From the time of Saint Francis the Franciscan Friars were sent on missions to Eastern Europe where the Franciscan Tradition speaks of an initial presence of friars in the territory of what is modern day Romania.
The official document that attests to their first mission in this territory is the Papal bull Cum hora undecima (June 11, 1239), written by Pope Gregory IX, in which the Friars Minor were asked to minister among the Bulgar, the Vlach and the Cuman peoples. Later, in a letter from Bela IV, King of Hungary, to Konrad, King of Germany, one finds confirmation of the presence of these friars that had been requested by the Pope. In the context of the Council of Lyon, which sought to reforge communion between the Church of the West and the Church of the East, Pope Innocent IV again sent out Franciscan missionaries among the Bulgar, Vlach, Cuman and Tatar peoples.
Friar Angelo da Spoleto was killed for his faith in 1314 in Cetatea Alba. Bishop Geronimo Catalano, in his report sent to Pope John XXII upon his return from the mission in Cumania, stated that his diocese extended from the city Varna, Bulgaria, all the way to Saray in latitude; and from the Black Sea to the Land of the Ruten in longitude (March 6, 1322).
On March 9, 1371, following the request of the prince of Latcu, Moldavia to Pope Gregory XI, a diocese was erected in Siret (1371-1434). The first bishop of the new diocese was a Polish Franciscan, Andrew of Krakow (March 9, 1371). Another Franciscan, Giovanni, was the last bishop of the diocese (July 29, 1434).
With the papal bull “Ite vos emessa” published May 29, 1517, Pope Leo X divided the Order of Friars Minor into two large families: Conventual Franciscans and Observant Franciscans. Up until the 17th century these two families worked together in this land.
On January 14, 1622, Pope Gregory XV established the Congregation De Propoganda Fide. This congregation’s first mission, The Mission of the Friars Minor Conventual in Moldavia and Wallachia, was established on April 25, 1623. The mission’s prefects, as Provincial Ministers of the Orient and Vicars of the Latin Patriarch, resided in Constantinople from 1623 to 1650, but from 1650 onwards they lived in their mission territory. Until the 19th century they often held the title of Apostolic Vicar, or Bishop and Apostolic Visitor. The prefect of the mission, Nicolaus Iosephus Camilli, was nominated Apostolic Visitor for Moldavia on September 16, 1881, and on December 4, 1881 he was consecrated Bishop of Mosynopolis. After the establishment of the Archbishopric of Bucharest (April 27, 1883) with the Papal Bull “Que in christiani nominis incrementum,” the diocese of Iasi was also established (June 27) and again Friar Nicolaus Iosephus Camilli was nominated as bishop.
On July 2, 1895, Franciscan Conventual missionary and Vicar General, Daniele Pietrobono, called together in Bacau all Franciscan missionaries in Moldavia in order to decide on the establishment of a new Franciscan province. The Franciscan bishop of Iasi, Dominique Jaquet, sent the Congregation De Propaganda Fide the necessary documentation for the founding of this body. The Province of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Virgin Mary, of the Friars Minor Conventual in Moldavia was formed on July 26, 1895 and had as its first Provincial Minister Friar Daniele Pietrobono (1895-1899).
To this newly erected province the Holy See offered 10 parishes/friaries along with their filial houses. The province was immediately divided into four custodies: the Custody of Bacau comprising of the friaries of Prăjești, Bacau, Faraoani, Luizi-Călugăra; the Custody of Galați with the friaries of Galați and Husi; the Custody of Sabaoani made up of the friaries of Sabaoani, Adjudeni and Hălăucești; and the Custody of Trotus in the friary of Târgu-Trotuș.
In Romania, until 1928, no special law existed regarding the legal status of religious orders. The law of religious worship, promulgated by the Romanian government in 1928, regulated the activity of those orders present within Romanian territory, and later, on June 12, 1929, this law became the concordat between the Romanian State and the Holy See.
Only later, on May 17, 1941, was the legal personality of the Province of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual in Romania recognized by the Romanian State. However, this recognition lasted for only a short time because on August 3, 1948 all religious orders in Romania were shut down by the communist regime and many religious were arrested, condemned and thrown into prison, while others were required to serve in local diocesan parishes.
Following the general amnesty granted in 1965, many Franciscan Conventuals continued their pastoral work in diocesan parishes under the jurisdiction of the local ordinary up until the fall of the communist regime in 1989.
The year 1990 found the friars of the Romanian province ready to draw from their past and better plan for the future. In this new situation, under the leadership of Provincial Minister fr. Gheorghe Patrașcu, who had led the province during the difficult communist years when the province functioned clandestinely, the friars, and with the approval of the central government of the Order together with the local ecclesiastical authorities, the province opened a seminary for young friars, first in Nisiporești, coordinated by the then parish priest, Fr. Petru Albert, and then in Roman where Albert was helped by his confreres.
In Autumn of the same year, the first group of youth, young men desiring to consecrate their lives to God in the Order of the Friars Minor Conventual, began their novitiate in Luizi-Călugăra. Soon the buildings around the parish of Nisiporești were not able to contain the growing number of men who knocked on the friary door to request admission to the province’s seminary. The friars decided to build a new seminary, the current Franciscan Theological Institute of Roman, and also to restore the Novitiate House in Prăjești. Another pastoral activity that the friars were asked to continue in 1993, was their service among the faithful of the oriental-rite Greek Catholic Church. Prior to the communist era Franciscans had carried out a fruitful ministry in this church, up until the suppression of the religious orders and of the Greek Catholic Church in Romania.
After the fall of the regime, the diocese of Iasi returned the friaries/parishes of Luizi-Călugăra, Prăjești, Târgu-Trotuș, Galați, Huși and Hălăucești to the Franciscan Province, adding to these the responsibility of caring for two other parishes, Buruienești and Nisiporești, as well as a Marian Sanctuary, Cacica.
On June 25, 2010, having heard the favorable opinion of the friars of the General Delegation of the Orient and the Holy Land, and having taken into consideration the decision of the Extraordinary Provincial Chapter of the Romanian province to accept responsibility for the Order’s work in Lebanon and Turkey, the Minister General suppressed the General Delegation of the Orient and the Holy Land and ordered the passage of its friaries to the Romanian Province of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. With the authority granted by this decision, the Provincial Minister established the Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land on June 25, 2010.