SHAMOKIN - The Franciscan friars, who have served the Shamokin area for more than 100 years, will maintain their ministerial presence in the parishes of Mother Cabrini, Our Lady of Hope and St. Patrick.

That important decision was made during last week's meeting of the Provincial Chapter in Buffalo, N.Y., that also included the official merger of St. Anthony of Padua and Immaculate Conception provinces into Our Lady of the Angels Province.

An announcement regarding the Franciscans' decision to remain in the area was made at weekend Masses at Mother Cabrini, Shamokin; Our Lady of Hope, Coal Township, and St. Patrick, Trevorton.

"I am happy with the decision for us to remain in the Shamokin area," said Father Martin Kobos, pastor of Mother Cabrini Church. "And the friars are very grateful for the great support we have received from our parishioners during this period of discernment."

The priest said 171 delegates, including Minister General of the Friars Marco Tosca, of Rome, Italy, participated in the vote involving the future placement of Franciscans and other important elements of community life during the weeklong meeting.

Kobos, Father Adam Ziolkowski, parochial vicar at Mother Cabrini, and Father Steven Frenier, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church and St. Patrick, were among the voting delegates from the eastern section of the United States, Costa Rica and Brazil, where many friars serve on mission assignments.

In addition to deciding on the future locations of the Franciscans and merging of the two provinces, Father James McCurry was selected May 5 as the new Provincial Minister of Our Lady of the Angels Province. McCurry had served as Provincial Minister of St. Anthony of Padua Province.

There are between 5,000 and 6,000 friars in the Conventual Branch of the Franciscan Order serving worldwide.

The Franciscan Order was founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century.

In early March, Jennifer Seidel, a parishioner and employee of Mother Cabrini Church, spearheaded a letter writing campaign encouraging McCurry to keep the Franciscans in the Shamokin area after it was announced that it was possible the friars would no longer serve local parishes due to the merging of the provinces.

Although he couldn't say for sure if the letters helped convince the voting delegation to maintain the friars' presence in the area, Kobos said the efforts by Seidel and others were much appreciated.