Capuchin Friars, an autonomous branch of the Franciscan order of priests and brothers of the Roman Catholic Church. In early-sixteenth-century Italy a group of Franciscans sought to reform the order and return to a more pure observance of the rule established by Saint Francis. The result was the formation of the Capuchin branch, which became a separate order in 1528. The name "Capuchin" derives from the long, pointed hood of the order's habit, a distinctive mode of dress adopted when the order was founded. The friars became known as some of the most effective preachers and missionaries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Beginning in 1578, the Capuchins established themselves in Spain, and from there joined other religious orders in sending missionaries to the New World. The first Capuchin community in the Americas was founded in Darién (on the Caribbean coast of Panama) in 1648, but was abandoned soon thereafter. In 1650, the Capuchins established a successful mission at Cumaná in Venezuela. Within a short period of time Capuchins staffed missions in Caracas, Trinidad, Guayana, Santa Marta, and Maracaibo. In the eighteenth century, in particular, they founded numerous settlements in northern South America. Based on a system of both common responsibility and private ownership, Indians at the missions were expected to work for the community a total of twelve hours per week. The Capuchins directed classes in catechism, reading, writing, and crafts.
As a result of the struggle for independence, the friars were imprisoned or forced out of New Granada beginning in 1812. The missions were restaffed in 1835, however, when friars fled the suppression of religious communities in Spain. In 1849, expelled from the missions once again, the Capuchins dispersed and founded communities in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Ecuador.
In Brazil, French Capuchins made advances into the Amazon region in the first decades of the seventeenth century, but they were almost immediately replaced by Portuguese. These friars, with varying degrees of success, established missions throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as they had in northern South America. In the process they began valuable ethnographic and linguistic studies of the native peoples. In the nineteenth century the influence of freemasonry led the government to undertake the dissolution of the monasteries, and the Capuchins suffered loss of property and personnel. Direct persecution, however, ended with the establishment of laws separating church and state at the end of the nineteenth century.
Today the Capuchin friars work in nearly every country of Latin America. They are active in ministries, in such areas as preaching, hospital work, and education.
Antonio De Egaña, Historia de la Iglesia en la América Española, vol. 2 (1966).
Adoáin, Esteban de., and Padre Lázaro de Aspurz, O.F.M. Cap. Memorias: Cuarenta años de campañas misioneras en Venezuela, Cuba, Guatemala, El Salvador, Francia y España, 1842–1880. Caracas: Universidad Católica Andrés Bello: Vicepostualación Esteban de Adoáin, 2000.
Langer, Erick, and Robert H. Jackson, eds. The New Latin American Mission History. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
Reynal, Vicente. Los capuchinos valencianos en Hispanoamérica. Vol. 1. Valencia: Gráficas Hurtado, 1994.
Brian C. Belanger