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Who We Are
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.
St. Francis of Assisi began his life of penance as a hermit, devoting himself to prayer, working among lepers and rebuilding churches in the Assisi area. Soon others were attracted to his company. By 1209, there were 12 brothers, and so they gained approval from Pope Innocent III for their way of life “according to the Holy Gospel.” The Order of Lesser Brothers (ordo fratrum minorum) — known in English as the Order of Friars Minor — had begun.
The Gospel life of the Friars Minor has four central components: first, to be men of prayer; second, to live as lesser ones, “not making anything our own;” third, to create a brotherhood of mutual care among ourselves; and fourth, to “go about the world” entering people’s everyday lives as heralds of God’s reign and agents of Gospel peace.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to some common questions about the Franciscans.
Why are male Franciscans called friars?
The male religious of the mendicant orders (e.g., Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, Carmelites) are all called friars.
Are Franciscan friars monks?
A mythical story from the early days of the Franciscan order says that Lady Poverty came to visit St. Francis. Francis, being poor, can only offer her bread and water; later, when she wants to rest, the friars can give her only a stone and not a cushion on which to lay her head. And, when she asks them to show her their cloister, they took her to a hill and showed her the whole world and said, “This, Lady, is our cloister.”
A monk’s life is one of stability. Friars are itinerants, that is, they move from place to place.
How can you tell which friars are priests and which are brothers?
Some Franciscan friars are ordained to the priesthood. These friars usually devote themselves to sacramental ministry. Other friars are not ordained, and these friars work in any number of fields which may include counseling, spiritual direction, teaching, medicine, social work, cultural or social animation, and so on. There is no limit to the kinds of work open to Franciscans, as long as the work does not go against Gospel values.
Despite some friars being ordained and others not, in the spirit of St. Francis, all friars – lay and ordained – see themselves as brothers, as equals, with no one greater or less than the next, respectful to one another and to all of creation.
If you are not sure if a Franciscan friar is a priest or a brother, you can never go wrong addressing him as “brother.” Within their fraternities, friars generally address one another by their first name or by that word. On this website, we use the words friar or brother as the title for all friars.
What is a Franciscan habit?
Franciscans wear a brown religious habit with a white cord. The habit has two parts: a tunic and a capuche (hood). The cord has three knots in it which represent the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Traditionally, sandals were worn with the habit. These days, particularly in the northern latitudes, shoes are usually worn instead.
St. Francis of Assisi not only wanted to serve the poor; he wanted to be poor. When he devised a habit for his brothers, he chose the clothing typically worn by the poor of the time: a plain unbleached tunic with a hood for protection, a cord fastened around one’s waist, and sandals for one’s feet. The Poor Clare nuns in Assisi have the habit that was worn by St. Francis and display it in the Basilica di Santa Chiara (you can see a picture of this habit of St. Francis of Assisi to the right).
Franciscans wear their habits for special occasions and gatherings. Some wear it every day, while some wear regular clothes instead. Others wear whatever is needed for their particular work.
What are the vows?
What is a rule?
A rule is the most basic description of a religious way of life. The rule was written by St. Francis of Assisi and was approved by Pope Honorius in 1223. It is the rule lived today by the friars and begins this way: “The rule and life of the lesser brothers is this: To observe the holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, without anything of our own, and in chastity.“
The rule we live today is the third version of that rule. The first was approved by Pope Innocent III in 1209, so we mark our founding as being in that year.
Besides the rule for the friars, St. Francis wrote other rules. He wrote a rule in 1212 for the Poor Clares. St. Clare later revised it, and today it is known as the Rule of St. Clare. Another rule is the Rule for Hermitages. It governs how a group of friars are to act while at a hermitage and is a rule which any group can follow.
For those who could not leave their families and homes, he wrote a rule in 1221 forming the Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance, a lay fraternity that, without withdrawing from the world or taking religious vows, would allow ordinary people to live the principles of Franciscan life. Those following this rule are today known as Secular Franciscans. The latest version of their last rule was approved by Pope Paul VI in 1978.
