Published January 9, 2020
NEW YORK—The Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province (HNP) are withdrawing from the Catholic Center at the University of Georgia, Athens. Ministerial responsibilities and administrative operations will be turned over to the Archdiocese of Atlanta this summer, ending more than 60 years of pastoral service by the friars. The Catholic Center at UGA attracts more than 5,000 students from the university and hundreds of parishioners from the local community.
HNP’s administration cited the challenges of a declining friar population, whose insufficient numbers make it difficult for the province to staff all of the Fraternities-in-Mission it has served in the past. The diminished numbers also make it impossible to maintain a core component of the Franciscan Order—friars living and ministering together in fraternal community.
In 1985, just 35 years ago, HNP had 708 friars, a number that dropped to 443 in 2001, and currently stands at a little less than 300. While there are a number of men in the initial formation process, just three friars have professed their solemn vows since August 2018.
In addition to the Catholic Center at UGA, the Jan. 3 announcement identified eight other Fraternity-in-Mission sites from which friars will withdraw this summer.
This is the culmination of a more than two-year collegial process that HNP called “Fraternal Ecology,” an initiative that engaged the participation of virtually all friars, as well as local dioceses and lay partners, in evaluating the future sustainability of the Province’s 30 Fraternities-in-Mission, among them parishes, elementary schools, colleges, urban ministry centers, soup kitchens and other pastoral and social justice ministries.
“This was a deliberate, measure and comprehensive process that consisted of dozens of meetings and site visits, and dialogue with all interested parties, which generated studies and reports that ultimately helped guide the Provincial Council’s final decisions on the Fraternities-in-Mission where friars would remain, and those where they would be withdrawn,” said Father Kevin Mullen, OFM, provincial minister of the New York City-based Holy Name Province, the largest Order of Friars Minor community in the U.S. whose members model their life after St. Francis of Assisi.
“It was collaborative and transparent discernment marked by frank discussion and honest assessment and evaluation by our friars and lay partners in ministry, as well as the dioceses where our Fraternities-in-Mission are located. The council made its final decisions after careful thought and prayerful reflection,” said Father Mullen.
“Our departure from the Catholic Center at UGA, as well as the other eight Fraternities-in-Mission, inevitably will bring disappointment and sadness, which are natural emotions because of the longtime association that the university and local community have had with the Franciscans. The decision to withdraw from this ministry was not taken lightly,” continued the priest, “and, in fact, was very difficult and painful, as with the other Fraternities-in-Mission where we have announced our departure. But despite our long history and rich tradition since 1957 at the Catholic Center, the reality of our declining numbers—and the challenges and strain it places on our ability to fulfill our fraternal mission—made this a pragmatic and necessary decision.”
Father Mullen said the province was grateful to the “good and faith-filled students and local area residents for their support, collaboration, generosity and warm embrace” extended to friars who have staffed the Catholic Center for more than six decades. “We are confident that we are leaving this ministry stronger and more robust than when we first arrived,” said Father Mullen, who noted that the transition to the archdiocese later this year would be a seamless one.
The 2019-2020 school session began the 62nd year of spiritual direction and leadership by HNP friars at the Catholic Center at UGA. The friars’ presence at the center dates to 1957 with the arrival of the first friar serving as chaplain. In 1966, the Franciscans helped break ground for a new Catholic chapel and student center, which opened the following year on campus. The center offers celebration of the sacraments, Bible study groups, adult religious education, and student-led retreats and days of recollection as well as numerous social justice outreach programs. The center is closely associated with Jewish and Muslim student associations as advocates for interfaith dialogue and action driven by the influence of Franciscan ideals.
Besides the Catholic Center at UGA, the order announced the withdrawal of its friars from mission locations in New York, South Carolina, Florida, North Carolina, Delaware and New Jersey.