It all began shortly after World War I. The Rev Douglas Downes, an economics don at Oxford university, and a few friends expressed their sympathy and concern for victims of the depression practically by going out onto the roads and sharing the life of the homeless men and boys, looking for work from town to town. A Dorset landowner, Lord Sandwich, offered a small farm property, and here the group of friends was able to offer shelter to the exhausted wayfarers and others in temporary need of help.
Another small group (led by Father Algy) who had a clearer idea of forming a religious order joined Brother Douglas (as he liked to be called). Gradually the little community took shape, modelling itself more consciously in the Franciscan tradition of prayer and study, was well as working with the poor. It started to look like a religious order in formal sense, with habits, a chapel and regular worship. The Society of Saint Francis came into being. More men joined and were clothed as novices.
Before long, invitations came to establish centres in other places and at the start of World War II, there were houses in south London and Cambridge. After the war other centres were opened in Britain. Establishments overseas followed and the Society now has friaries in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Other communities were made in Germany, Italy, Africa and the West Indies. We currently have a brother in Korea assisting in the formation of an indigenous Korean Franciscan Brotherhood.
It was in 1958 that the then Bishop of New Guinea, Philip Strong, persuaded the brothers to run a parish and school in a poor district of Port Moresby. It was this that brought us to the South Pacific. When Bishop Strong became Archbishop of Brisbane he was again successful. The Brookfield Centre for Christian Spirituality is still remembered by many as “the Friary”, and though we are no longer there, we still have a Brisbane Friary at St Phillip’s rectory, Annerley.
We arrived in New Zealand in 1969, where we ran the Auckland City Mission in Greys Avenue. From there we went to the parish in Glen Innes; a mixed multi-cultural area. 1980 saw us move to Parnell adjacent to the cathedral where we became involved in inner-city ministry. In 1998 the friars moved to Long Bay, on Auckland’s North Shore, to establish and run the diocesan retreat centre, Vaughan Park.
Late in 2001 we moved to the Waikato Diocese where we are now at Te Ara Hou, a village of social service agencies on the outskirts of Hamilton city; working in close liaison with Anglican Action. Our friary is called the Friary of the Divine Compassion.
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