970s onwards. The Order is headed by a Minister General, who is currently José Rodríguez Carballo (since 2003).

Order of Friars Minor Conventual

The Conventual Franciscans consists of 290 houses worldwide with almost 5000 friars in the world. They have experienced growth in this century throughout the world. They are located in Italy, the United States, Canada, Australia, and throughout South/Central America, and Africa. They are the largest of number in Poland because of the work and inspiration of St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Order of Friars Minor Capuchin

The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin are the youngest branch of Franciscans, going back to 1525, when some Friars Minor in the Marches wanted to live a stricter life of prayer and poverty to be closer to the original intentions of St. Francis. Thanks to the support of the Papal Court the new branch received early recognition and grew fast, first in Italy, and since 1574 all over Europe. The name Capuchins refers to the peculiar shape of the long hood; originally a popular nickname, it has become a part of the official name of the Order, which now exists in 99 countries all over the world, with around 11,000 brothers living in more than 1800 communities (fraternities, friaries).

Regular Tertiaries

The Third Order Regular of the Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis of Assisi, CFP are an active community based in the United States with houses in Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and Brazil. These Franciscans are challenged to live an integrated life through prayer, community, and their ministry to serve the poor, neglected and disadvantaged youth, the powerless, people in need, and the elderly.

The Brothers of the Poor live by their vows of poverty (living a simple lifestyle, using talents and gifts to make a better world), consecrated chastity (loving all, possessing no one, striving sincerely, for singleness of heart, a celibate way of loving and being loved), and obedience (to God, to the community, to the Church and to self).

The Brothers of the Poor also serve persons with AIDS and people who ask for help regardless of their religion or their social/economic background. They are teachers, childcare workers, social workers, counselors, pastoral ministers, retreat ministers, religious educators, school administrators, and much more.

The Regular Tertiaries, officially the Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Penance, follow a rule approved by Pope Leo X. They form less than a score of houses -- two in Rome, five in Sicily, seven in Austria, and two in the United States.

These figures show a great contrast to the strength of the order at the end of the Middle Ages, when it had over 8,000 houses, of which the 1,300 Observantist communities alone numbered 30,000 members, or even in the middle of the seventeenth century when there were about 70,000 members, divided into 150 provinces. The noteworthy proportional decline of the non-Observantist section shows that the order to this day presents more attraction as it remains truest to its original principles.

ecular Franciscan Order

The Secular Franciscan Order, known as the Third Order Secular of St. Francis prior to 1978, is an order founded by St. Francis in 1212 for brothers and sisters who do not live in a religious community. Members of the order continue to live secular lives, however they do gather regularly for fraternal activities. In the United States alone there are 17,000 professed members of the order.


* [ The Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis of Assisi, CFP, Third Order Regular, located in the United States, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and Brazil] official website
* [ US National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order]
* [ Order of the Franciscans of the Holy Cross - a secular Ecumenical Catholic Franciscan Order]

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