Order of Friars Minors Capuchin (OFM Cap) is one of the First Orders of Franciscan family; the other orders are being Order of Friars Minors (OFM) and Order of Friars Minors Conventuals (OFM Conv). All belong to the same Order of Friars Minor founded by Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). The Rule of 1223 (Regula Bullata) approved by the Holy See has been the guiding principle of the Friars Minors. As the opening phrase of the Rule states the life of a Friar Minor is to ‘Live the Gospel of Christ.’ Besides the First Order, the women followers of Saints Francis and Clare are called Second Order (Poor Clares) and the Lay and Married members of Franciscan movement belong to the Third Order (Secular Franciscan Order).
Saint Francis wanted his life to be modelled after the life of Christ imitating as close as possible in His poverty and humility. Followers of Saint Francis were also admonished to imitate the poor, humble and crucified Christ. The radical movement of Franciscan Order shaped the life of the Church and reformed it by returning to the roots of the Gospel way of Christian living. Saint Francis insisted on the ‘Minority and Fraternity’ as the hallmark identity of the Friars. Following those Gospel principles of radical poverty and universal brotherhood, the Order flourished from the twelfth century onwards.
Historically after the death of Saint Francis, the difference of opinions among the Friars in giving emphasis on certain aspects of Gospel way of living, gave rise to various factions. Eventually many groups were formed which later were recognized by the Church as different Orders of Observants and Conventuals, etc. History of the Capuchins goes back to 1528. A reform movement within the Observants initiated by Friars Matteo, Raphael and Ludovico, was recognised with a new constitution.
The friars of the Reform were called Capuchins due to the service they rendered to the poor, sick and homeless during the great plague that affected thousands of people in Italy in the fifteenth century. The ‘street servants’ were named ‘Capuchins’ as fondly called by children associating the ‘coffee-brown’ or ‘chest-nut brown’ colour habits of the friars and also by the simplified ‘capus,’ the hood attached to their habit at the back. Charism of the Capuchin Order is ‘Live the Gospel of Christ in Fraternity and Minority.’ The coupling of the active and contemplative aspects of Franciscan movement was the highlight of the Capuchin Reform. Living in dependence on ‘table of the Lord’ is an expression of being an authentic mendicant, seeking help and sustenance from others when needed. Saint Felice of Cantalice, a lay brother was the first Capuchin saint who has been a model of such charismatic Capuchin, begging from door to door and bringing food to the friars. Living in brotherhood is the another aspect of the charism where individualism and egoistic tendency are curtailed. Saint Francis exhorted his friars to take care of the other friar as a mother would do to her child.
The fast expansion of the Capuchin Order took place from the beginning of fifteenth century. In 1632, the French Capuchin Friars came as chaplains to French army personnel in Pondicherry and later they moved to Madras. Many churches and parishes in present day Pondicherry-Cuddalore and Madras-Mylapore dioceses bear witness to the missionary and pastoral work of French Capuchins. After few decades of service their mission ended abruptly. Later in late 19th Century, with Canadian, American, Italian Capuchin working in Central and North India, Capuchin presence was revived in India. With the founding of the Novitiate in Mussoriee and Sardhana, later shifted to Mangalore in 1922, the number of native Indian vocations to Capuchin Order gradually increased. By 1963, Indian Province of Immaculate Conception of Mary was formed. In 1972, around 400 friars were there and the Indian Province was divided into four jurisdictions, namely St.Francis Province of Kerala, St.Joseph’s Province of Kerala, Holy Trinity of Karnataka, Maharastra and Goa, and Amala Annai Province of Tamil Nadu. As of now in 2018, there are 12 provinces in India, 2 custodies and 4 mission delegations, with around 1670 friars. Many provinces have sent their friars to mission countries. There is a Conference of Capuchin Major Superiors of India (CCMSI) which takes of the animation of the provinces.
The General Curia is situated in Rome. The General Minister and his 9 councillors animate the entire order present in all five continents, with around 10,600 friars. There is a general councillor specially designated for India who conducts canonical visitations of the provinces and animates them. The General Curia has number of offices, like formation, economy, mission animation, communication, secular Franciscan order animation, postulation, procura, Justice-Peace, etc.