Aging members and dwindling incoming vocations have forced the Capuchin Franciscan community of Brisbane to announce that they will shut their doors by the end of the year. The announcement, much like the one made late last year by both Franciscan and Benedictine communities in the Irish Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, comes after reports of a global diminishment of priestly vocations, which has led to some dioceses restructuring their seminaries.
According to the Catholic Leader, the announcement was made by Capuchin Father Gerard O’Dempsey, Australian provincial leader of the Friars. He noted that the the decision to end the Franciscans’ activities would affect the parishes of St Mary’s, South Brisbane and Dutton Park-West End:
“We are faced with an ever-aging group of active friars and very few new vocations entering the order,” Fr. O’Dempsey said. “Our recent ordination to the priesthood was the first in six years. Consequently, it has been necessary to take this difficult decision.”
Deacon Adam Walk of St. Mary’s Church lamented the coming loss of the Capuchin community, which he described as hospitable to all, “parishioner and stranger alike.” He called on his Catholic community to “give thanks to God for the friars,” and to continue to support them with prayers as they take their missions to other areas of Australia and the world.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge expressed that he was unsurprised by the announcement, as another Franciscan community has already announced that it will be withdrawing from Newton parish in Adelaide. The prelate noted that many religious communities have fallen into the same dire straits as the Capuchins and suggested that more religious orders may shrink in the future.
Archbishop Coleridge did, however, highlight many of the good works the Capuchins have performed in their service to Brisbane:
“They assumed responsibility for St. Mary’s South Brisbane at a troubled time, and they not only brought a new stability but also rebuilt the community by drawing on their charism as sons of St. Francis.” Archbishop Coleridge pointed out, “They also bought the old convent in Dutton Park which they used not only as a community residence but also as a house of formation.”
The archbishop said that it now falls on the diocese to find new forms of mission to remain present in Brisbane, noting that they intend to “think outside the square,” to find solutions. He noted that the diocese has already begun “a process of discernment” to discover “new strategies and structures to meet the needs of now.”