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A group of friars; novices of the Order of Augustinian Recollects at the Monastery of Monteagudo in 2006

A friar is a member of one of the mendicant orders in the Roman Catholic Church. There are also friars outside of the Roman Catholic Church, such as within the Anglican Communion. The term, first used in the 12th or 13th century, distinguishes the mendicants' itinerant apostolic character, exercised broadly under the jurisdiction of a superior general, from the older monastic orders' allegiance to a single monastery formalized by their vow of stability. A friar may be in holy orders or be a non-ordained brother. The most significant orders of friars are the Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians, and Carmelites.[1]


Friars are different from monks in that they are called to the great evangelical counsels (vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience) in service to society, rather than through cloistered asceticism and devotion. Whereas monks live in a self-sufficient community, friars work among laypeople and are supported by donations or other charitable support.[2] Monks or nuns make their vows and commit to a particular community in a particular place. Friars commit to a community spread across a wider geographical area known as a province and so they will typically move around, spending time in different houses of the community within their province.


The English term friar is derived from the Norman French word frere (brother), from the Latin frater (brother), which was widely used in the Latin New Testament to refer to members of the Christian community. Fray is sometimes used in Spain and former Spanish colonies such as the Philippines or the American Southwest as a title, such as in Fray Juan de Torquemada.


In the Roman Catholic church, there are two classes of orders known as friars, or mendicant orders: the four great orders and the so-called lesser orders.

Major orders[edit]

The four great orders were mentioned by the Second Council of Lyons (1274):

  • The Carmelites, founded c. 1155.[3] They are also known as the White Friars because of the white cloak which covers their brown habit. They received papal approval from Honorius III in 1226 and later by Innocent IV in 1247. The Carmelites were founded as a purely contemplative order, but became mendicants in 1245. There are two types of Carmelites, those of the Ancient Observance (OCarm) and those of the Discalced Carmelites (OCD), founded by St. Teresa of Ávila in the 16th century.
Conventual Franciscans in their variant grey habits
  • The Franciscans, founded in 1209. They are also known as the Friars Minor. The Franciscans were founded by St. Francis of Assisi and received oral papal approval by Innocent III in 1209 and formal papal confirmation by Honorius III in 1223. Today the Friars Minor is composed of three branches: the Order of Friars Minor (Brown Franciscans), Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (Brown Friars with long pointed hoods) and the Order of Friars Minor Conventual wearing grey or black habits (thus known as Grey Friars). In the Franciscan order, a friar may be an ordained priest or a religious brother.[4]
  • The Dominicans, founded c. 1216. They are also known as the Friar Preachers or the Black Friars from the black mantle (cappa) worn over their white habit. The Dominicans were founded by St. Dominic and received papal approval from Honorius III in 1216 as the Ordo Praedicatorum under the Rule of St. Augustine. They became a mendicant order in 1221. There are also Dominican Orders within the Anglican Communion, such as the Order of Christ the Saviour.[5]
  • The Augustinians, founded in 1244 (the "Little Union") and enlarged in 1256 (the Grand Union). They are also known as the Hermits of St. Augustine or the Austin Friars. Their rule is based on the writings of Augustine of Hippo. The Augustinians were assembled from various groups of hermits as a mendicant order by Pope Innocent IV in 1244 (Little Union). Additional groups were added by Alexander IV in 1256 (Grand Union).

Lesser orders[edit]

Some of the lesser orders are:

Order of Malta[edit]

In the Sovereign Military Order of Malta the term Fra' (an abbreviation for the Latin word "frater" meaning "brother") is used when addressing the professed Knights of Justice who have taken vows.

Other Christian traditions[edit]

Orders of friars (and sisters) exist in other Christian traditions, including the Order of Lutheran Franciscans, the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans and the Order of Lesser Sisters and Brothers.[6] In the Anglican Communion there are also a number of mendicant groups such as the Anglican Friars Preachers, the Society of Saint Francis and the Order of St Francis.[7]

Other usage of the term[edit]

Several high schools, as well as Providence College, use friars as their school mascot.

The Major League Baseball team San Diego Padres have the Swinging Friar ("padre" is also a Spanish word for the priestly title "father"; in 1769 San Diego was founded by Spanish Franciscan friars under Junípero Serra).

The University of Michigan's oldest a cappella group is a male octet known as The Friars.[8] The University of Pennsylvania has a senior honor society known as Friars. Sports teams at Father Dueñas Memorial School on the island of Guam are known as the Friars.


  1. ^ Stravinskas, Peter M.J., ed. (2002). Catholic Dictionary, Revised. Huntington, IN: Our Friday Visitor. ISBN 978-0879733902.
  2. ^ Catholic encyclopedia entry for "friar"
  3. ^ The Carmelite Order
  4. ^ "Is a Friar a Priest or a Brother?", Franciscan Friars, Province of Saint Barbara
  5. ^ "Communities". naecc. Retrieved 2024-02-08.
  6. ^ Order of Lesser Sisters and Brothers
  7. ^ "Order of St Francis". Archived from the original on 2020-09-22. Retrieved 2017-07-02.
  8. ^ "The University of Michigan Friars :: History". University of Michigan Friars. Archived from the original on 31 August 2010. Retrieved 1 October 2010.