By Richard Shaw A GROWING religious order has been rebuffed in its attempts to found a house in Britain.
The Franciscans of the Immaculate, an order founded in 1965 on the charisms of St Francis of Assisi and St Maximilian Kolbe, need permission from a local bishop to set up in the London area, but have met with no success.
Fr Joseph Francis Mary, a priest from New York, the United States, has been at the forefront of the order's efforts to find a home.
He said: "In Southwark it was not possible, in Brentwood it was not possible, in Westminster it was not likely — the door is not closed there, but it does not seem possible in the near future."
Bishop Thomas McMahon, of Brentwood, confirmed that the friars' application had been turned down after correspondence with Fr Joseph.
Marian O'Sullivan, his secretary, said the order had been rejected because the bishop had recently welcomed a group of new friars — the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal — into Canning Town, East London.
"He wants to keep a balance between secular and religious clergy," she said. "It is not a comment about the order."
Fr Joseph met Archbishop Michael Bowen of Southwark and his private secretary, Mgr Richard Moth.
Fr Joseph said that at the end of the meeting, Archbishop Bowen, turned down
his request because he felt he would be unable to oversee the establishment of a house before his retirement in four years' time.
The Archdiocese of Westminster was believed to be considering the possibility of a allowing the friars the use of one of two parishes in the east of the diocese.
Fr Joseph has met his bad luck with humility. He said: "We accept the decisions with great peace and respect. We are not upset. We are not discouraged. St Francis wanted friars always to respect the clergy and bishops in particular."
He emphasised that the order would keep trying to found a house in Britain. "We are waiting. England has such a rich Marian tradition We have to see where there could be an opening. We are not giving up. We want people to pray for us," he said.
The order was founded by conventual Franciscans Fr Stephano Maria Manelli and Fr Gabriele Maria Pellettieri and was made a Pontifical Institute by Pope John Paul II on January 1, 1998, the Feast of Holy Mary, Mother of God. Such designation means an order has full papal approval.
It has houses in the US, Brazil, the Philippines, Africa, Australia, Russia and France and more than 300 friars. The main charism of the order is Marian. Besides the evangelical counsels, friars take a fourth vow to give themselves to Mary as her complete property.
Fr Joseph said the central apostolate of the order was its work in the media.