FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

7. History of the Franciscan Movement (7)

7) The Union of the Friars Minor (1897)

7.42. The last half of the 19th century was a critical period in the history of the Order of Friars Minor. For clarity's sake, let us remember that, since 1517, when the Friars Minor of the Regular Observance were separated from the Friars Minor Conventuals, other reforms were born outside and within the Observance, namely the Capuchins, Riformati, Alcantarines or Discalced, and Recollects.

7.43. The French Revolution and the philosophical trends of Illuminisim had left all religious Orders in Europe greatly weakened. The Franciscan Order was no exception. The process of revival and reform was slow to come, and new problems arose during the 19th century, with the Industrial revolution and the onset of secularised philosophical trends, such as Marxism. At the same time, however, the Order had spread to the New World, where the friars were numerous, especially in Latin America. The history of the evangelisation of the Americas merits special attention. Unfortunately we can only refer to it at this point, with the intention of developing the argument during the lecture dedicated to the missionary charism of the Franciscan Order.

7.44. In 1869 Pope Pius IX chose as Minister General Bernardino dal Vago da Portogruaro (Porto Romantino), from the family of the Riformati. The Order could not meet for the General Chapters, and Bernardino led the Order for 20 years, from 1869 to 1889. He was one of the most dynamic Ministers General in its history. He began the publication of the "Acta Ordinis Minorum" in 1882, the official organ of the Order to this very day (today called "Acta Ordinis Fratrum Minorum"). In the midst of great difficulties he worked hard for the construction of the basilica and international college of S. Antonio in Via Merulana, Rome, for the academic revival and missionary preparation of the Order. This place also became the General Curia, after the Italian government had taken away the friary of Aracoeli. The foundation stone was laid by Cardinal Parocchi on 16 November 1883, and the basilica and curia were ready in 1887. Bernardino also founded the Collegio S. Bonaventura at Quaracchi, as a centre for research in the writings of the Franciscan masters of the Middle Ages (today the centre is at Grottaferrata, on the Colli Romani). These scholars started to work upon the critical edition of the "Opera Omnia" of St. Bonaventure. Last, but not least, Bernardino favoured the Third Order and also new female Franciscan congregations, notably the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. In 1889 he asked the Pope to relieve him of the office of Minister General. Pope Leo XIII made him titular bishop of Sardica and he retreated to Quaracchi, where he died on 7 May 1895.

7.45. During the General Chapter of 1889, celebrated at the Collegio S. Antonio, in Rome, Luigi da Parma (1889-1897) was elected Minister General. The Spanish provinces were represented by their Vice Apostolic Commissary Francisco Sáenz. One should remember that, geographically, the Order was still divided into the Ultramontane and Cismontane families. The Ultramontane group comprised the Spanish provinces and those entities under Spanish domination. In this period the Cismontane family had 17000 friars in 55 Observant provinces, 38 Reformed provinces, 7 Recollect provinces, and 4 Alcantarine provinces. The Ultramontane family had 1200 friars in the Observant provinces of Santiago, Andalusia, Cartagena, Valencia, Cataluna, Cantabria, Morocco, and the Alcantarine province of the Philippines. The Ultramontane family maintained its right to have a Vice Apostolic Commissary, who resided in the friary of S. Francisco el Grande, in Madrid, and a Procurator General who resided in the friary of Santi Quaranta in Rome. The Riformati also had their Procurator General, and there was another Procurator General for the Recollects and Alcantarines. This is the general picture to have in mind in order to understand the great difficulties which lay in the plans for an eventual Union of the Order of Friars Minor. For a detailed and accurate account of historical facts, personages, etc., cfr. Maurice Carmody OFM, "The Leonine Union of the Order of Friars Minor 1897", The Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University, New York, 1994.

7.46. Luigi da Parma, together with Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) were the protagonists of the efforts aimed at uniting the Friars Minor under one denomination. It was not an easy task, and its effects on the Order are still object of discussion and varying opinions. We shall limit ourselves to a brief account of what happened, following Carmody's doctoral dissertation.

7.47. The Riformati greatly opposed Union, notably through their two General Definitors, Accursio da Monte Santa Sabina (Tuscany) and Gaudentius Guggenbichler (Tyrol). Other problems lay in the way of Union, namely the controversy regarding the Custody of the Holy Land, which was staunchly Observant; the serious financial crisis of the Order, following the building of the Collegio and Basilica of S. Antonio in Rome; the separatist character of the Ultramontane family.

7.48. A General Chapter was summoned by Leo XIII at S. Maria degli Angeli, in Assisi, on 16 May 1895. The Pope nominated the Dominican Cardinal Angelo Mauri, archbishop of Ferrara, to preside over the Chapter. Mauri told the capitulars that Leo XIII was of the opinion that it was in the best interests of the Franciscan Order that the families present strive for true and full Union. This did not compromise the particular statutes of the various groups, as long as these did not go against the General Constitutions. The response was not a surprise. The Observants wanted Union, the Riformati and Alcantarines were against it, the Recollects were prone to accept it, although they were aware of the difficulties. 77 votes were in favour of the Union and 31 against. So Cardinal Mauri met the capitulars personally to try to convince them of the Pope's ardent wish. A second ballot was held, with a result of 108 votes for the Union and 8 against. The Minister General Luigi da Parma nominated a commission to draw up new Constitutions for the Order, under the leadership of Aloysius Lauer.

7.49. The commission met at St. Isidore's College in Rome to draft the new Constitutions in December 1895. In an audience given to the General Definitorium on 15 February 1896, Pope Leo XIII had again stressed upon the importance of Union among Friars Minor. Luigi da Parma asked the provinces of the Order to air their views regarding the new Constitutions and the issue of Union. In 1896 a total of 65 out of 95 provinces answered. 34 provinces were in favour of the Union (21 Observants, 6 Riformati, 6 Recollects, Custody of the Holy Land), 30 provinces were against (1 Observant, 27 Riformati, 2 Alcantarines), and 1 province answered in an inconclusive way. The provinces which abstained from voting were notified in advance that their silence would mean a vote pro-Union. Thus the final result was 65 provinces for the Union and 30 against.

7.50. On 19 April 1896 the commission for the new General Constitutions finished its work. Various protests were aired at the efforts for Union. It was a time of controversy. The other Franciscan Orders, that is, the Conventuals and Capuchins, were not happy with the Pope's intention to order the abolition of the adjective "de Regularis Observantia" from the name "Ordo Fratrum Minorum", since they reasoned that the name belonged to all the families of the First Order.

7.51. On 12 April 1897 the Congregation for Bishops informed Luigi da Parma that Leo XIII had decided to go ahead with the declaration of Union of the Order. The new Constitutions were approved on 15 May 1897. On 1 October 1897 Luigi da Parma was summoned by Leo XIII together with Aloysius Lauer. The Pope informed Luigi that he had chosen Aloysius as next Minister General after the Union. Lauer, together with David Fleming, both Recollects, had been presented as candidates for the generalate by Luigi da Parma.

7.52. On the feast day of St. Francis, 4 October 1897, Leo XIII published the Bull "Felicitate Quadam". From that day the families of the Observants, Riformati, Alcantarines and Recollects were officially to unite into one family, known simply by the name "Ordo Fratrum Minorum", Order of the Friars Minor. On 5 October Luigi da Parma passed the seal of the Order to Aloysius Lauer, the new Minister General (1897-1901). The Spanish friars, however, deserted the ceremony. The future problems at implementing the Union were already evident.

© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm


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