The Franciscan Order was founded by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1209. Among it’s various branches, the Order of Friars Minor Conventual makes up the oldest block. The adjective “conventual” (or “friars of the community”) was added almost from the very beginnings of the Order, not so much to highlight a physical space (the friary or convento) but rather to refer to the Order’s founding element of brotherhood, the common life, the “cum-venire” (from Latin), in other words the “coming-together” in order to share with one another.
The religious of this Order are also called Minoriten in the German speaking countries, Greyfriars in the British areas, or Cordelier in France.
The fundamental values that the friars seek to live out can be summed up in the three vows or “evangelical counsels” of poverty, chastity and obedience that they profess. These signify the primacy of God in the life of the friars and speak to the desire and commitment to a “radical sequela” (following) typical of true disciples of the Lord. He is in fact our Treasure, He who is Love that is sufficient, the Word that satisfies.
The following are certain typically Franciscan traits:
“The life of fraternity” because one is our Father in heaven. A friar, therefore, is never isolated, but always lives and works in community, side by side with his brothers. And for a friar… every person is a brother or sister!
“Prayer” because only the Lord leads those who entrust themselves to Him, and only He grants courage and faithfulness!
“Evangelical poverty” as an expropriation from one’s self and from possessing material things, that God might be our only true wealth, that we might be able to entrust ourselves to Providence; in order to be poor among the poor.
“Minority” as a way of being “the least of these” in the Church and the World, and relating with humility, joy, meekness and goodness to every creature.
“Work” based on their various capacities, inclinations or necessities and spaces (pastoral, missionary, cultural, charity… and also manual labor).
“Filial love for and obedience to the Catholic Church and the Pope” successor of the apostle Peter, according to the wishes of Saint Francis.
“Itinerancy” because Franciscan Friars hold themselves to be “strangers and pilgrims” with relation to places, appointments, tasks, capacities, attachments; therefore they are always somewhat “precarious,” always ready to change, to pull away, to begin again, to put things in perspective… Only God is sufficient and nothing else belongs to us!
“Preaching penance,” more with one’s example and way of life than with words; working for justice and peace; announcing the beauty of God who is creator and Father; and having special care for the smallest and those in last place.
St. Francis of Assisi, with his first companions, presented themselves to Pope Innocent III in 1209, seeking oral approval of their evangelical form of life. As a result of this permission, which allowed the penitents of Assisi to also preach penance, the Fraternity saw itself notably expand to become a religion of the Friars Minor of which St. Francis speaks in the final part of the Rule. Shortly after, following the Lateran Council IV, November 29, 1223, Pope Honorius III approved the definitive Rule, which is now followed.
In 1274, at the death of the Minister General, St. Bonaventure, the Order grew ever more divided between the approach of the “Friars of the Community”, also called “Conventuals”, who had been given permission to have their communities in the cities in order to preach the Gospel and be of service to the poor, and that of the “Zealots” or “Spirituals”, at first, and later as “Observants” who professed ideals of absolute poverty and stressed the eremitical and ascetical dimensions of Franciscanism.
At the beginning of the XVI century, Pope Leo X, seeing the impossibility of the Observants and the Conventuals living under the same Rule and government, brought together all of the reformed groups under the Rule of the Friars Minor of the Regular Observance, with the bull, “Ita Vos” of May 29, 1517: the others being brought together to form the Order of the Friars Minor Conventual, under the guidance of a Minister General. The separation of the two groups was also confirmed by Pope Leo XIII, who, with the bull “Felicitate Quadam” of October 4, 1897, reorganized the Franciscan Orders into four Orders, each with its own Minister General: the Order of Friars Minor; the Order of Friars Minor Conventual; the Order of Friars Minor Capuchins; and the Third Order Regular.
Today the Friars Minor Conventual wear a black habit, in those countries which had undergone a suppression, while, in the mission lands, and beyond, they have begun to return to the original color of the Franciscan habit: ashen grey.
They continue to care for, among other things, the Basilica of St. Francis and the Sacred Convent of Assisi, and the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua.
The Conventual Friars have for centuries been the ordinary confessors for the Basilica of Saint Peter. In Rome they carry out accademic and cultural activities at the Pontifical Theological Faculty of St. Bonaventure and at the “Seraphicum” College where young friars from around the world study.
To this one must add extensive missionary activity carried out by the entire Order, most notably in the Americas and Africa, as well as Asia, which has seen marked expansion in recent years.
Countless are the friars who have dedicated their lives to the Lord in humility and holiness, following the Rule of Saint Francis. The following are only a few of the most well-known and loved: Saint Anthony of Padua, Blessed Odoric of Pordenone, Blessed Duns Scotus, Saint Joseph of Copertino (Patron Saint of Students); Saint Francis Anthony Fasani, and in recent years Saint Maximilian M. Kolbe, Servant of God James Bulgaro, Servant of God Placid Cortese, Servant of God Martin Benedict, and the Polish martyrs Michał Tomaszek e Zbigniew Strzalkowski.
The General Curia of the Order is centered in Rome at the Friary of the Twelve Holy Apostles.
As of January 1, 2011, the Order had 4,197 Friars (of whom 17 are Bishops, 2,907 are Priests, and 13 are Permanent Deacons), and 35 Provinces and 19 Custodies comprising 664 houses: they are present in 66 countries (7 African, 17 in the Americas, 10 Asian, 31 European, and Australia).