Franciscans are not monks, like the Benedictines. We are a mendicant order, like the Dominicans, the Trinitarians and the Servants of Mary, for example. This type of religious life developed near the end of the Middle Ages. Franciscans are not pure contemplatives, cloistered as monks are, although communal prayer, life with God and spending time in hermitages are important aspects of our lives, Nor are we a completely active order, even though we have many ministries outside our friaries. We are both contemplative and active.
Based on a tradition that goes back to Saint Francis himself, we call each other “Brother,” even though many of us are also priests. Francis wanted all his friars to have the same rights and duties, no matter what their educational background, occupation or responsibilities. Franciscan communities are each part of a Province, which is led by a Provincial. He is known as “Brother Minister,” which means “Brother Servant.” Francis did not want the friars to use titles of rank such as reverend, superior or father.
Because our founder is St. Francis of Assisi, for the past hundred years we have been affectionately known as “Franciscans” – followers of Francis. The name our founder actually gave us, however, is “minor friars,” which makes us the Order of Friars Minor. That is why the initials O.F.M. appear after every Franciscan’s name. The word “friar” comes from a Latin word meaning “brother.” Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the word “minor” referred to the majority of the population, which was made up of humble craftsmen, day labourers and beggars – people of modest means. The “majors,” on the other hand, were the noblemen and women, merchants and all those who occupied positions of power and influence. The name “Friars Minor,” then, means brothers who are humble, poor, simple, and live modest lives. Our very name defines the essence of our way of life!
Throughout the ages and in many countries, for the past 800 years the Franciscan Order has lived and continues to live the values of poverty, simplicity, humility, justice, peace, joy in God and universal brotherhood.