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Our Franciscan province has a rich and colorful history. First of all, it has its roots way back to the time of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), We are members of the worldwide Order of Friars Minor (OFM), or "lesser brothers." Francis wanted his men to be known as "minors", or "lesser". And, so, that's where our province's history begins.
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province begins with Bro. Augustin Zeytz, OFM (1828-1916), a refugee from German-occupied Poland. He was a rather enterprising fellow who, during Bismark’s Kulturkampf of the mid-late 1800s, found himself an exile and refugee in the USA, in the hard-coal mining regions of northeastern Pennsylvania. He spoke Polish, German and Lithuanian, and attended to the various needs of the people he encountered.
Bro. Augustin found his way to Wisconsin in 1887 where Mr. Hoff, a Norwegian immigrant, offered him some land in Pulaski, WI (northwest of Green Bay) if he could find some priests to serve the pastoral needs of the Polish immigrants on the land he owned. Bro. Augustin got to work, and not too long afterward a few Polish friars emigrated to the United States of America, and Wisconsin in particular. Fr. Erasmus Sobicinski, OFM, Fr. Stanislaus Jeka, OFM and Bro. Sylvester Kuhn, OFM arrived, but did not find what Bro. Augustin had apparently promised! Instead of a settled friary, they found a run-down log cabin and swampland! Nevertheless, they put their energies into developing a friary and chapel – and serving the Polish people. Over the course of the next several years other friars from Poland joined them. There were ups and downs. And there was hope! Two young friars, Francis Manel, OFM and Anthony Wisnieski, OFM, both Polish immigrants and creatively energetic men, became the new leaders of the fledgling community. A high school was developed and a printery as founded. The friars, priests and Brothers, traveled by train to major and moderate cities alike, such as Milwaukee and Chicago, Gary and Detroit, Pittsburgh and Buffalo – wherever there were Polish communities – and preached the Word of God.
The General Council of the Order in Rome approved us as a province in 1939. The friars became pastors in rural Wisconsin, in Green Bay and in Sturtevant. They developed a college seminary in Burlington, Wisconsin, and a major seminary in Cedar Lake, Indiana. The friars expanded the preaching ministry and developed houses in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Toledo, Ohio, and Canton, Massachusetts. They established a secondary school in Watkins Glen, New York, right after World War II. In the 1950s, the numbers of men exploded and a new seminary was built in West Chicago, Illinois, for the growing population of Franciscan seminarians. In the early 1960s, the friars of the Assumption Province moved into Philadelphia for secondary education and in 1966 were entrusted by the archdiocese with Archbishop Ryan High School for Boys (it became co-educational in 1989).
The friars of the Assumption BVM Province went to Greenwood, MS, in the early 1950s, to establish a mission and school among the African-Americans. Also, around 1950, friars went to the Philippine Islands, working collaboratively with some other US Franciscans, to begin the establishment of Franciscan missions. A principal goal was to help the Filipinos develop their own Franciscan province. This was realized in 1980 when St. Peter Baptist Province was officially established.
The friars in Mississippi were, in one way or another, involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The friars in the North began agitating for more involvement among the poor in the inner city, beginning in Milwaukee and Chicago and into Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Rockford, Illinois. The beginning formation program for becoming a Franciscan was established in the heart of Milwaukee instead of a rural setting.
Many of the former institutions are history today. But buildings do not make the community – the Holy Spirit makes the community! In the late 1990s a small group of Franciscan friars of the Byzantine Rite (Eastern Catholic) merged with the Assumption BVM Province and the brotherhood became de facto “bi-ritual”, serving now both Roman and Byzantine Rite Catholics. The friars continue the vibrant work of pastoral and educational ministry in Greenwood, MS .
They have taken on new ministries. Friars of the Assumptioon Province have responded to the Holy SPirit through a variety of work. This includes staffing parishes, retreat centers, campus ministry, hospitals, sisters chaplaincies, administration -- and many other services, making sure the spirit of prayer is not compromised.