Franciscans are people and groups (religious orders) who adhere to the teachings and spiritual disciplines of St Francis of Assisi. The movement originates within the Catholic Church, where it also remains most numerous. However, Franciscan Orders and Franciscan spirituality are also found within other Christian denominations, including Old Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism.

The coat of arms that is a universal symbol of Franciscans "contains the Tau cross, with two crossed arms: Christ's right hand with the nail wound and Francis' left hand with the stigmata wound".[2]

Franciscans in other Christian traditions

One of the results of the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church during the 19th century was the re-establishment of religious orders, including some of Franciscan inspiration. The principal Anglican communities in the Franciscan tradition are the Community of St. Francis (women, founded 1905), the Poor Clares of Reparation (P.C.R.), the Society of Saint Francis (men, founded 1934), and the Community of St. Clare (women, enclosed). There is also a Third Order known as the Third Order Society of St Francis (T.S.S.F.).

A U.S.-founded order within the Anglican world communion is the Seattle-founded Order of Saint Francis (OSF) an open, inclusive, and contemporary expression of an Anglican First Order of Friars. There is also an order of Clares in Seattle (Diocese of Olympia) The Little Sisters of St. Clare,[3] where the OSF is officially headquartered.

There are also some small Franciscan communities within European Protestantism and the Old Catholic Church. There are some Franciscan orders in Lutheran Churches, including the Order of Lutheran Franciscans, the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, and the Evangelische Kanaan Franziskus-Bruderschaft (Kanaan Franciscan Brothers). In addition, there are associations of Franciscan inspiration not connected with a mainstream Christian tradition and describing themselves as ecumenical or dispersed.

Modern times

Current status

The Franciscans also rendered important services to the cause of the Counter-Reformation in the 16th and 17th 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.

Franciscans International

Franciscans International[4] is a Non-governmental organization (NGO) with General Consultative status at the United Nations, uniting the voices of Franciscan brothers and sisters from around the world. It operates under the sponsorship of the Conference of the Franciscan Family (CFF) and serve all Franciscans and the global community by bringing grassroots Franciscans to the United Nations forums in New York and Geneva. It brings the spiritual and ethical values of the Franciscans to the United Nations and international organisations.

New Catholic 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 Belalcázar in Spain by Juan de Puebla toward the end of the 15th 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 Alcantara, and distinguished by remarkable achievements in the mission field; the Italian Riformati, founded about 1525 near Rieti by two Spanish Observantists, and becoming comparatively widespread from the beginning of the 17th century through the favour of Pope Clement VIII and Pope Urban VIII; the French Recollects, originating in Cluys in 1570 and, more successfully at Rabastens in 1583, formed into a distinct congregation by Clement VIII in 1602, and important in later missionary history, especially in Canada; the German-Belgian Recollects, formed in the 17th century, as the Observant provinces in Germany and Belgium accepted stricter statutes and took the name Recollects during and after the Thirty Years' War.

Order of Friars Minor

1,500 houses, comprised in about 100 provinces and Custodiae, with about 16,000 members. In 1897 distinctions between the Observants, Discalced, Recollects and Riformati were dissolved by Pope Leo XIII and they were joined under general constitutions. The Capuchins and Conventuals wanted the reunited Observants to be referred to as The Order of Friars Minor of the Leonine Union. Instead they were 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 since 2003 had been Father José Rodríguez Carballo. However, on Saturday, 6 April 2013, Pope Francis, in his first appointment to a senior post in the Roman Curia, appointed Father Carballo as Titular Archbishop of Belcastro and Secretary, or deputy director, of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (the Congregation for Religious), the department that oversees all Catholic male and female religious orders and related groups (the Roman Curia is the term for the various departments of the Holy See that, along with the Pope and Bishops, governs the global Catholic Church). With this appointment, a new Minister General will need to be selected by the Franciscans and then approved by Pope Francis. Br. Michael Anthony Perry, was elected as Minister General on May 2013, succeeded Br. José Rodriguez Carballo. [5]

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 106 countries all over the world, with around 10,500 brothers living in more than 1700 communities (fraternities, friaries).

Secular 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.

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, who operate the Franciscan University of Steubenville, 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 numbers stand in contrast to the strength of the Third Order Regular at the end of the Middle Ages, when it had over 8,000 houses, or in the middle of the seventeenth century when there were about 70,000 members, divided into 150 provinces. The noteworthy proportional decline of the Third Order Regular in comparison to the First Order shows that the latter presents more attraction in the modern day, as it remains truest to its original principles.

Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis

The Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis, is a private confraternity of the Roman Catholic Church whose members strive to model their lives according to the Rule and Statutes of the Primitive Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis, which was written for lay people in 1221 by St. Francis of Assisi.

Right now there are more than several hundred members within the United States, and a few hundred more throughout the world. The order was originally started in 1996 by members of the Archdiocese of St. Paul in Minnesota.


In 1435, Saint Francis of Paola founded the "Poor Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi," later known as the "Hermits of the Order of Minims," and then renamed the "Order of Minims" in 1506 by Pope Julius II. There are mendicant friars, contemplative nuns, and lay tertiaries.

Society of the Atonement

The Society of the Atonement, also known as Graymoor Friars and Graymoor Sisters, started in 1898 as a religious community in the Episcopal Church, and came into union with the Holy See in 1909.

Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate

The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate started in 1970, and became an institute with Pontifical Right in 1998. In that same year, the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate also became an institute with Pontifical Right. There are also Third Order Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, an offshoot of the Franciscan Tertiaries of the Immaculate.

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal

The Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal started in 1987, and the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal in 1988.

Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word

The Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word started in 1987, and are now a Public Clerical Association of the Faithful.