Most of the Franciscan friars in the US will be coming together on May 30 to cast a single vote. They will be voting on whether to recommend to the minister general whether he should consider restructuring the provinces in the US to form one province from the currently existing six provinces.
(One province, the Immaculate Conception province, and various custodies, foundations, and commissariats, and — of course — the Mexican friars working in the US — are not part of this vote.)
It is no secret that vocations to the religious life in the US have been falling since the 1960s. Provinces which once had over a thousand men are now down to only a few hundred; provinces which started smaller are now similarly much reduced in number. There are savings which can be gained by combining vocation offices, accounting offices, communication offices, etc. More of the money generously donated to us by the people of God will be able to be dedicated to our works.
The US provinces began this journey in 1993 when some of the provinces began a joint novitiate in Cedar Lake, Indiana. In 1999, four provinces met with the minister general to begin discussions about restructuring. Eventually, the other two provinces joined them, so that now six of the seven US provinces are discussing forming one large province, which would encompass the entire US.
Interestingly, the provinces are not calling this process a merger. but rather “Revitalization and Restructuring” (“R+R” for short). The stress is not merely on reducing overhead or saving money, but rather on revitalizing Franciscan life in the US.
I will be voting yes on May 30. I will be coming down solidly on the side of revitalization. Yes, there will be savings and, yes, this will benefit our work. But that is not the main reason that I will be voting in the affirmative.
The ministry opportunities, if we form one province, particularly for the younger friars, will increase dramatically. A young friar may work for a time in an urban ministry such as shrine church; he may choose to work for a while in parish ministry or in one of our ministries for the poor; he may elect to work on the border with migrants; he might choose to serve for a time in a historic California mission; he may decide to work in retreat ministry.
While I have good relations with many friars from other provinces in the US (and throughout the world, for that matter), there’s always the thought in the back of my head that we are of different provinces. When I visit their houses, I am very conscious of the fact that I am a visitor and representative of my province.
With one province, there will be a new excitement in Franciscan life in the US. St. Bonaventure, in his biography of St. Francis, tells us that towards the end of his life 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.”
From this, I think that Francis of knew the excitement that comes with beginning a new project and also of the need to reform structures which no longer meet our needs.
So, on May 30 in our provincial chapter, I will vote yes on the recommendation that we move ahead.