Vocation Office

Province of Saint Joseph
Midwest United States

Capuchin Franciscan priests in Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Montana, North and South Dakota, Illinois, Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota
F.A.Q.

  1. What is a friar?
  2. What's the difference between a 'brother' and a 'priest'?
  3. Why would someone choose to be a brother and not go all the way to become a priest?
  4. What do Capuchins do?
  5. How large are the Capuchins?
  6. What is a 'habit'?
  7. What are the vows? What are they about?
  8. What are 'simple vows' and 'perpetual vows'?
  9. How are Capuchins different from other religious orders? or from the priest in my parish [likely, a 'diocesan' priest]?
1. What is a friar?

The word "friar" comes from the Latin word "frater", meaning "brother". When St. Francis founded a religious community, he intended its members to live as brothers without distinction of rank, title, or education.

Capuchins are a religious community of both lay brothers and ordained priests. Yet, in the spirit of St. Francis, friars - lay and ordained - see themselves as brothers, as equals, with no one greater or less than the next, respectful to one another and to all of creation. This humility is a characteristic still evidenced in the lives and even the name of Capuchins, who go by the title OFM Cap., meaning Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin.

People sometimes comment, "How can you tell who's a priest and who's a brother?" With Capuchin Franciscan friars, you can't, and it is a testimony to their style of life that emphasizes the common brotherhood that St. Francis created.

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2. What's the difference between a 'brother' and a 'priest'?

The difference lies in priestly ordination. Capuchin friars who are ordained priests can administer the sacraments of the Catholic Church; friars who are not ordained cannot. Outside of that, any friar is eligible to minister in any work of the Capuchin Order.

Formerly, only priests were considered for ministries of great responsibility in religious orders. With Capuchins, that is not the case; when it comes to ministries, a friar is appraised for his ability, not on the basis of priestly ordination.

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3. Why would someone choose to be a brother and not go all the way to become a priest?

A Capuchin brother who has chosen not to be ordained has answered completely his religious vocation.

A Capuchin friar may not have a vocation to administer the sacraments as part of his life of service. All too often, the mistake is made of thinking that if a man enters religious life, he will naturally become a priest.

It is very much a part of Capuchin life for a friar to live a religious community life that does not include administering the sacraments, but gives powerful witness to the message of Jesus and the life of St. Francis.

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4. What do Capuchins do?

Following the example of St. Francis of Assisi, Capuchins give priority to two ministries: working with the poor, and preaching the Word of God. Under these two descriptions fall a variety of ministries that further the dream of St. Francis:

  • Meal programs for the poor at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit and the St. Benedict Meal Program in Milwaukee
  • Retreat centers in Wisconsin and Michigan, e.g. Monte Alverno Retreat Center [Appleton, Wisconsin], Capuchin Retreat [Washington, Michigan], Dwelling Place [Milwaukee, Wisconsin], to mention a few
  • Jefferson House in Detroit - a substance abuse rehabilitation program for indigent men
  • Services of friars who travel to offer preached retreats to parishes and religious groups throughout the United States and overseas
  • Free medical care for the poor at the St. Benedict Clinic
  • Pastoral ministry in minority and poor parishes, such as St. Charles Parish in Detroit, St. Joseph Parish in Saginaw, and Our Lady Gate of Heaven Parish in Chicago
  • Ministry on the Cheyenne and Crow Native American Indian reservations in Montana

Some friars are in individually contracted ministries that use their special talents well. For example, one friar serves as a hospital chaplain in Chicago. Another friar teaches holocaust studies at a Milwaukee university. Still another friar offers counseling services at a veterans' rehabilitation center in Detroit. This flexibility in ministry respects the individual talents of each friar and widens the picture of what it means to serve the poor and preach the Word of God.

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5. How large are the Capuchins?

Are you asking about the weight of friars or the number of friars??? The tale of Friar Tuck has given friars something of a stereotype regarding weight!

Number is a little easier to answer. Worldwide, Capuchins number approximately 11,000, and in the United States, there are between 600-700 friars.

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6. What is a 'habit'?

A "habit" is the official garb that identifies a religious man or woman as a member of their individual order or community. The word came into use as it was the habit of religious men and women to daily dress in their respective, distinctive clothing.

St. Francis not only wanted to serve the poor; he wanted to be poor. When he devised a habit for his brothers, he chose the clothing typically worn by the poor: a plain brown robe with a hood for protection, a cord fastened around one's waist, and sandals for one's feet. It is the habit that Capuchins wear yet to this day.

Capuchins received their name because of the long, distinctive hood that is part of their habit, a hood that in Italian is called a "capuche". One breed of monkeys has been named the "Capuchin Monkey" because of the discolored fur on its back that resembles the hood of a Capuchin friar.

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7. What are the vows? What are they about?

Capuchins profess three vows that are traditional for religious communities: poverty, chastity, and obedience. These vows are symbolized in the Capuchin habit by the three knots on a friar's cords.

Poverty means that a friar will live as simply as possible, without attachment to materials possessions and belongings. Friars do not have savings accounts or property. Even the car that a friar drives is registered in the name of the Capuchin Order, not the individual friar. Poverty is a strong statement in a materialistic world and offers witness to the freedom that comes from detachment, at the same time demonstrating the emptiness of "things".

Chastity describes the quality of a friar's life - that all his relationships will be respectful, appropriate, and healthy. A friar does not marry or have sexual relations with another person. But chastity does not mean that friendships and relationships are discouraged. St. Francis' life demonstrated well that meaningful relationships enhance a friar's ministry and are vital for personal, emotional needs.

Obedience demonstrates a friar's humility in responding to the needs of others, the needs of the Capuchin community, and what he perceives as the needs of God over and above his own personal wishes. It may be the most difficult of the three vows in that it does not involve something tangible, but touches the spirit and will of a friar.

Obedience is not invoked with a friar often. Most often, when it comes to assignments for community life and ministry, the friar and those in leadership jointly discuss options that satisfy both the personal wishes of the friar and the wider needs of the province.

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8. What are 'simple vows' and 'perpetual vows'?

Simple vows are the first vows professed by a friar after his first year [his "novitiate" year] in the Capuchin Order. These vows expire after one year. If religious life is not suited for the individual friar, he is free to leave the Order when his simple vows expire.

A friar remains in simple vows for anywhere between three and six years, continually renewing his vows at year's end when they expire. Within this length of time, a friar contemplates making perpetual vows that would be binding for the rest of his life. The timetable of three to six years gives a friar good time in which to consider his future before making that important decision.

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9. How are Capuchins different from other religious orders? or from the priest in my parish [likely, a 'diocesan' priest]?

Every religious order was created to address a specific need in the Catholic Church and society. Capuchins today continue the two "loves" of St. Francis of Assisi: caring for the poor, and preaching the Word of God. Other orders as well have gifts for special ministries [called "charisms"]. For example, the Jesuits are widely known for their charism of promoting excellent education and leadership formation.

Similarly, a diocesan priest has the charism of supplying the people of his diocese with sacramental and pastoral services in a parish. While Capuchins also minister in some parishes, it was not the dream of St. Francis that friars serve in parishes. If Capuchins serve in a parish, it very often is because the parish serves the poor or a minority community of people.

A significant difference between a diocesan priest and a Capuchin is also the vow of poverty. A diocesan priest earns a salary to which he is entitled and which he is free to use for whatever needs he has. If a Capuchin friar earns a salary in his ministry, it is submitted to the Order for the general needs of the community; it is not for the friar's own keeping.

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