The Capuchins trace their origins back to St. Francis of Assisi (d.1226) and St. Clare of Assisi (d. 1253). They began as a reform of the Franciscan Order in 1528, trying to live Franciscan ideals that they felt had gotten lost in the years after his death. The early Capuchins strove to live more simply, serve the poor, practice a contemplative prayer life, and preach the Word of God as St. Francis had done. The Capuchin Order began in Italy, but has spread to nearly every region of the world, today numbering approximately 10,500 members, making it one of the largest religious orders in existence in the Catholic Church.
In 1856, two diocesan priests from Switzerland – Francis Haas and Bonaventure Frey – admired the Capuchins so much in their homeland that they desired to establish the Capuchin Order elsewhere. Looking for a home that resembled their native Switzerland, Francis and Bonaventure settled in Mt. Calvary, Wisconsin, which became the founding site of the Capuchin Order in the United States.
The first few years were rocky, but eventually the small community grew with new members. There in Mt. Calvary, Francis and Bonaventure built not only a friary, but eventually a seminary for the religious training of new members. St. Lawrence Seminary was opened in 1860 as “The Convent Latin School” and continues in existence today as the largest residential high school seminary in the United States. For more information on St. Lawrence Seminary, click on www.stlawrence.edu.
The Capuchin Order grew rapidly in the United States to the point where it became necessary to divide the friars into different regions or “provinces”.
Today, there are six Capuchin provinces in the United States. The Province of St. Joseph covers the upper Midwest and numerically is the largest province in America with approximately 170 friars who serve in communities from Detroit to Montana, with overseas ministries in Nicaragua, Panama, and Middle East.