The Order of Friars Minor -- affectionately known as the "lesser brothers" of the Franciscan orders for their humility and simple brown robes -- have formed a new, unified Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe that spans the United States coast to coast.

The minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, Brother Massimo Fusarelli, established the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe Oct. 17 during a meeting in Kansas City, Missouri, called the "synodal Chapter of Unity," during which the province's first minister provincial, vicar provincial and seven councilors were installed.

The new province, with headquarters in Atlanta, unifies more than 700 friars who were previously part of six legacy provinces, which were established over the long history of the Order of Friars Minor in the United States. They include the provinces of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Wisconsin, Holy Name in New York City, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Sacred Heart in St. Louis, St. Barbara in California and St. John the Baptist in Cincinnati. The Franciscan friars hail from 26 states, the District of Columbia and 16 countries.

As Franciscans, they trace their history to St. Francis, a 13th-century saint in Assisi, Italy, who left a life of wealth and influence to live in poverty and penance while preaching and serving the poor, and St. Clare, who founded a community of women inspired by St. Francis' model for living the Gospel.

The U.S. friars believe combining provinces paves the way for a renewal of Franciscan life, spirituality and fraternity by living the Gospel through service to the poor and people living on society's margins.

Provincial Minister Brother Lawrence Hayes said he would like for people "to experience us as we are, as we attempt as best we can to embody the values that the Gospel, St. Francis and St. Clare call us to."

The new provincial administration includes Brother Hayes, Vicar Provincial Brother Mark Soehner and a provincial secretary to be named in the future. The provincial council includes Brothers John Eaton, Erick Lopez, Roger Lopez, Samuel Nasada, Rommel Perez Flores, José Rodriguez and Edward Tlucek. They will serve a three-year term.

The Franciscan friars chose Our Lady of Guadalupe as the province's name to "reflect the order's Marian devotion," Brother Tlucek said.

"St. Francis had a deep devotion to Mary," he said. "Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Lady of the Americas. That's really who we are, when you look at the fact that our friars are in the Americas. She's our intercessor for this mission we are on."

As one province, friars expect to renew Franciscan life in America and shape their fraternity's future within the context of the worldwide Order of Friars Minor by developing contemplative fraternities capable of sharing the Gospel in American society. They also plan to launch new initiatives, prioritize vocational growth and use resources more effectively.

"It's an exciting time," Brother Tlucek said. "We hope we would be a powerful blessing for the church in the United States. I really feel we have something to offer the church here. There is a certain freedom of spirit about us that I think can generate a more engaged Catholic community."

He noted that in context of the global Synod on Synodality underway at the Vatican, "we've been doing synodality for a long time: We simply call it 'discernment.' We've been doing it for centuries. That was a gift St. Francis offered us. I believe we can offer the church modeling for how to be our best selves as Catholics in this country."

The Franciscan friars will continue to serve the poor, the forgotten and the marginalized alongside people of goodwill in locations across the United States, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Jamaica.

"The great blessing to the friars themselves, to the order and to the church in the United States in creating this new province at this moment, is that the friars have -- under the guidance of the Holy Spirit -- taken charge of what is happening rather than simply drifting along," said Father Jack Clark Robinson, a Franciscan historian, in a statement about the new province. "They are reconsidering as brothers how to be better agents of renewal, evangelizers and stewards of God's generous gifts."