FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

7. History of the Franciscan Movement (8)

8) The Order of Friars Minor from 1897 to the present

7.53. The Ultramontane family was subject to Spanish hegemony and political manoeuvring, and did not accept the Union of the Order as planned by Leo XIII. The Spaniards were subject to the Apostolic Vice Commissary Serafin Linares, who resided in Madrid.

7.54. The political events in 1898, when Spain lost its colonies of Cuba and the Philippines, prompted the Minister General Aloysius Lauer to request the abolition of the office of Apostolic Vice Commissary. Later on, during the reign of Alfonso XIII, Pope Pius X, in the motu proprio "Singularis regiminis" (29 June 1904) abolished the office of Apostolic Vice Commissary and ordered them to fall directly under the obedience of the new Minister General Dionysius Schuler (1903-1911). But the Ultramontane family still retained a Vicar General.

7.55. This state of affairs ended on 14 December 1932, when the Minister General Bonaventura Marrani (1927-1933) wrote to the Cardinal Protector of the Order, Bonaventura Cerretti, and requested that the "Singularis regiminis" be revoked. On 22 December 1932 Cardinal Lepicier, Prefect of the Congregation for Religious, informed the Minister General that Pope Pius XI had revoked the motu proprio and that, henceforth, the Spanish friars fell directly under the obedience of the Minister General and had to abide by the Constitutions of the Order. On 21 March 1933 Germán Rubio, the last Vicar General for the Spanish friars, resigned from his office. The Ultramontane family ceased to exist.

7.56. In Italy there were other problems as well. The Alcantarine province of Naples rejected the Union. But Lauer reacted strongly and made it obligatory to all the friars to accept the "Felicitate quadam". But the greatest problem lay with the ex-Riformati provinces of Italy. The friars were against fusion of the provinces, which were Observant or Riformati. In 1903 the Minister Provincial of Venice wrote to Aloysius Lauer complaining that the fusion was being detrimental to the quality of religious life. But Lauer remained intransigent, and so the case was presented in front of the General Chapter. A personal interest was shown in this issue by Pacifico Monza, member of the Venice province, who had been Procurator General of the Riformati. This friar began lobbying Cardinal Agliardi, Protector of the Capuchins, Cardinal Ferrata, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and Regulars, and Giuseppe Sarto, who was Patriarch of Venice, and who became Pope Pius X during the same year. The Minister General, Dionysius Schüler, protested with the Pope, and insisted that a new division of the province of Venice was not possible, because it would mean that other provinces in Italy would ask for a division as well. The Pope at first supported the Minister General's view, but later on gave way due to pressure from Italian circles. In October 1910 the Roman province was again divided into an Observant entity and a Reformed entity.

7.57. To complicate matters, Cardinal Vives y Tuto, a Capuchin, and Prefect of the Congregation for Religious, was of no help at all to Schüler. He even went so far as to resuscitate the protests of the Conventuals and Capuchins in 1897, regarding the name Order of Friars Minor. The result was shocking. On 4 October 1909 Pius X published an Apostolic Letter, "Septima iam", in which he ordered that the name of the Order be changed to "Friars Minor of the Leonine Union". This name was never used neither by the Holy See, nor by the Order. It seemed that part of the protests against the Order was the result of the publication of Herbert Holzapfel's "Manuale Historiae Ordinis Fratrum Minorum". The Pope even proceeded to place the book in the index of prohibited writings!

7.58. Schüler felt demoralised and humiliated at the turn of events. Pius X demanded absolute silence about his decisions. In January 1911 Schüler had an audience with the Pope, and asked him to relieve him of the office of Minister General. During a visitation to the provinces of Italy, Belgium, France and Holland, Schüler received a letter from Bonaventura Marrani, Procurator General of the Order, telling him that Pope Pius X wanted the Order to have a new government. The Minister General was to return to Rome quickly, because Pacifico Monza was to be installed as Minister General, and Schüler was to be consecrated titular archbishop of Nazianzen the following Sunday. Moreover, he was not to tell anybody about the matter.

7.59. On Thursday 26 October 1911, at 4 in the afternoon, Schüler was summoned in the basilica of S. Antonio in Rome. When he went down from the General Curia in the Collegio, he found many friars from the Antonianum, the Curia and Aracoeli. The Franciscan bishop Bernard Doebbing read the motu proprio "Quo magis" (23 October 1911) and announced that the new Minister General would be Pacifico Monza, and that Schüler would be consecrated titular archbishop. The consecration took place on 5 November. On 11 November 1911, after an audience with Pius X, Schüler left Rome and retired to Germany. The plan of Cardinal Vives y Tuto and the group of "ex-Riformati" had worked.

7.60. The division of the Italian provinces lasted until 1945. On 27 December Pius XII addressed the Apostolic Letter "Quae paterna" to the Minister General Valentine Schaaf of the Cincinnati province, in which he ordered the Italian provinces to regroup themselves in such a way that, in every region, there would be only one province. The division between Observants and Riformati in Italy became a thing of the past.

