The Conventual Franciscans in North America
Franciscans…live in simplicity, preach with compassion, serve with humility and adore the Lord at all times!
Although the friars had been missionaries to the East since the 13th century, by the late 15th century they felt it was time to explore any new worlds to the West. Friar Juan Perez of Seville, an astronomer, pleaded Columbus’ case before King Ferdinand, to whom he was financial advisor, and to Queen Isabella, to whom he was confessor. Friar Juan Perez was able to sail with Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. This Conventual Franciscan is credited with celebrating the first Mass in the New World.
The United States
Between the 1780s – 1850s, several individual Conventual Franciscans ministered to German immigrants in the East. But it was in 1852, at the instigation of Bishop Jean Odin of Texas, that the Conventual Franciscans were able to establish a permanent presence in North America. These daring men of German, Polish and Belgian ancestry, were given four parishes and twelve missions that extended westward to California and south to Mexico.
Two years after their arrival, in 1854, the friars were also invited East to minister in Brooklyn, New York. There they were responsible for twenty-two mission stations. By 1872 the Franciscan Administration in Rome officially transformed the American mission into an independent Province.
An Expansion of Franciscan Heritage
In the intervening years of continued immigration, the Depression and World Wars, the friars began ministering to people of all ethnic backgrounds. They ministered at many secondary schools as teachers and administrators; they served as military, university, prison and hospital chaplains; they established printing presses and founded several publications. The friars have been pastoral and substance abuse counselors, itinerant preachers, directors of retreat centers and of arts’ colonies, and the sponsors of a radio program. They have ministered in AIDS hospices and homeless shelters. They have constructed housing for the handicapped, founded a network of international shelters for youth and runaways, and have co-sponsored a permanent NGO that offers moral advice to the United Nations.
The American Conventuals have founded a number of missions, namely: England, Brazil, Costa Rica, Zambia, Central America, Japan, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Jamaica, and Denmark.