Why do Franciscan friars have OFM after their names?
In a society where there were kings and lords on one hand, not much of a middle class, and the serfs and the poor on the other hand, Francis strove to anchor his brotherhood firmly among the poor and did so by including that in our very name.
How do Franciscans spend their days?
Franciscans aim to follow in the footprints of Jesus Christ, to live a lively and true fraternity, rooted in a spirit of prayer, to which all work comes second. A Franciscan fraternity is a cell of the church, open to all and involved in following Christ and Francis of Assisi for today’s world. In our choice of how we live, where we live and what we do, we emphasize service to those who are most in need. Once each friar has understood and lived this missionary aim, he is encouraged to do honest work according to his abilities and interests… and the needs of his milieu.
Are Franciscans missionaries?
Close to the beginning of the order, St. Francis sent friars to France, Germany, Hungary, Spain and into the provinces of Italy where they had not been before. St. Francis, himself, went on a mission to Egypt and the Holy Land. The protomartyrs (first martyrs) of the order were killed while on a mission to Morroco during the lifetime of Francis. One of the first Christian missionaries to India and China was a Franciscan friar.
As Francis sent his brothers out, he urged them to “live spiritually” among peoples of faiths or peoples of no faith at all. Unlike the crusaders who went out to fight against the Saracens, the friars minor went out to live among them!
A most important characteristic of the missionary life of the friars is “to be subject to all creatures for the sake of God.” In the mind of Francis, this attitude is fundamental to Franciscan presence. The task of the friar minor is to make the divine quality of the gospel visible and credible by living an authentic Christian life. In doing so, the life of the Friar Minor makes people wonder: “Why are you like this?”
Who does not wonder at the man or woman who “goes about the world without quarreling or disputing or judging others” — “who is meek, peaceful, modest, gentle, humble and speaks courteously to everyone”? To those who inquire, the friar should answer as did Francis: “Because I am a Christian!” In this way, the prophetic presence of the Franciscan missionary nurtures the soil to receive the word. When the friar perceives that the word will be welcomed, then he opens his mouth and heart to share his faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Out of missionary activity arises the life with the poor, the engagement for peace, the summons to conversion and so on — all essential to the Franciscan way of life.
Who's in charge of Franciscan friars?
The order has as its head the successor to St. Francis of Assisi called the minister general; each province is headed by a provincial minister, and each friary is headed by a guardian. St. Francis very deliberately selected these terms. He specifically did not use the word superior. In our rule, Francis says that the friars “can speak to [their ministers] and act as lords with their servants; for so it should be, because the ministers are the servants of all the friars.”
A guardian is one who looks out for the friars, as Francis said, as a mother takes care of her children. A guardian animates the friars to live the Gospel in the manner that St. Francis lived it as described in our rule, offer them support in time of need, be an attentive ear when they need to talk, correct them when necessary, and ensure that the entire fraternity functions as one brotherhood.
The role of leadership, then, for Franciscans, is one of service.
The provincial ministers are elected by the friars in each province to serve for a term of six years. He can be re-elected for an additional three years. The minister general is elected by the provincial ministers to serve for six years. He can be re-elected to serve an additional six years. Guardians are appointed by the provincial minister and his council to serve for a term of three years. At the end of their term, the ministers and guardians return to being simple friars, and new friars are elected to serve in their stead.
What are provinces?
At the current time, there are seven different provinces in the US. (You can view a brief story of each one on our history page.)
In May 2018, friars from six of those provinces in the US voted to come together to form one new province for the US. You can read more about this effort on our Revitalization + Restructuring page.
How many Franciscans are there?
It’s said that only God knows how many Franciscans there are! St. Francis of Assisi’s vision was so powerful, that there are literally hundreds of groups who call themselves Franciscan.
