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Remembering Mother Frances

1876-1900s

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Mother Frances Schervier dies on December 14, 1876, in Aachen, Germany. The Congregation immediately records the details of her last illness, death, and funeral. Sisters are encouraged to record and share their memories of Mother Frances. Her teachings and letters are also preserved. Ignatius Jeiler, OFM, uses these collected writings and memories to write the biography of Mother Frances.

The official process begins

1910s

c 12 02Mother Sienna EtscheidCardinal Anton Hubert Fischer initiates the Beatification process in the Diocese of Cologne in 1912. Fischer dies soon after. The next year, 1913, Cardinal Felix von Hartmann, the new archbishop of Cologne, opens the Ordinary Process for Beatification in the Archdiocese of Cologne, held in the city of Aachen. He appoints a tribunal to collect information about the life and virtues of Mother Frances. Mother Sienna Etscheid requests Sisters who personally knew Mother Frances write down their reflections and memories. They would eventually be put under oath and “testify to the holiness of life of our Mother or to her ability to see into the future or into individual hearts.” The Sisters in Germany officially testify over the course of the next year.

During this time and throughout the Beatification process, Sisters in the United States and Europe collect accounts of people who claim to receive special help from Mother Frances, including spiritual and physical aid; conversions; return to the Catholic faith; a happy death; relief from temptations; cure or relief from disease or affliction; prevention of operation; and unexpected recovery from illness. All accounts are recorded and forwarded to the Mother House in Aachen.

1920s

c 12 03Mother Clara Fay

World War I causes a long delay in collecting the testimony of Sisters in United States. Finally, in 1919, Rogatorial Letters are issued to bishops in the US. These letters authorize dioceses outside of Cologne to conduct witness interviews and take testimony. Over the next few years, sessions are convened in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio, and New York.

The Ordinary Process successfully concludes at Aachen in 1923. In 1924, the Acts of the Informative Process in the Cause of Beatification of Mother Frances are submitted to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. The Congregational Annals record a happy coincidence related to Clara Fay, the good friend of Mother Frances. The acts for the cause of the Beatification of Mother Clara Fay are separately submitted to the Vatican at almost the same time. Mother Zacharia Grimberg, in a letter to the Congregation, notes the continued connection of these two friends. In the same letter, Mother Zacharia also asks the Sisters to promote devotion to Mother Frances for their own needs and also for the intercession of those to whom they minister.

The decree approving the writings of Frances Schervier is issued on February 28, 1928.

Waiting to Begin the Apostolic Process

1930s

c 12 04Mother Zacharia GrimbergDespite the closing of the Ordinary Process in 1923, the Apostolic Process does not immediately begin. Congregation and Church officials, eager to move the process forward, appeal to the Vatican. In the late 1920s Mother Zacharia and Sr. Mary Alacoque Kemper (United States Vicar) write to the Vatican, asking for opening of the Apostolic Process. They are soon joined by nine US Bishops, again asking that the Apostolic Process begin. In 1933 Monsignor Salvatore Natucci, General Promoter of the Faith, informs Postulator Anthony M. Santarelli that he will personally schedule the petition to open the Apostolic Process at the next Congregatio Ordinaria, scheduled for May 8, 1934.

In preparation of May 8, the cardinals in the Sacred College of Rites are given printed and bound copies of all testimony to read and study. Sisters hold devotions, including novenas, exposition of Blessed Sacrament, and Mass, requesting a positive outcome.

On May 8, 1934, the Sacred College recommends that the Pope sign the commission for the introduction of the cause. He does so, thus opening the Apostolic Process. A decree is issued for Introduction of the Cause of Frances Schervier, Tertiary of the Third Order of Saint Francis.

c 12 05St. Peter's Basilica: Rite of Beatification's Mass 
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With the opening of the Apostolic Process, the cause is moved from the jurisdiction of the local bishop to the Congregation of Rites. A joyful telegram from the Mother House announces “The Reverend Postulator telegraphed that the Process has been approved. Deo gratias!”

Next, the decree of Non-Cultus must be issued. This decree states that there has been no public veneration of Mother Frances and she has not been treated as a Blessed or Saint. In 1935 the Postulator asks the Promoter to speedily issue the decree of Non-Cultus. Sisters and others who knew Mother Frances during her lifetime are older and dying and he fears their testimony will be lost.  

The decree is soon granted. Another rescript is granted stating that the examinations in Aachen were enough to establish the sanctity and reputation of Mother Frances and no new investigation is needed by the Vatican. The identification and inspection of the remains and place of burial of Mother Frances also take place this year.

Mother Frances is not yet called “Venerable,” the title given to a deceased person recognized formally by the Pope as having lived a life of heroic virtue. The Bishop of Aachen is given authority to collect testimony regarding the particular virtues of Mother Frances. At the same time, reports of possible miracles continue to be collected and forwarded to the Postulator in Rome. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II delays any determination of her heroic virtue for many years.

Virtues and Miracles

1960s-1970s

On February 22, 1960, the Positio on the Virtues of Mother Frances is finally presented to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. The Positio, prepared by the Postulator, is a comprehensive summary of all documentation. It summarizes the investigation of Mother Frances’s life and heroic virtues.

