History of the Province

St. John the Baptist Province

The story of St. John the Baptist Province began with a handful of courageous missionaries who left their homeland to spread the Gospel. It continues today with far-flung ministries built upon a foundation of faith and perseverance. In 1844, Archbishop John B. Purcell of Cincinnati sent an urgent request to the Franciscans of St. Leopold Province in Austria. Clerics were desperately needed to serve

Catholic German immigrants settling in large numbers in Over-the-Rhine, the northern reaches of the city. In response, St. Leopold sent parish priest William Unterthiner. Facing physical hardships and anti-Catholic sentiment, Unterthiner arrived in Cincinnati in July of 1844. He zealously promoted the American mission, enlisting his fellow friars to move into German-speaking enclaves in southern Ohio, northern Kentucky, and as far as Chatham, Ontario. Called home in 1854, the majority of missionaries decided to stay in Cincinnati, acquiring property at the corner of Liberty and Vine streets on which St. Francis Seraph Church and Friary, the province’s motherhouse, were constructed. The Custody of St. John the Baptist was established in 1859. As the number of friars increased, the Custody became a Province.

By this time, Franciscan parishes had taken root in Indiana, Michigan, Kansas and Illinois. In 1893, the province launched a new kind of ministry, one with far-reaching impact—St. Anthony Messenger magazine, which continues today as one of the leading Catholic family magazines in the country.

In 1898 the friars established a mission on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona at the request of Mother Katharine Drexel, now St. Katharine. With her support, the ministry flourished, eventually leading to the formation of a separate Franciscan province, Our Lady of Guadalupe. During the 20th Century, friars responded to calls from throughout the U.S. and foreign lands, venturing into China, the Philippines, Japan and Africa.

Vice Province of the Most Holy Savior

At the same time, another group of friars were heeding their own call to service. Franciscans from the Province of the Most Holy Savior in Bratislava, Slovakia, missionaries Ambrose Tomsa and Amand Kopac, went to Pittsburgh in 1926 to serve the growing population of Slovak-speaking immigrants.

They were followed by other dedicated friars who worked tirelessly as preachers, parish ministers, teachers, chaplains and retreat directors. Their ministry, which extended throughout the eastern and north central U.S., led to the establishment of the Vice Province of the Most Holy Savior. To serve the needs of the Byzantine Eparchy, six of the friars received bi-ritual faculties, and one of them, Fr. Francis Duchala, was instrumental in founding the Byzantine Custody of Our Lady of the Angels.

As Holy Savior’s numbers decreased, they voted to merge with the Province of St. John the Baptist in 2000, broadening the scope of their ministries. Many still serve today in Pittsburgh, Uniontown and Easton, Pa.

New Settings, Same Mission

Today, a love for the poor has taken our friars to Jamaica, the hollers of Appalachia and inner city neighborhoods throughout the Midwest. Inspired by St. Francis, they minister with hope and joy in the service of God’s people.