Since Pope Francis’ appointment as leader of the Catholic Church, interest in the Franciscan holy order has grown significantly.

Just ask Bob Beck, a director at the Franciscan Retreats & Spirituality Center, which has operated in Prior Lake for nearly 50 years. The center is a place where Catholics and other faithful can get away from everyday life to pray and meditate amid the somber quiet of nature and church.

“People are asking now what Franciscans are,” Beck said. “The phone’s ringing here a lot more. People asking what Franciscan retreats are and about Franciscans in general.”

Known for their emphasis on helping the impoverished, the Franciscans have gained attention since Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was named pope in March, taking the name of St. Francis.

Franciscans help run the retreat center in Prior Lake, where participants can walk the sylvan grounds and admire rolling green hills and gardens as they contemplate their spirituality. Beck says that the retreat center gets nearly 1,000 visitors each year but that it has seen an uptick in interest following the pope’s appointment.

“At the retreat center, people can take time out from busy life to recharge, relax, study life’s big questions,” Beck said. “You may be at crossroads in your life. Instead of thinking of this stuff when you’re walking across the Target parking lot with a bunch of bags under your arms, trying to make these huge decisions in your life, people come here to study that in a better environment.

“There’s just something different when you walk through that door. You know you have two days to yourself to just work on taking care of yourself. Mentally and physically, faith-wise and all that stuff.”

Beck estimates that in Minnesota there are “several hundred” Franciscans, which includes priests as well as nuns. The Franciscans are the second-largest religious order in the Catholic Church (behind the Jesuits), he said, with more than 20,000 estimated worldwide.