THE ENDURANCE OF THE MENDICANT ORDERS
In the late Middle Ages, however, the spiritual state and moral authority of the mendicant orders weakened. They became subject to worldliness as they fell away from absolute poverty, and medieval sources point to a general decline in their intellectual activity as well (although, of course, the disruption caused to them by extrinsic factors such as the Black Death (14th-15th centuries), the Avignon Papacy (1307 - 1377) and the Western Schism (1382 – 1417) exacerbated the internal problems of these mendicant orders).
Yes, the mendicant orders were weakened on the eve of the Protestant Reformation in the opening decades of the sixteenth century.
This event – in which the Augustinian friar, Martin Luther, was a major catalyst - caused the mendicant orders to lose many friars (and, in some nations, entire Provinces), yet these orders continued to exist – albeit with reduced numbers.
The mendicant orders never regained their earlier influence and ecclesiastical dominance, as new Post-Reformation religious orders arose, fresh with new initiatives. The mendicant orders continued to minister, but in a church where there were then a far greater number of religious orders. In this changed milieu the friars provided a considerably smaller percentage of the total number of priests available to the church.
Notwithstanding the numerical losses sustained by the mendicant orders during the Black Death (14th century), the Reformation (16th century), the increased number of new religious orders in the Counter-Reformation (16th-17th centuries), the philosophical Age of Enlightenment (eighteenth century), and the European nationalist and secularist movements (nineteenth century), the mendicants have nevertheless continued to make a considerable contribution to the life of the Catholic Church right to the present era.
The mendicant movement was a new life-giving force in the church to combat the possible religious confusion and false doctrines spread by itinerant preachers.
The cities of Europe were growing quickly in the thirteenth century, and the religious care of these new urban dwellers was being neglected, and thus offered a fertile field for the sowers of religious unrest of doctrinal individualism.
Had it not been for the mendicant movement (buttressed by a process of amalgamation and the supervisory role of the popes), the Church of the thirteenth century might have suffered a debacle as great as it did in the sixteenth century. The work of the mendicants in the pulpit, in the confessional, in the service of the sick and the socially weak, in the foreign missions, had no parallel in the Middle Ages.
The appearance of these mendicant orders was without question one of the most momentous events of the Middle Ages. The mendicant orders helped to revive the religious energies and religious organization of the Western Church. They embodied Christian philanthropy with a novel aspect. They were the sociological reformers of their age. They supplied the universities and scholastic theology with some of their most brilliant scholars.
History of the Mendicant Friars. A brief summary, plus links to more specific aspects of the topic. http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=aa90
The Franciscan, Friars Minor, Gray Friars, OFM. An overview of the branchses of the Franciscan Order.
What We Owe the Monks. An essay on the pre-mendicant monastic movement.