In 1209 while attending Mass, the words of Jesus in the Gospel (Mat. 10: 7–10) bidding his apostles to go forth on their mission struck Francis as a call.  He set out to preach; when a small group had gathered about him, they went to Rome to see Pope Innocent III, who gave them oral permission to live in the manner Francis had chosen. Thus began the Franciscan Order, an entirely new type of order in the church. They wandered about Umbria and throughout Italy preaching the Gospel, working to pay for their very simple needs. The expansion of the friars was very rapid. In 1212 St. Clare began to follow St. Francis and the Poor Clares (Second Order of St. Francis), a cloistered, contemplative order was established. Francis not only sent the brothers abroad but also went himself—to Dalmatia, to France, to Spain, and in 1219–20 to the Holy Land. On his way to Palestine he stopped at Damietta and preached to the Sultan.

A growing dissension in his order recalled him from Palestine, and after his return a great assembly was held at the small chapel of the Portiuncula near Assisi, with which Francis's calling was closely identified. There, the saint gave up active leadership of the order, for he felt it had become too unwieldy to guide. He continued his preaching and the composition of his Rule and sponsored the Franciscan Tertiaries consisting of devout men and women, some of whom lived in communities.

There are now three branches of Franciscan friars: the Friars Minor [O.F.M.] formerly called the Observants; the Friars Minor Capuchin [O.F.M. Cap.]; and the Friars Minor Conventual [O.F.M. Conv.].

The Capuchin Franciscan Order was founded in central Italy as a reform within the Observants, led by Mateo di Bascio. It is one of the largest orders. Born, like the Jesuits, at the beginning of the Counter Reformation, the Capuchins became a major force in church activity, especially in preaching and in missions.

The Capuchin charisms are:

Fraternity: We are brothers.

We choose to live and work among the poor and marginalized.

We commit ourselves to quiet contemplation every day.

We serve those in most need, rooting our work in Minority and Contemplation.

We seek the common good of all humanity and God’s Earth.

Through these, Capuchin Franciscans strive to live after the example of St. Francis, who points us to Christ.

In North America, the Capuchin Franciscans are organized into the following provinces:

province map