The Croatian Franciscan Commissariat of the Holy Family (1926-1969)
Even though a
sizable number of Croatian priests worked in America in the
first decades, an organized community of priests did not exist.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, a large number
of Franciscans from Croatia, as well as Franciscans from Slovenia
and Slovakia, decided to establish a community which would
have its headquarters in America and in that way make their
work more organized and fruitful. The Croatian, Slovenian
and Slovak Franciscan community was established in 1912 and
named Holy Cross Commissariat with headquarters in Lemont,
Illinois. The Slovenian Franciscans had the lead role in the
Commissariat which also was dependent upon the Slovenian Franciscan
province. However, this joint community of Slovenians, Croatians,
and Slovak had a short life span. In time, the Croatian Franciscans
crystallized their own identity, and a separate Croatian Franciscan
community was formed. The remnants of the beginnings with
the Slovenian and Slovak Franciscans in part remain in some
parishes today. For instance, Croatian Franciscans are still
in a parish in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where there is an
almost 100% Slovenian ancestry.
Franciscans became independent in 1926. Their community was
canonically confirmed on February 9, 1926 and was named the
Commissariat of the Holy Family. The Vatican Congregation
for religious made this decision. The Croatian Commissariat
was separated from the Slovenian one and was placed under
the minister general of the Franciscan Order which is why
it was called "general". The General of the Order,
Fr. Bernardin Klumper, implemented this decision of the Congregation
and issued a decree on February 18, 1927. The Croatian Franciscans
who worked to establish this Commissariat were: Fr. Bono Andačić,
Fr. Vjenceslav Vukonić and Fr. Irenej Petričak.
They pleaded with the Croatian provincials to support them
in this decision. Fr. Francis Hase, who was the general visitor
of the Slovenian-Croatian-Slovak Commissariat, also deserves
credit for establishing the Croatian Commissariat. All the
Croatian Franciscan provinces in the homeland were responsible
for the care of the Commissariat.
of the Croatian Commissariat was an important step in the
history of Croatian Catholics in America. The survival of
any one parish no longer was contingent upon one priest's
leaving or death; there was no longer an uncertainty if anyone
was available to take his place. This new Franciscan community
would in years to come help out other non-Franciscan parishes
where no Croatian priests were available. The first members
of the Commissariat were: Fr. Clement Veren (first Commissary),
Fr. Bono Andačić, Fr. Vjenceslav Vukonić, Fr.
Irenej Petričak, Fr. Ambroz Širca, Fr. Leon Medić,
Fr. Ambro Mišetić, and Fr. Franjo Čuturić.
They worked in five Croatian parishes: two in Chicago, one
in New York, Steelton and St. Louis. The sixth parish was
in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania even though the majority of parishioners
were Windish Slovenians. During that time Fr. Clement Veren
was their pastor, and he spoke their Slovenian dialect. Even
today the parish remains under the administration of the Croatian
In the beginning,
the Croatian Commissariat did not have permanent headquarters.
The headquarters were located wherever the commissary happened
to be, and in the first years of the Commissariat he was in
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In 1929 Father Blaž Jerković
was chosen as commissary and the headquarters moved to Chicago
because he was also the pastor of St. Jerome's. After the
purchase of the friary in Chicago in 1943, the Commissariat
finally had a permanent residence as is still the case day.
The Commissariat was directly subject to the Franciscan General
Minister in Rome. Franciscans from many Croatian Franciscan
provinces worked in it.
Provincials from the then Yugoslavia met in 1930 in Karlovac,
and it was decided at that meeting to entrust the Commissariat
to the Herzegovinian province. So in 1931 the Commissariat
fell under the jurisdiction of that province. Up to that point
there were already numerous Hercegovinian Franciscans working
in America. After 1931, the number of Herzegovinian Franciscans
increased in the next several decades. The decision to entrust
the Commissariat to the Hercegovinian Franciscan province,
was officially made by the Minister General, Fr. Bonaventure
Marrani on November 30, 1931. That is how the Commissariat
ceased to be known as "general" and became known
as "provincial", which means under the administration
of one Franciscan Province. In the meantime, during World
War II (1939-1945), it was impossible to have communication
between the Province and the Commissariat, so it once again
became known as "general", under the administration
of the Minister General. It remained in that state until 1969,
when a decision came from the General Council on September
23, 1969 and the Commissariat was once again entrusted to
the Hercegovinian province. At the same time, it was renamed
to "custody", since it became a provincial commissariat,
and the provincial commissariats in America were renamed "custodies"
already in 1950 through the General Constitutions of the Franciscan
in the meantime, was "provincial" for only a short
time. Because of well-known occurrences in which the Hercegovinian
province found herself for the last several decades (the so-called
"Hercegovinian Question"), the Custody in agreement
with the Province in 1976/1977 ceased to be legally dependent
on the Province and again became dependent on the Minister
General. This is the situation today. However, the Croatian
Franciscans who work in the Custody remained linked with numerous
and unbroken ties with the Province, because in most cases,
their roots originated from that Province.
Fr. Gaudencije Gorše was in America for only two years,1900
- 1902. After him followed others. Some Franciscans came to
America before the First World War. They were: Fr. Ambrozije
Širca, Fr. Luka Terzić, Fr. Leon Medić, Fr. Placid
Belavić, and Fr. Irenej Petričak. Upon their arrival,
they immediately began identifying as many Croatians as possible
and started to establish parishes. The first Herzegovinian
Franciscans came to America after World War I. They were:
Fr. Bono Andačić, Fr. Ambro Mišetić, and Fr.
Franjo Čuturić. All of them, no matter what Franciscan
province they came from, ended up being full fledged members
of the Croatian Franciscan Commissariat. Many of them were
there until ripe old ages and were able to tell the younger
priests about their beginnings and all the work involved with
the American Croatians.
Veren was the first commissary of the Croatian Commissariat
from 1926 to 1929. A member of the Zagreb Franciscan province
of SS. Cyril and Methodius, his ancestry was Windish Slovenian.
He came to America in 1923 and worked in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
among the Windish people, who came from Prekomurje, Slovenia.
After he was chosen as the commissary in 1926, he also continued
with his parish duties in Bethlehem. His successor was Fr.
Blaž Jerković (1929 - 1935), a Hercegovinian Franciscan,
who at the same time was pastor at St. Jerome's in Chicago.
Fr. David Zrno had the role of commissary for the longest
period of time, 15 years (1935 - 1949). During his administration
the first friary was purchased, St. Anthony's in Chicago in
1943. It became the formal headquarters of this community
up to the present day. Fr. Vendelin Vasilj, Fr. David's successor,
led the Commissariat for nine years; first from 1949 - 1952,
then from 1961 - 1967. The administration of the Commissariat
was assumed by the well-known Hercegovinian Franciscan and
renowned Croatian Historian, Fr. Dominic Mandić (1952
- 1955). After him Fr. Ferdinand Skoko was chosen as Commissary
(1955 - 1961), then Fr. Vendelin Vasilj, and following him
came Fr. Vjekoslav Bambir (1967 - 1973). During his administration
the Commissariat was renamed "Custody" and the Commissary,