You may have seen the news release earlier last week saying that the US Franciscan provinces in the US had taken a step towards restructuring and wondered what this means for the Franciscan ministries, your favorite friar, or the friars in your parish. This week, we present what’s going on. If your question isn’t addressed, please feel free to add it in the comments section.
What is a “province”?
St. Francis of Assisi established our order to be a decentralized one. While we do have a minister general in Rome who is the successor to St. Francis, in fact most of the day-to-day decisions in the order are handled in the various provinces throughout the world.
St. Francis also took Jesus’s mandate that the “first shall be last and the last shall be first” to heart. Unlike some religious congregations which call their leaders superiors, in the Franciscans the leaders are called ministers and guardians. In the rule which all friars vow to live, Francis wrote that when dealing with their leaders ¨the brothers can speak and act as lords do with their servants. For that is the way it ought to be. The ministers should be servants of all the brothers.”
How many provinces are there?
There are over 100 OFM provinces throughout the world. In the US, there are seven provinces. You can read about them on our History page. Their headquarters are located across the US, in cities such as New York, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Oakland.
What is R+R, Revitalization and Restructuring?
While the number of religious is growing in Asia and Africa, it is dropping in Europe and the US. Structures which were established for a larger number of friars are now found to be not as efficiency with less men. The provincial ministers in the US are taking this opportunity to both create new excitement and energy in Franciscan life in the US, as well as modify the governing structures of the order here. This process of Revitalization and Restructuring is referred to by the shortcut “R+R.”
What was the recent announcement about?
The power to create provinces is reserved to the minister general and his councilors in Rome. The US provincials decided at their last meeting to ask the friars in their various provinces if they are interested in forming one US province. If the friars are in agreement, then the provincials will petition the minister general to restructure the US provinces. The minister general will appoint a delegate to meet with the US friars individually, as well as look at many of the friar ministries, and to then make a recommendation to the general council.
One US province, the Immaculate Conception Province, based in New York City, has already decided to not participate in the R+R process.
How long is this going to take?
Frankly, because of the various issues involved, it will take some years to effect the restructuring, if it happens. The best guess is that it may be completed by 2022 or 2023.
What’s going to happen to my parish/ministry/favorite friar?
Really, from most people’s perspective on the outside, not much will change. The same parishes will be staffed by the same friars. There will be some efficiencies internally in our organization, but also greater costs incurred by the greater distances to be traveled, for example, when the provincial minister visits the friars across the US.
For the friars themselves, there will be much richer variety of possible ministry opportunities available. A young man may want to serve in a California mission, or with migrants on the southern border, or in one of our colleges and universities, or in different parish settings, or with different language groups, or in direct service to the poor, or some mixture of these ministries during his life. No longer will he be restricted to those ministries available only in area the country served by his current province.
Is this a positive step?
Friars have been living in one of the existing provinces for many years. They were received and formed by their province. Their closest friar friends are usually within their province. We have shared stories — some true and some mythical. In leaving this behind, there will, of course, be some sadness and grieving. Friars worry if the traditions, struggles, and histories of their provinces will be respected and maintained in the new province.
At the same time, the richness of new ministry opportunities, as well as the large number of new collaborators and potential new friends brings an excitement. An integral part of the process is the revitalization of Franciscan life, and this also adds a feeling of excitement and hope.
Our founder, St. Francis of Assisi, realized that there is enthusiasm and energy when beginning a new project. St. Bonaventure tells us that St. Francis would tell the other friars: “Let us begin again, brothers, for up until now, we have done little or nothing.” One of Francis’s other biographers, Friar Thomas of Celano, tells us that Francis “did not consider that he had already attained his goal, but tireless in pursuit of holy newness, he constantly hoped to begin again.”
We hope and prayer that “beginning again” through the R+R process will bring us new enthusiasm, energy and faithfulness to our mission.