Since they came to Ireland in the early seventeenth century, the Capuchins have been known as Friars who have stayed with and supported the people during some of the most difficult times in our history, writes Ray Cleere

In 1209, having heard the call of Christ to “Go and rebuild my Church”, St. Francis of Assisi dedicated himself and his first followers to a life of brotherhood and prayer. Francis led his first eleven followers to Rome and sought permission from Pope Innocent III to seek approval for their way of life. The Order which he founded, the Franciscans, is a mendicant religious order which includes the Capuchins. Francis referred to his followers as frati minori, which means lesser brothers.

In the early sixteenth century Matteo da Bascio, who was an Italian Franciscan friar, felt a call to return to a stricter observance of the Rule of St. Francis, and sought to return to the primitive way of life and penance as was practiced by the founder of the Order.

Matteo and his followers sought permission to live as hermits, preach as missionaries, and to wear very simple habit after the manner of St. Francis and the early friars. They adopted a harsh lifestyle and became known as “Cappucini”. The word “Capuchin” is a reference to the long distinctive hood (in Italian a “Capuca”) which the friars wore at the time.

The first Irishman to join the Capuchin Franciscans was Francis Lavalin Nugent. He was born in Walshestown, near Mullingar, in County Westmeath in 1569. He was educated on the Continent and graduated from universities in Paris and Louvain. In 1591, when he was 22, he joined the Order while in exile in Europe.

In 1615 Father Stephen Daly was the first Irish-born Capuchin Friar who ministered in Ireland. Born in 1575 in Tisaran, which is now in the parish of Ferbane in County Offaly, Father Daly joined the Capuchin Order at Douai on December 8, 1606, and he took the religious name Brother Stephen. Douai is a town which is located in modern-day France. In Father Daly’s time, it was part of the Spanish Netherlands, a territory of the Holy Roman Emperor which was ruled by the Hapsburgs.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5578)