The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (Latin: Ordo Fratrum Minorum Capuccinorum; postnominal abbr. O.F.M.Cap.) is a religious order of now OFM), the other being the Conventuals (OFM Conv.). The Capuchins arose in 1525 with the purpose of returning to a more strict observance of the rule established by Francis of Assisi in 1209.
The Order arose in 1525 when Matteo da Bascio, an Observant Franciscan friar native to the Italian region of Marche, said he had been inspired by God with the idea that the manner of life led by the friars of his day was not the one which their founder, St. Francis of Assisi, had envisaged. He sought to return to the primitive way of life of solitude and penance, as practiced by the founder of their Order.
His religious superiors tried to suppress these innovations and Friar Matteo and his first companions were forced into hiding from Church authorities, who sought to arrest them for having abandoned their religious duties. They were given refuge by the Camaldolese monks, in gratitude for which they later adopted the hood (or cappuccio, capuche) worn by that Order, which was the mark of a hermit in that region of Italy, and the practice of wearing a beard. The popular name of their Order originates from this feature of their religious habit.
In 1528, Friar Matteo obtained the approval of Pope Clement VII and was given permission to live as a hermit and to go about everywhere preaching to the poor. These permissions were not only for himself, but for all such as might join him in the attempt to restore the most literal observance possible of the Rule of St. Francis. Matteo and the original band were soon joined by others. Matteo and his companions were formed into a separate province, called the Hermit Friars Minor, as a branch of the Conventual Franciscans, but with a Vicar Provincial of their own, subject to the jurisdiction of the Minister General of the Conventuals. The Observants, the other branch of the Franciscan Order at that time, continued to oppose the movement.
Like all other Orders, the Capuchins suffered severely from the secularizations and revolutions of the end of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th; but they survived the strain, and during the latter part of the 19th century rapidly recovered ground. At the beginning of the 20th century there were fifty provinces with some 500 friaries and 300 hospices or lesser houses; and the number of Capuchin friars, including lay brothers, was reckoned at 9,500. The Capuchins still keep up their missionary work and have some 200 missionary stations in all parts of the world, notably India, Ethiopia, and parts of the former Ottoman Empire. Though “the poorest of all Orders”, it has attracted into its ranks an extraordinary number of the highest nobility and even of royalty. The celebrated Theobald Mathew, the apostle of Temperance in Ireland, was a Capuchin friar.
In the Imperial Crypt, underneath the Church of the Capuchins in Vienna, over 140 members of the Habsburg dynasty are buried. The most recent burial in the crypt was in 2011 for Otto von Habsburg, the last crown prince of Austria-Hungary and eldest son of the last Austrian Emperor, the Blessed Charles of Austria.
As of June 2018, there were 10,480 Capuchins worldwide, of whom 7,070 were priests, living and working in 108 countries around the world: Africa: 1,357; South America: 1,657; North America: 664; Asia-Oceania: 2,339; Western Europe: 3,500; Central-Eastern Europe: 769. In Great Britain there are currently five Capuchin friaries, and eight in Ireland.
The worldwide head of the Order, called the Minister General, is currently Friar Roberto Genuin.
Capuchin Poor Clares
The Capuchin Poor Clares were founded in Naples, Italy, in 1538, by Ven. Maria Laurentia Longo. The order still exists and it now has groups in the United States. Members are referred to as Capuchinesses
The order of St Clare or the Poor Clares was founded by St Clare of Assisi in 1212. During the 15th century a French nun, Saint Colette, re-created the original concept of absolute poverty and dedication. This order was established in the 16th century in Italy based on the strict rules of the order’s founder.
Maria Laurentia Longo had built a hospital and house that cared for prostitutes. The first community of nuns was formed in 1538, organized by priests from the Theatine order. (The Theatines had been formed fourteen years earlier.) This new body was soon organized not by the Theatines but by the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin usually known as Capuchins. The Capuchin Poor Clares follow the original ideals of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi. The Capuchin Poor Clares are a cloistered community of contemplative religious sisters. Longo wanted to re-establish the original concepts of religious simplicity, selfless poverty and the austerity of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi set by Matteo da Bascio when he founded the order of the Capuchin friars. Longo’s new order took the same habit design as the men. Like the friars, the nuns wear a simple brown tunic knotted with a cord at the waist and a short cape. The only addition for nuns was a wimple and a black veil.
A notable member of the order was Saint Veronica Giuliani who joined the order in Città di Castello in Italy in 1677. She rose to be a mystic and abbess, and in 1839 she was canonized by Pope Gregory XVI.