Franciscans: Building the Church of St. Louis                       


For over 800 years, Franciscan men and women have been living out the Gospel in unique and inspiring ways.  From their early beginnings, St. Francis of Assisi sent his followers out two-by-two to serve the poor and to preach the Good News.  Soon after,

St. Clare of Assisi gathered a group of sisters together to share a simple life, devoted to prayer and contemplation.  Meanwhile, men and women of all ages and backgrounds – single, married, widowed, religious – from merchants and craftsmen to nobles and royalty – all began to journey this new path of living the Gospel out in the marketplace.

Thus began the three Orders of the Franciscan family.  Three Orders which are still bearing fruit today, right here in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.





Franciscan priests and brothers arrived in the St. Louis area as early as 1850 to minister to Catholic immigrants.  St. Anthony of Padua Parish in South St. Louis, for example, became a motherhouse, or headquarters, for the friars of the Sacred Heart Province.  Their ministry to German farmers and factory-workers quickly stretched from Teutopolis, IL to Chicago and beyond.  They established seminaries and other houses of study throughout the Midwest, including Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois, alma mater to many local St. Louisans.  Meanwhile, back here in St. Louis, the friars started a new parish on the then, far-outskirts of the city, St. Francis of Assisi in Oakville, where they continued to serve in parochial ministry for 75 years.  The friars’ retreat ministry is modeled at Il Ritiro, a 90-acre wooded escape near Dittmer, Missouri.  Their newest ministry endeavors include the Franciscan Connection, a neighborhood outreach center serving the needy and providing minor home repairs to low-income families in South St. Louis, and St. Benedict the Black Friary, working with African American Catholics in East St. Louis.

Similarly, Capuchin Franciscans have long been a part of St. Louis history.  Two of the archdiocese’s first pastors were Capuchin missionaries.  Today, Capuchins (known for the long hood, or capuche, on their brown habit) serve as pastors and administrators of St. Patrick Parish and St. Joseph Shrine.  These ministries put them in direct contact with the hustle and bustle of downtown, attending to the needs of everyone, from urban professionals to the homeless poor.  St. Crispin Friary in Midtown is a house of initial formation for young men hoping to join the Capuchin order.  While in residence, these young postulants serve in a variety of ministries, assisting the poor, elderly or infirmed of St. Louis.

Many Conventual Franciscans came to St. Louis to take advantage of its fine educational institutions.  From 1965 to 2000, the “black friars” lived at St. Bonaventure Friary on Washington Avenue in Midtown, often serving lunch to the area’s poor.  Though the friary is no more, its spirit of learning is continued in what has now become St. Louis University’s Manresa Retreat and Conference Center.  Professor of theological studies, Fr. Wayne Hellman, OFM Conv.,  continues to offer a Franciscan presence to students through the university’s College of Arts & Sciences.

Over the years, Franciscan priests and brothers have continually responded to the needs of the local Church, serving as pastors, confessors, chaplains, preachers, teachers, retreat masters, spiritual directors, architects, contractors, cooks, tailors, therapists, social workers, missionaries, and more. 





Nestled in the rolling meadows of Oakville is a lesser known oasis of quiet contemplation, the Monastery of St. Clare.  For over forty years, the Poor Clares have called this simple building their home.   Carrying on traditions handed down for over eight centuries, the sisters daily gather for Eucharist and Divine Office, simple meatless meals, and community chores. 

Their main ministry is that of prayer.  Whether in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament or through private meditation, the sisters embrace the whole world with their prayers.  They regularly receive requests for prayers from local parishioners and friends across the Archdiocese.  Their witness to poverty is manifest in simple furnishings, a year-round Lenten fast, and the choice to endure St. Louis summers without air conditioning.  As cloistered nuns, the Poor Clares do keep silence during the day as an aid to prayer and recollection but also very much enjoy their opportunities to share in community activities and recreation.  They support themselves through charitable alms and the making of altar bread.


Poor Clare Sisters Web Page

St. Louis Review -- January 20, 2006 Article

 CLICK HERE to learn more about the Poor Clares here in the St. Louis area.






The Franciscan family is not limited to religious brothers and sisters.  St. Francis of Assisi was ahead of his time as he also encouraged the laity in their call to holiness!  Married men and women also came to Francis seeking to follow him.  Some were willing to leave their homes and families to join him and Clare, but Francis quickly advised against this. He noted that not all are called to religious life in community. Holiness is also to be found in the everyday life of the laity!  Francis wrote a rule of life for lay persons and thus began the “Third Order of St. Francis” now known as the “Secular Franciscan Order”.

Today Secular Franciscans can be found throughout the world, with over 12,000 members in the United States alone. Secular Franciscans are ordinary lay men and women, single, married or widowed, who have been given a particular vocation - a call to the Franciscan way of life “in the world”.  Following Christ in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, they live according to the Secular Franciscan Rule - going from Gospel to life, and life to the Gospel.  The Secular Franciscan Order is a fully recognized order within the church and their members belong to the Franciscan family.  They meet regularly, joining canonically established fraternities, to support each other in their journey and in their witness to the world. This life in fraternity energizes and inspires them as they seek daily conversion in following Christ. Each fraternity is closely associated with the friars of the First Order and each is assigned a Spiritual Assistant to help guide them in living out the Franciscan charism.  Those seeking to join the order go through a period of formation of several years culminating in a public and permanent profession to the Rule of Life given to them by the Church and St. Francis.