Pope John XXIII dies in 1963, delaying a decision on the Virtues and conference of the title “Venerable.”

In 1968 Postulator Antonio Cairoli (OFM) prepares a letter to Pope Paul VI with the primary reason for the Beatification of Mother Frances-her actions and virtues just as relevant for today (1960s) as during her life.

“She is heroic in her virtues, and modern in her charity” writes Cairoli. Finally, on January 30, 1969, Pope Paul VI proclaims the “heroicity of the virtues” of Mother Frances and declares her “Venerable.”

Proof of a virtuous life is not enough to bestow the title of “Blessed.” Two proven miracles are required [note, today only one miracle is required]. In 1962 the two 2 necessary miracles are presented to the Sacred Congregation.

They are the cure of William Anness of Covington, Kentucky, and Ludwig Braun of Germany. In 1970 the alleged cure of Mr. Anness is not accepted as authentic. A representative from the Sacred College of Rites is sent to the Diocese of Covington to reexamine witnesses again before the officially rejecting the alleged miracle. Sr. Marie Veronica Amato acts as his Italian interpreter, as the priest does not speak English. One doctor still refuses to agree to the miraculous nature of the cure, so in 1972 the healing is rejected.
On October 18, 1972, Pope Paul VI, on appeal by Rev. Johannes Pohlschneider, Bishop of Aachen, grants an apostolic dispensation from the prescript contained in Canon 2117 of the Code of Canon Law, so that after a legally valid verification and full examination of only one miracle, the cause might pass to the next phase. The next year the “medically inexplicable” and sudden cure of Mr. Ludwig Braun from a life threatening pancreatic and intestinal ailment is recognized as the miracle necessary for the Beatification of Mother Frances. The decree recognizing the miracle is signed on October 18, 1973, by Pope Paul VI. The remains of Mother Frances are moved to their current, more public location in the Motherhouse chapel on December 14, 1973.

c 12 07Rite of Beatification: the location of Mother Alexiana and Sr. Rose Margaret under the tribune of St. Veronica. Note the representatives of the German Government on the left

Beatification

1974

 c 12 08Sr. Walfrieda SPSF and Sr. Cristina SFP with Paolo VI
 c 12 010Sr. Walfrieda, one of the recluses, comes out to visit

The Congregational Leadership requests the names of Sisters who wish to attend the Beatification. The savings from a special Beatification account, begun over 30 years earlier, are used to fund a spiritual pilgrimage to Rome and Germany for over 70 Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. The Sisters traveled to Rome from their respective countries in late April, 1974. They visited Vermicino and Frascati and prayerfully prepared for the Beatification.

On April 28, 1974, the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, the Poor Sisters of St. Francis, clergy, and many guests gather in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Rite of Beatification. During the Mass Bishop Pohlschneider presents the request for Beatification and Pope Paul VI reads the decree. When he finishes, the curtains over two paintings of Mother Frances, one inside and one outside, are unveiled.

The Pope then speaks of Mother Frances during the Homily, addressing the congregation in German and Italian. The Offertory Procession includes gifts of Frascati wine, candles from Aachen and bouquets of lilies. Beatification also means that Frances is now called “Blessed.”

The title allows limited veneration of Mother Frances. Limited Veneration means that a person is honored or venerated in a specific region, such as a diocese, or by a specific group, such as a religious Congregation, but not venerated by the worldwide Catholic Church.

After Mass some participants are presented to the Pope, including Mother Alexiana, Sr. Rose Margaret Delaney, and many Sisters. Louis Braun, the man cured through the intercession of Mother Frances is present, as well as his family. John Dessauer, a distant relative of Mother Frances, also participated in the Beatification and Papal audience.
The next few days are spent visiting holy sites in Rome and sightseeing. The Sisters participate in a triduum of thanksgiving Masses for the beatification of Mother Frances at Santa Maria in Traspontina. The Sisters travel to Assisi on May 2 and return to Rome on May 5, boarding a train for overnight travel to Cologne, Germany.

c 12 09Santa Maria in Traspontina: evening Mass of the TriduumOn May 6 the Sisters arrive in Cologne in time for Mass and a tour of the Cathedral, after which they leave for Aachen where they are graciously welcomed by Mother Alexiana and the other Sisters.

The Sisters of both Congregations spend several happy days celebrating the life of Mother Frances.

They visit sights important to the life of Mother Frances, including Lindenplatz, St. Nicholas and St. Jacob Churches, the first convent on Jacobstrasse, and the cemetery where Mother Frances was first buried.

c 12 012Leaving the train station to go to Karl Josef House where our Sisters are c 12 013Aachen, 1974 Mother Alexiana Schnaus with Sr. Rose Margareth Delaney

While there they visit the graves of other dear sisters, Fathers Istas and Fey, and the graves of the Schervier family. On May 9 the SPSF host a festive farewell party with singing, music, and gifts. The next day, after more than two weeks of joy and celebration, the Sisters return to their homes.

     c 12 011SPSF and SFP in Aachen, 1974

 

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Published: July 12, 2017