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Franciscan Friars – Province of the Immaculate Conception

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Our History & Our Friars

Our Province of the Immaculate Conception finds its origins in a band of four friars who came to the United States from Italy, arriving in New York City in 1855. These friars established the seeds from which two province would grow, founding a seminary and a university and spreading their ministries to many cities and towns in the Northeastern part of the United States.

It all started on June 20, 1855 when Friar Panfilo da Magliano dei Marsi, the friar-priest who founded the Province of the Immaculate Conception, came to the United States of America and established his first mission in the area of Buffalo, New York. His ministry would produce a university, two Franciscan Provinces, and two groups of Franciscan religious women.

Friar Panfilo had come at the request of the Bishop of Buffalo, John Timon, and a local business man, Nicholas Devereaux, who desired to bring the Franciscans to their diocese and establish a college and seminary there. They hoped to bring three priests and one lay brother. For his part, Mr. Devereux would give 200 acres of land and $5,000 to build a monastery. The bishop would provide the friars with a house near a church where the community would be established. The first to arrive at this new missionary endeavor were the aforementioned Father Panfilo, along with Father Sixtus da Gagliano, Father Samuel da Prezza, and Brother Salvator da Manarola. The college and seminary they founded, St. Bonaventure University, continues to prosper today. On March 1, 1861, this band of brothers would be formed into an official entity of the Franciscan Order as the Custody of the Immaculate Conception was established. For the next 40 years, St. Bonaventure University would also serve as the Motherhouse of this Custody.

Up until 1880, the members of this Custody were mostly Italian friars. But around this time, there began a great influx of local vocations and by 1890, the friars of the Custody were mostly native born and of Irish, not Italian, stock. This mix would eventually lead to a separation within the Custody with native English-speaking friars continuing to minister at St. Bonaventure and in various English-speaking parish settings; and the Italian members of the Custody finding increasing amounts of ministry among the burgeoning communities of Italian immigrants in New York City, Boston and Pittsburgh.

On September 16, 1901, this separation became permanent as a new entity was born, the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. Forty-six members of the original Custody were transferred to this new entity headquartered at St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street in New York City, a parish originally founded by the Custody of the Immaculate Conception. Twenty-six friars remained in the Custody.

This provided a new beginning for the Custody. After the split, the Custody retained only six places of ministry: St. Anthony of Padua Church, Most Precious Blood Church, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, all in New York; St. Leonard Church in Boston; and St. Peter Church and Our Lady Help of Christians Church, both in Pittsburgh. St. Anthony of Padua became the new Motherhouse of the Custody.

On December 25, 1910, after less than 10 years of continued growth in ministry and vocations, then General Minister of the Order, Friar Dionysius Schuler, elevated this group of friars to full status and the Province of the Immaculate Conception was created. In these few years, the Province more than doubled in size to 57 friars. Father Ubaldus Pandolfi was chosen as the first Provincial Minister of the new Province of the Immaculate Conception.

With the separation also came the need to establish a new place for the formation of men wishing to join this Franciscan group. The solution came in 1908 when a perfect location was found along the Hudson River in Catskill, NY. The former Prospect Park Hotel was for sale and the friars quickly closed the deal. On the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis, the new 25 acre Mount Saint Anthony on the Hudson was officially opened with 15 students. Over the years it has served as a novitiate, house of philosophy, and theologate. Today it serves our retired friars. In the intervening years other houses of formation would be established in Andover, MA, Troy, NY, and Wappinger Falls, NY. Today our central house of formation is the Convento San Francesco located on Via Nicolo V in the heart of Rome, a literal stone’s throw from Vatican City.

In 1934, the work of the Province expanded to the area of Toronto, Canada. As the influx of Italian immigrants moved to that northern city, the friars of the Immaculate Conception Province were called upon to provide priests to serve the community there. The first parish the Province took on was that of St. Agnes, in Toronto’s downtown. Father Patrick Crowley was the first friar of our Province to enter Canada officially as associate pastor of St. Agnes. The ministry in Toronto would grow to the point that the Province would eventually establish the Saint Francis Foundation there in 1980. Today, we minister in six parishes in the Toronto area as well as a retreat center.

Just a decade later, the friars would embark on a new mission, this time south to Central America. Heeding the call of Central American bishops, the Province sent four friars to Olancho in Honduras in 1944. On October 4 of that year, Father Thomas De Luca and three companions departed from St. Anthony Church in New York to head for this new mission field. By 1950, these missionary efforts would extend to Guatemala and El Salvador. The friars were central in eventually establishing a native Province there, the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Today, our Province continues to minister in seven sites including parishes, an orphanage, schools and a variety of outreach programs to the poor. In testament to their great missionary service, friars of the Immaculate Conception Province have repeatedly been elevated to the episcopacy there.

At its height, the Province had over 350 friars. Today, under the leadership of Provincial Minister Robert Campagna, we number over 100 friars and continue to minister throughout New York, New England, Toronto, Canada and parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Florida; along with our missions in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala administering parishes, schools, retreat centers, reaching out to the poor, and anywhere that God leads us.

It all started on June 20, 1855 when Friar Panfilo da Magliano dei Marsi, the friar-priest who founded the Province of the Immaculate Conception, came to the United States of America and established his first mission in the area of Buffalo, New York.