There are three groups which belong to what is called the first order of St. Francis: the Order of Friars Minor (often called just “Franciscans” and whose initials are OFM), the Conventual Franciscan Friars (whose initials are OFM Conv.) and the Capuchin Franciscan Friars (whose initials are OFM Cap.).
We are members of the OFM in the US. There about 11,000 OFM friars in the world, and of whom about 1,200 live and work in the US.
The Second Order of St. Francis are the Poor Clares — contemplative nuns who live a life of prayer, community, and joy.
The Third Order of St. Francis has two parts. Hundreds of Franciscan congregations of both men and women make up the Third Order Regular, also known as the Franciscan Federation.
The Secular Franciscan Order is the Franciscan order for secular lay men and women. Members of this order live their everyday lives in the world and gather together on a regular basis. They make profession to live out the Gospel according to the example of Francis. There are nearly 13,000 Secular Franciscans in the United States today. For information on a local SFO fraternity in your area, call 1-800-FRANCIS (1-800-372-6247) and follow telephone message directions.
And there are more! Anglican Franciscans are members of the Society of St. Francis and Lutheran Franciscans are members of the Order of Lutheran Franciscans. Finally, members of other Christian denominations have come together to form the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans.
“In whatever way it seems better to you to please the Lord God and to follow His footprint and poverty, do it with the blessing of the Lord God and my obedience.”
Podcasts by US Franciscans
“All the brothers should preach by their actions.”
Recent Books by US Franciscans
Franciscans were–and still are–woven deep into the fabric of US history, and in their archives, they have the pictures to prove it.
Learning to be a mystic is about cultivating a life with God in which we draw close, listen, and respond moment to moment.
Abba Isn't Daddy and Other Biblical Surprises: What Catholics Really Need to Know about Scripture Study
In Abba Isn’t Daddy and Other Biblical Surprises, Friar Bill Burton answers a number of fascinating questions that help you become more familiar with the Bible and your Catholic faith.
Franciscans were–and still are–woven deep into the fabric of US history, and in their archives, they have the pictures to prove it.
Perfect for your next Bible study, or for enjoying during your commute, this brilliant audio course will forever change the way you think about Luke – Acts.
Rohr sees the Christ everywhere, and not just in people. He reminds us that the first incarnation of God is in Creation itself, and he tells us that ‘God loves things by becoming them.’ Just for that sentence, and there are so many more, I cannot put this book down.
Catholicity and Emerging Personhood: A Contemporary Theological Anthropology (Catholicity in an Evolving Universe)
This book offers a constructive theological reflection on the meaning and identity of the human person through the lens of evolution and contemporary science.
The book offers a unique reader-friendly look at church history, biblical sources and understandings of Satan, exorcisms, the “kingdom of God,” faith formation, and keeping the devil away.
Good spiritual directors can be difficult to come by; this book offers Pope Francis to be yours. Ever wonder what advice the Pope would give you to help you grow in holiness, deepen your prayer life, know God’s will?
“It seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body.”
These are some blogs written by Franciscans friars in the US. Check them out.
Dan Horan OFM
“Daniel P. Horan, OFM”
Dan Horan, a visiting professor at the Catholic Theological Union, blogs his reflections on the world and the church from a Franciscan and millennial perspective.
Kevin Mackin OFM
Words on the journey.
Casey Cole OFM
Casey Cole blogs about his experiences as a friar, Franciscan spirituality and questions about the friars in general.
Joe Zimmerman OFM
Occasional reflections on all manner of topics, from a Franciscan perspective, especially race relations and church membership trends.
Lawrence Jagdfeld OFM
Friar Lawrence’s “almost daily” takes its focus from the Scriptures for the day. It is written particularly but not exclusively from the perspective of persons who endure chronic illness or have disabilities.
Connect with US
Our Latest YouTube Video
The profession of first vows by the Franciscan novices at Old Mission Santa Barbara July 2, 2020 — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.