Encyclopedia Article


A Franciscan is a Christian who belongs to the Franciscan order, which is a Catholic sect that follows the teachings and guidance of St. Francis of Assisi. Preaching a life of repentance, poverty, and service to the poor by attempting to explicitly follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, Saint Francis's teachings began spreading in Rome and its surrounding regions in the 12th century, and grew increasingly popular across Europe after his death in the 13th century. The Franciscan order has a distinct view of nature as a manifestation and mirror of the divine. Even the plants and animals are brothers and sisters to be cherished, because all life retains the ability and duty to praise the Christian God. Because of this relatively open and welcoming practice, the Franciscans were integral in establishing and maintaining colonial outposts at the fringes of Western empires, specifically the Spanish empire in the Americas. Thus, as early as the fifteenth century, the Franciscans, along with the Spanish military, established outposts that brought together military and religious rule in order to control and convert indigenous peoples throughout the Americas.

The influence of Franciscan missionaries is still felt in many Christian establishments in the U.S. Southwest, and has a particularly strong presence in churches located on Native American reservations.

Photo Credit: 

"Reverend Angelico Chavez, Franciscan priest from the mission church at Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, 1954," photograph by Charles Herbert. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (007123). New Mexico History Museum.

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