Nugent, Francis Lavalin (1569–1635), founder of the Irish Capuchin mission, was the son of Sir Edward Nugent of Walshetown, Mullingar, and his wife, Margaret O'Connor, of the O'Connor Fahy family. Initially educated locally, he enrolled at Pont-à-Mousson, France, in 1582. He attended the University of Louvain around 1588, where he studied theology and philosophy, and by 1590 had been conferred MA. He was subsequently appointed a lecturer in philosophy at Louvain. He entered the Capuchin order on 4 October 1591 at Brussels, adopting Francis as his religious name. Professed in October 1592, he was sent to the friary at Lille in 1593. While still a deacon he established his reputation as a preacher, and in 1594 returned to France to direct the progress of the fledgling Capuchin provinces. He was ordained priest at Mons in June 1595 and appointed superior of the new friary at Béthune that August. In the prevailing climate of anti-mysticism, Nugent's superiors banished him to Italy in 1596, as they disapproved of his study of the medieval mystic Tauler, author of Poverty of the spirit. Nugent was granted permission to return to the Low Countries in 1598. That September he travelled to Rome, where he was called before the inquisition twice, but was finally exonerated on 16 August 1600.
From Rome he went to Bordeaux and was appointed guardian of the friary at Alençon in 1601. He was guardian and lector of theology at Chartres in 1603, and subsequently at Angers. He became professor of theology at the Capuchin house of study in Paris in 1604, and was chosen as one of the four definitors who advised the Paris provincial. Returning to the Low Countries in 1605, he assisted Father Christopher Cusack (qv) in establishing an Irish college at Lille. He occupied a number of important posts in the Belgian province, including vicar of Lille and first definitor of the province (1606), first assistant provincial (1607), second definitor general and guardian at Lille (1608), third definitor and guardian at Arras (1609), and fourth definitor and guardian at Douai (1610). He laboured to create an Irish Capuchin mission and in May 1608 secured a papal decree establishing a mission to England, Scotland, and Ireland. Nugent was charged with establishing the order in the Rhineland and on 2 December 1610 was declared commissary general of the new mission at Cologne. By autumn 1611 Cologne had become the base of an Irish study centre.
Despite considerable missionary advances, including the establishment in 1612 of the Confraternity of Our Lord's Passion, a lay and clerical organisation for the conversion of non-catholics, the high proportion of Irish friars in Cologne caused resentment among other nationals. Nugent's methods were criticised at the general chapter in May 1613, resulting in his deposition as commissary general. He left the Rhineland in 1615 for Charleville, France, and focused his attention on the Irish project. Stephen O'Daly became the first Capuchin missionary to Ireland in March 1615, and on 1 July 1618 Charleville was officially decreed the centre of the Irish mission. Tensions emerged with the neighbouring Walloon Capuchins over a directive ordering them to receive two Irish novices per annum. The situation was resolved in 1623 when Charleville was temporarily declared a novitiate. Nugent travelled to Ireland in 1624, having been appointed visitator of the Capuchins there the previous September. Despite opposition from local Observant Franciscans and from his cousin, Archbishop Thomas Fleming (qv), he founded a Capuchin house in Dublin. He returned to Charleville in May 1625 and then travelled to Rome for the Capuchin chapter. Here Charleville and the Dublin friary were established as a single unit, independent of Walloon and other provinces, and the novitiate was made permanent.
After the death of Peter Lombard (qv), Nugent was offered the see of Armagh on a number of occasions in 1625 and 1626 but declined it. Controversy ensued with the leaking of a private letter from Nugent to the inquisition, asserting that the next primate should not be aligned to the earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell or the house of Austria, which made him unpopular with the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide. His brethren at Charleville elected him guardian on 18 March 1626. He set sail for England in June 1629, where he supported the campaign by Richard Smith, bishop of Chalcedon, to secure jurisdiction over the regular clergy. He then travelled to Ireland but his visit was marred by controversy. He had incurred the disfavour of Richard Nugent, earl of Westmeath (qv), whose daughter had eloped with an Irishman of dubious character while under Francis Nugent's care on the continent. Further controversy was caused by allegations that he had misappropriated funds designed for the education of Irish youths, and by his defence of a student in the Irish college at Louvain who had passed to Charleville without his superiors’ permission. The provincial of the Walloon Capuchins complained in 1631 to his Roman superiors that Nugent was not adhering to the spirit of the Franciscan rule. Relations were further strained in August of that year when Nugent and the Irish Capuchins protested at the appointment of a Walloon as commissary general of the Irish mission. In the deadlock that followed Nugent chose to retire from control of the mission in December 1631. He remained at Charleville, bedridden with arthritis, until his death in 1635.