7.61. During the generalate of Pacifico Monza (1911-1915), Pius X on 11 April 1909 declared the basilica of St. Mary of the Angels as "caput et mater" of the Order of Friars Minor, with the privilege of Patriarchal Basilica and Papal Chapel.

7.62. The next Generals were Serafino Cimino da Capri (1915-1921), Bernardino Klumper (1921-1927). In 1926 the Order celebrated the 700 anniversary of the death of St. Francis, and Pope Pius XI published the encyclical letter "Rite Expiatis". On 26 May 1927 the monument of St. Francis in front of the Lateran basilica was inaugurated. The Order also had continued its missionary activity, especially in China, where a group of Franciscan bishops, sisters and tertiaries died as martyrs during the Boxer revolution in 1900. Klumper also inaugurated the "Studium Biblicum Franciscanum" of Jerusalem.

7.63. The next Minister General was Bonaventura Marrani (1927-1933). In 1931 the Order celebrated 7th centenary of St. Anthony of Padua. The Collegio S. Antonio in Rome was enlarged, and the Scotistic Commission began its work for the critical edition of the writings of John Duns Scotus. During the generalate of Leonardo Bello (1933-1944) the Collegio S. Antonio was declared an Athenaeum Pontificium, and the Scotistic Commission passed into the hands of Carlo Balic OFM. In 1943 the Order started the construction of the present General Curia on the Colle del Gelsomino in Rome.

7.64. The War of 1939-1945 was a period of difficulty for the apostolic activity of the Franciscans. There were acts of heroism, as well. Let it suffice to mention the heroic death of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe (+ 14 August 1941) of the Friars Minor Conventuals, in the Auschwitz prison camp.

7.65. Since no General Chapters were celebrated during the war, Pope Pius XII chose Valentine Schaaf as the next Minister General in 1945, but this General died on 1 December 1946. On 16 January 1946 Pius XII had declared St. Anthony of Padua doctor of the Church with the Bull "Exsulta Lusitania felix". The next Minister General was Pacifico Perantoni (1947-1952). The Chapter of 1952 elected Agostino Sepinski (1952-1965; re-elected in 1957). During his generalate Ireneo Mazzotti OFM founded the secular institute "Piccola Famiglia Francescana". In 1953 the Order celebrated the 700 anniversary of the death of St. Clare. In 1965 Paul VI nominated Sepinski as titular archbishop and apostolic delegate for Jerusalem and Palestine. Later on he also became apostolic nuncio for Uruguay. Sepinski was present at the Second Vatican Council, and died on 31 December 1978. The Order took part in the International Congress on Duns Scotus in Oxford and Edinburgh (1966).

7.66. Constantine Koser was elected Minister General (1969-1979; re-elected during the Chapter of Madrid in 1973). He was the first General after Vatican II. He published new Constitutions for the Order and summoned the provincials for an extraordinary General Chapter in Medellin, Colombia in 1973, and again in Assisi, in 1976. On 24 June 1978 Pope Paul VI gave the Secular Franciscan Order a new Rule, with the Apostolic Letter "Seraphicus Patriarca". From 1969 the Order started celebrating Plenary Councils. In 1974 the Order celebrated the 7th centenary of the death of St. Bonaventure.

7.67. During the General Chapter of Assisi in 1979, John Vaughn, from the province of St. Barbara, California, was elected Minister General (1979-1991; re-elected during the General Chapter of Assisi in 1985). The Order celebrated the 800 anniversary of the birth of St. Francis in 1982. New initiatives of the Order during the last two decades included the Africa Project, with the establishment of the vice-province of St. Francis; Plenary Councils at Bahia, Brazil (1983) and Bangalore, India (1988); the establishment of the Franciscan NGO at the UN, in collaboration with the whole Franciscan movement, in 1989.

7.68. On 13 June 1991 Brother Hermann Schalück, from the province of Saxony (Germany) was elected Minister General during the General Chapter of San Diego, California. The Order celebrated the 500 anniversary of the evangelisation of the Americas in 1992, the 8th centenary of the birth of St. Clare in 1993 and the 8th centenary of the birth of St. Anthony of Padua in 1995. On 6 July 1992 John Paul II declared the cult of John Duns Scotus as a Blessed. In November 1993 the Holy Land Custody celebrated the 650 anniversary of the constitution of the Custody by Clement VI. In May 1995 the Order celebrated its Plenary Council here, on the island of Malta. The Order is now preparing to celebrate its next General Chapter in Assisi on 18 May 1997.

7.69. One final note for this section. We have not dealt with the history of the Franciscan missions, especially those in North, Central and South America. This theme will be reviewed in the lecture dedicated to the missionary charism of the Order. The same will be done in the case of male and female saints of the Franciscan movement.

7.70. For brevity's sake we have not dealt with the more recent history of the other Franciscan families, namely, the Friars Minor Conventuals and the Friars Minor Capuchins. The reader is invited to complete the knowledge of the history of the Franciscan movement by referring to the biographical indications at the end of the lecture. We shall now pass on to a rapid glance at the history of the Second Order and Third Order Regular, leaving the history of the Third Order for the lecture dedicated to the Secular Franciscan Order.

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


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