In his first significant appointment to the Roman Curia, Pope Francis has taken the highly unusual step of naming the actual head of a religious order, Fr Jose Rodriguez Carballo, as Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated life and the Societies of Apostolic Life (formerly known as ‘The Congregation for Religious’).

When the Pope chose him, the 59-year old Spanish Franciscan was Minister General or head of the largest group of the Franciscan family – the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), which has some 15,000 friars in 113 countries. He was first elected to that post in 2003, and re-elected for another six-year term in 2009 as head of an Order that is contracting in Western Europe and North America, holding steady in Latin America, and gaining vocations in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.

The Vatican broke the news of Fr Carballo’s appointment on 6 April, and said Pope Francis has raised him to the rank of archbishop.

Born in Lodoselo, Spain in 1953, Fr Jose did his early studies in schools run by the Franciscans in that country and, in 1973, was sent to do biblical studies in Jerusalem. After being ordained priest in Jerusalem in 1977, he gained degrees in Biblical Theology in the Holy City and a further degree in Sacred Scripture from Rome’s Biblical Institute. In the following years he held increasingly high posts of responsibility in the Franciscan order in Spain and, in 2003, was elected Minister General of the worldwide Order.

He was one of the main concelebrants, together with the Fr General of the Jesuits, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, at the mass for the inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis on 19 March.

He succeeds the American Archbishop Joseph Tobin who had also been head of a religious order – the Redemptorists. Unlike Fr Jose, however, the American had already finished his term as head of his Order more than a year before Benedict XVI appointed him to the Vatican Congregation in August 2010.  Two years later, however, in October 2012, the Pope took the surprising decision to reassign him to the USA as archbishop of Indianapolis.

In his new role as the second highest official in the Vatican congregation that oversees the life and work of some 900,000 consecrated men and women in religious orders and communities worldwide,  Fr Jose will work closely with the Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, who has led this important office since 4 January 2011. 

We know that our brother will bring his great gifts and rich international experience as head of a major religious order to his new post of responsibility.

We pray that the Lord will bless him abundantly has he takes up this new role of service in Christ’s Church.