Secular Franciscan Fraternities are grouped geographically into “regions”.  The fraternities in the greater St. Louis area belong to “St. Clare Region”.  St. Clare Region has eleven fraternities and covers the area as far west as Springfield, Missouri, and as far east as Evansville, Indiana.  Local fraternities can be found in St. Louis city, south county, north county, St. Charles county, Belleville and Granite City.  The members of the St. Clare Region gather together for retreats, annual meetings, and Franciscan celebrations. 


Regional Minister, Jan Parker SFO, cites many reasons that people, young and old, are committing themselves to this way of life and explains, “Franciscans radiate hope and joy with a love for all people and all creation.  Their call to prayer and holiness brings them peace.  Their call to simplicity is a sure cure to the stresses of modern life.  Their call to poverty and detachment frees them from materialism.  The brothers and sisters of the Secular Franciscan Order become like family, supporting each other in their personal lives and reaching out to help others, especially the outcast and the poor.” 

                                     Click Here to learn more about local Secular Franciscans here in St. Louis.

 Please welcome some of our recent SFO Inquirers





The late 1800’s and early 1900’s brought a unique flourishing of apostolic service within the Catholic Church throughout Europe and into the United States.  During this time, numerous laypeople chose to follow the spirit of St. Francis as consecrated religious, forming many new and varied Third Order communities.  Much like the friars and Poor Clares, these men and women formed Franciscan communities which took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  Many focused their ministries to specific areas of service among the poor and needy, often following the flow of immigration into St. Louis and its surrounding areas.

The late 1800’s and early 1900’s brought a unique flourishing of apostolic service within the Catholic Church throughout Europe and into the United States.  During this time, numerous laypeople chose to follow the spirit of St. Francis as consecrated religious, forming many new and varied Third Order communities.  Much like the friars and Poor Clares, these men and women formed Franciscan communities which took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  Many focused their ministries to specific areas of service among the poor and needy, often following the flow of immigration into St. Louis and its surrounding areas.

The Franciscan Sisters of Mary arrived in St. Louis from Germany in 1872 during a severe smallpox epidemic.  They immediately focused their attention on healthcare, eventually establishing St. Mary’s Hospital and the SSM Healthcare System.  Similarly, around 1900, another German order, the Wheaton Franciscans, established a small hospital in south St. Louis city which later relocated and became St. Anthony Medical Center in south county. 

Other European communities continued to pour into St. Louis at the request of bishops and pastors. Among these were the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (originally called the Polish Franciscan School Sisters of St. Louis) who provided education to newly-arriving immigrant children at St. Stanislaus Kostka School.  In 1922, the Franciscan Missionary Brothers established St. Joseph’s Hill Infirmary in Eureka to provide long-term care to the chronically ill and aged.  Maintaining their Polish roots, the brothers also constructed the Black Madonna Shrine in honor of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Over the years, other groups of sisters were invited to serve people of the Archdiocese.  In 1932, for example, the Third Order of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, a French group, established Mother of Good Counsel Home for the elderly of north county.  The Oldenburg Franciscans have been teaching in parish grade schools, such as Holy Trinity School in north city, since 1859, often providing special education to children with unique needs.  Today, the sisters remain active at Nia Kuumba, a house of spirituality for African and African-American women in the multicultural Tower Grove neighborhood.

St. Louis serves as a national hub for many of these Third Order Franciscan communities, which have spread throughout the United States and into missions around the world.  Since Vatican II, many of these communities have delved into Franciscan writings and their founding charisms.  With renewed energy and vision, they are tackling an ever- growing variety of ministries in the Church today. 





The Franciscan influence can be seen throughout the archdiocese.  These remarkable men and women overcame many obstacles – from long journeys across the wilderness long ago to the challenges of living and serving in poor, inner-city neighborhoods today.  Though their numbers may have dwindled over the years, they remain active throughout the Archdiocese, pioneering many new ministries along the way.

Men and women; priests and brothers; cloistered nuns and apostolic sisters; single, married, widowed; lay and religious – all flavors of the Franciscan family.  All trying to live out the Gospel as did St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi.  A simple lifestyle.  Love and compassion for the poor.  Joy in community and fraternal life.  These are hallmarks of the Franciscan charism, lived out in many, varied ways for over 800 years.  A rich history of service within the Catholic Church around the world. And still, very much alive in the Archdiocese of St. Louis today.



Check out these links for more information about local Franciscan endeavors:

First Order of St. Francis

Sacred Heart Province - sponsors of the Franciscan Connection

Capuchin Franciscans of Mid-America

Sacred Heart Friar Photo Pages

Postulants Volunteer at Franciscan Connection

Second Order of St. Francis

Poor Clares

St. Louis Review article -- January 2006

Third Order of St. Francis

Secular Franciscans National

Secular Franciscans St. Louis

Third Order Religious

Franciscan Sisters of Mary

Oldenburg Franciscans

Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Brothers and Sisters of Charity

Franciscan High Schools & Universities

Quincy University

Padua Franciscan High School

Other Franciscan Organizations

Franciscan Volunteer Program

Franciscan Charities

Franciscan-Sponsored Parishes

St. Anthony of Padua Parish  -- (314) 353-7470

St. Patrick

Shrine of St. Joseph

St. Augustine (East St. Louis)




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