The Recollect branch of the Friars Minor developed out of a reform movement of the Order which began in 16th-century Spain under figures such as Peter of Alcantara, where the followers of the reform were known as Alcantarines. It was observed by communities of friars in France in Tulle in 1585, at Nevers in 1592, at Limoges in 1596 and in Paris in 1603. The distinctive character of Recollection houses was that they were friaries to which brothers desirous of devoting themselves to prayer and penance could withdraw to consecrate their lives to spiritual reflection. At the same time, they were also active in many pastoral ministries, becoming especially known as military chaplains to the French Army.
The Recollects were important as early missionaries to the French colonies in Canada, although they were later displaced there by the Jesuits. The first Recollect missionaries sailed with Samuel de Champlain, embarking from Rouen and arriving at Quebec City on 2 June 1615. The Recollect friars are said to have brewed the first beer in New France in 1620.
They were expelled from New France by British forces in 1629 but returned in 1670. After the permanent British conquest of the colony in 1759, the friars were prohibited from accepting new members. Their numbers gradually decreased until, by 1791, only five friars remained. Five years later, the Bishop of Quebec, Jean-François Hubert, annulled the vows of any friar professed after 1784. The last Canadian Recollect, Father Louis Demers, died in Montreal in 1813.
In Newfoundland, Recollect friars established a friary in 1689 at the island's capital, Plaisance (now Placentia), which was staffed until 1701 by friars from Saint-Denis, near Paris. In 1701, they were replaced by friars from Brittany, an arrangement which lasted until the expulsion of the French from Newfoundland in 1714 after the Treaty of Utrecht. In English-speaking Newfoundland, Recollect priests from Ireland played a significant role in the introduction and early leadership of Roman Catholicism on the island, following the public announcement of religious liberty to Roman Catholics by Governor John Campbell in 1784.
The Recollects established a friary in Antigua, Guatemala, that was destroyed by the Santa Marta earthquakes of 1773 and today is preserved as a national monument, La Recolección Architectural Complex.
Germany and the Lowlands
Through the presence of Spanish rule in the Low Countries, the reform took hold there, and then spread to the German friars. By the end of the 17th century, all of the provinces of the German-Belgian Nation of the Order of Friars Minor were Recollect. This branch of the Recollects did not die out with the French Revolution but survived and was reinvigorated in the 19th century.
By that period, it was one of the four major branches of the Order of Friars Minor, all of which lived under obedience to the Minister General of the Order, but under their own Procurators General. All of them were merged in the Great Union of 1897 mandated by Pope Leo XIII. At that time, there were seven provinces of Recollects.
Notable Recollect friars
- Francis Davenport
- Jean Dolbeau
- Louis Hennepin
- Denis Jamet
- Joseph Le Caron
- Christopher Maspara
- Gabriel Sagard
- Nicholas Viel
- Jouve, Odoric-Marie (1996). Dictionnaire biographique des Récollets missionaires en Nouvelle-France, 1615-1645, 1670-1849, province franciscaine Saint-Joseph du Canada (in French). Saint Laurent, Quebec: Bellarmin. p. 903. ISBN 2-89007-815-9.
- Taylor-Hood, Victoria (1999). "Religious Life in French Newfoundland to 1714" (Thesis) (in English). St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador: Department of Religious Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland. pp. xii, 339.
- Order of Friars Minor "General History of the Order Second Period (1517-1909): The Recollects"
- The Americas 4. Academy of American Franciscan History. 1948. p. 7.
- Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
- History of the Franciscan Movement