Birth and Arrival of the Congregation in the United States



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celebrando 13Mother Frances SchervierOur story began with Frances Schervier: a woman illuminated by the Holy Spirit, who followed the paths of her lifetime abandoning herself and transforming life events.

Frances was born in Aquisgrana, in Germany, on January 3, 1819. She came from an industrial family, and was drawn to serving the poor and needy from an early age: the faith that drove her led to her discovery of and love for Jesus. Her friend, Gertrude, enlightened her for the first time on our founding charism. It was the Pentecost of 1845.

“The Lord wants you to leave your home and your family for the salvation of all and to heal his wounds, together with the people the Lord has appointed and who He will show to you.”

From that moment on, Frances’s story became fully bound to the life of the Congregation, following in the footsteps of St. Frances and Chiara d’Assisi.
A strong and courageous woman, industrious and clever, Frances welcomed changes in every stage of her life as opportunities for growth. She lived the charism of healing with the creativity of the Holy Spirit, focusing not so closely on the type of sores to cure, but on the people who needed to be cured in body and mind, nurturing dignity and respect. Frances’s love was concrete, courageous, solicitous. Nothing could stop her when she needed to help somebody, even in the most dangerous and desperate situations. She worked alongside prostitutes, assisted the poor in their hovels, people sick with cholera and syphilis, prisoners and those sentenced to death, accompanying them to the scaffold after comforting and preparing them for their execution.

celebrando 01Sarah PeterAs early as its first decade of life, the Congregation spread to a number of cities in Germany. Communities were opened in Aachen, Koblenz, Bonn, Cologne, Krefeld, Mainz, Eschweiler, Euskirchen, Ratingen, and Siegburg. The Sisters visited the poor and the sick, served in hospitals, opened homes for children in need of social assistance and education, and set up centers for disabled women, cafeterias for the poor and for students, homes for girls, women’s centers for home economics and sewing, and safe establishments for working women. The industrial revolution was in full swing in Europe: Germany in particular was facing serious economic and financial hardships, and the new proletariat social class, created by the industrial revolution, was forced to live in degrading conditions. Mother Frances and her companions helped the lives of the poor, recognizing the face of Jesus in every person they met.

celebrando 02The Cincinnati Archbishop, PurcellThirteen years later of the foundation of the Congregation, March, 1858, found Sarah Peter, commissioned by Cincinnati Archbishop Purcell, at the Mother House in Aix la Chapelle. She described her visit with Mother Frances: “The good Mere Francoise, the Superior, is a very remarkable person and we were soon of one mind in our views…” Sarah asked Mother Frances to send some of her Sisters to Cincinnati, OH to minister there to the poor German immigrants.

On August 19, 1858 the first group of Sisters left Aachen, Germany for the U.S. on the S.S. Fulton with these words of Mother Frances: “Go, dear Sisters, go with the blessing of God. So many are waiting there for our help. Take care of the poor and needy, nurse the sick, shelter the unfortunate –
but always for the sake of souls. Gain souls for Christ – that is our vocation, that is how we can heal His wounds. And always live faithful to our ideals, the ideals of Saint Francis. Live as the poor among the poor of Christ.” Sisters Augustine Keussen, Felicitas Doest, Geneviene Wolfs, Joachim Hermanns and Hildegard Ruel, along with Johanna Knops (who entered as a Postulant the day the boat landed) arrived in New York on September 7.

celebrando 03S. S. Fulton celebrando 06Fr. Bernard HengeholdAfter a 36 hour train trip from New York, they were met by Sarah Peter in Cincinnati on September 10. She arranged for accommodations with the Sisters at the Good Shepherd Convent on Bank Street, where they met Fr. Bernard Hengehold at St. Augustine Church. Fr. Hengehold proved to be a great friend and benefactor. He introduced them to the German community who arranged for the Catholic Orphan Society to provide rent free for six months the unoccupied St. Aloysius Orphan Home.

Thus was established the first St. Mary Hospital, with the first patient arriving there on September 21, just 11 days after their arrival in Cincinnati! Within a few days the Sisters had six patients, both men and women. Their source of income was from collection of alms at public market and other places to secure domestic needs; fuel was acquired from a nearby girls’ orphanage. They received household help celebrando 04The document of landing in New Yorkfrom some working class families, such as cleaning, household repairs, and alms-gathering. Mr. Reuben Springer provided 12 furnished beds for the hospital. Sarah Peter made a present of a large carved wood image of the Stigmatization of St. Francis which she had purchased in Rome from a Franciscan Monastery where it had served as a door and had been carved by a brother.

celebrando 05The St. Aloysius Orphan HomeIn 1859 the second group of Sisters arrived in Cincinnati: Sisters Michaela Bruders, Isidora Schneider and Placida von Alst. The Sisters and their benefactors collected money to carved wood image of St. Francis build the new, larger St. Mary Hospital (Maria Hilf), dedicated on December 25, 1859. It was the Congregation’s first incorporated hospital in the U.S., serving the sick and poor. In March and July 1860 the first two Postulants from the U.S. were received.

In 1861 Sarah Peter donated her property and residence at Third and Lytle Streets to the Sisters. It became the home for the Recluses, the Vicariate and Novitiate. Mother Frances, realizing the great debt of gratitude the community owed both Sarah Peter and Ruben Springer, had a document of affiliation with the Congregation drawn up and presented to each of them, offering a sharing in all the good works and prayers
of the Congregation.

We can consider Sarah Peter our first “Associate”.


celebrando 07Sr. Joachim Hermanns celebrando 08Sr. Isadora Schneider celebrando 09Sr. Clara Knops


celebrando 10The carved wood image of St. Francis celebrando 11The St. Mary Hospital celebrando 12Reuben Springer

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Published: July 1, 2014

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