“Which type of Franciscan are you?”
While strangers on the street may ask me if I’m in a renaissance fair or am impersonating a Jedi, this is the most common question I get asked by fellow Catholics and other religious. They know that I’m a religious, can tell that I’m probably a Franciscan, but which one?
Benedict Groeschel’s group? No. The friars on EWTN? Nope. Capuchin? Not today. The friars at Stuebenville University? Different friars.
As the conversation continues, we usually end up in one of two places: “Why are there so many types of Franciscans?” or even better, “Which one is the real/original one?” My response? “It’s complicated.”
And it is. Our history is fragmented and diverse. It’s needlessly complicated and unlike all other religious orders. There are three branches of Franciscans, and within each branch there are many different types, either breaking off from previous groups or starting as another order and then be assimilated into the Franciscans years later. There are hundreds, and new ones even created today.
Many have asked me to explain the difference between the groups and I have always resisted. While each group is definitely different and I could probably make some generalizations about many of them, there are also exceptions to each generalization and overlaps to difference. Because the groups developed organically over time, its hard to make clear distinctions between them; we’re all Franciscan… just a slightly different thread of the same cord.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to share, though. In this second installment of Catholicism in Focus, I look at the historical development of the three branches of the Franciscan Order to try to make as much sense of it as I can. It’s not complete, and it’s by no means perfect, but maybe it will help put some things into perspective.
For those reading this through email, click here to watch the video.