The Franciscan Order

Written by Peter Rajchert on . Posted in Who Are We?


The Franciscan Order is a Catholic religious order founded in the early 13th century by St. Francis of Assisi.

To look at the origins of the Franciscan Order, one must begin by recounting the story of St. Francis of Assisi's conversion. The way of life that inspired the Franciscan Order began during his time in prison after a failed effort to become a knight while fighting in a war with the town of Perugia. Francis, who lived from 1182 to 1226, started to understand at this time that God wanted him to live a life of humility and service.

One day while he was praying at the Church of San Damiano a short walk away from the gates of Assisi, Jesus on His Cross said, "Francis, go and repair my house, for as you can see, it is falling into ruin." At first, Francis took this literally and with his own hands began to rebuild the church. The same church pilgrims to Assisi can visit today for quiet time and prayer. It should be noted that he had no intention of founding a religious community like the Franciscan Order.

Francis soon knew that God wanted him to live the Gospel life. Dressed simply and without any possessions of his own, Francis started to wander and serve people as best he could while also telling them that God loved them very much. In the beginning, he lived a life of solitude, but before long, he had a group of companions who formed the foundations of what later became the Franciscan Order.

In 1209, with more men joining Francis and his companions in their life of service, the little man from Assisi visited Pope Innocent III to ask the Holy Father for permission for his community to live as The First Order of the Friars Minor. The pope orally approved the Franciscan Order. Very quickly it spread beyond Italy.


Who Are We?

Written by Conventual Franciscans on . Posted in Who Are We?

The “Conventual” Franciscans

In 1209, St. Francis of Assisi received formal approval from Pope Innocent III for his new way of life. He called his community the “Friars Minor,” a title literally meaning Lesser Brothers. St. Francis wanted his followers to imitate the humility of Christ and to minister to the least in society.

After St. Francis' death, his movement possessed such vitality, with so many opinions on how to live his form of Gospel life, that over time his charism could not be contained in one community. In 1517, the Order divided into autonomous branches, each professing a valid perspective of their observance of his Rule.

The “Conventual” followers of St. Francis chose to minister in the heart of the cities rather than in more remote hermitages. They chose to band together in large houses (conventus, from the Latin). From these “fortresses of faith” the concentration of talented men living a life steeped in prayer, study and work became like a well-armed garrison that fought against the power of darkness and despondency on the battleground of urban life.

From these friaries (as Franciscan houses are called in North America), these Conventual friars charted the stars with Galileo, developed math theorems with Da Vinci, assisted in the design of St. Peter's, composed with Mozart, invented eyeglasses, and offered charity and consolation toward all.

The Conventual Franciscans in North America

Although the friars had been missionaries to the East since the 13th century, by the late 15th century they felt it was time to explore any new worlds to the West. Friar Juan Perez of Seville, an astronomer, pleaded Columbus' case before King Ferdinand, to whom he was financial advisor, and to Queen Isabella, to whom he was confessor. Friar Juan Perez was able to sail with Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. This Conventual Franciscan is credited with celebrating the first Mass in the New World.

The United States

Between the 1780s - 1850s, several individual Conventual Franciscans ministered to German immigrants in the East. But it was in 1852, at the instigation of Bishop Jean Odin of Texas, that the Conventual Franciscans were able to establish a permanent presence in North America. These daring men of German, Polish and Belgian ancestry, were given four parishes and twelve missions that extended westward to California and south to Mexico.

Two years after their arrival, in 1854, the friars were also invited East to minister in Brooklyn, New York. There they were responsible for twenty-two mission stations. By 1872 the Franciscan Administration in Rome officially transformed the American mission into an independent Province.