Blessed Mary Frances Schervier: Foundress of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor

Blessed Mary Frances Schervier: Foundress of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor

On December 15, Franciscans, especially Secular Franciscans and Third Order Regular congregations, honor the memory of Blessed Mary Frances Schervier (1819–1876).

A woman deeply affected by the needs of poor people

Born to a wealthy factory owner in Aachen, Germany, Maria Franziska lost her mother when she was 13; her two older sisters also died the following year, leaving her to manage the household for her father and younger siblings. She became deeply affected by the needs of poor people caught in the deplorable conditions caused by the Industrial Revolution. In her parish she began going out to nurse poor, sick people in their own homes and assisting in a soup kitchen, to which her father was initially opposed as he feared her bringing disease back to the home.

Blessed Mary Frances Schervier Aachen Germany 700pxlsAachen, Germany, the home of Blessed Mary Frances Schervier

Forming a sisterhood devoted to serving the sick poor

He relented, however, and in 1844, she joined the Third Order of St. Francis.

The following year, after her father’s death, Franziska gathered four other women to form a sisterhood devoted to this work. In 1851, as their numbers increased, they were recognized as a formal religious congregation: the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis. The sisters’ work both inspired and repelled people in Germany at the time. The women lived very poorly themselves and ministered to people affected by feared contagious diseases and to prostitutes.

Inspiring a congregation for men

In 1858, Franziska sent sisters to the United States, originally serving the poor in German immigrant communities. She came to visit the United States herself in 1863 and joined them in ministering to soldiers wounded in the Civil War. During the Franco-Prussian war, the sisters were right behind the front lines helping the wounded and staffing military ambulances. She also inspired a fellow Secular Franciscan in Aachen, Philip Hoever, to found a similar congregation for men, The Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis.

Blessed Mary Frances Schervier Schervier Nursing Center Bronx NY 700pxlsThe Mother Schervier Home and Hospital, in Bronx, New York, was founded in the 1930s and is now operated by another religious community as Schervier Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.

Franciscan Sisters of the Poor become independent

By Mary Frances’ death in 1876, the congregation numbered some 2,500 members. In 1959, the U.S. province became an independent congregation: the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. Mother Mary Frances Schervier was beatified in 1974.

Blessed Mary Frances Schervier statue Aachen Germany 700pxlsStatue of Blessed Mary Frances Schervier in Aachen, Germany

Wisdom from Blessed Mary Frances Schervier

In 1868, Frances Schervier wrote to her sisters:

Jesus tells us: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. . . .I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (John 15:14,17) If we do this faithfully and zealously, we will experience the truth of the words of our father Saint Francis who says that love lightens all difficulties and sweetens all bitterness. We will likewise partake of the blessing which Saint Francis promised to all his children, both present and future, after having admonished them to love one another even as he had loved them and continues to love them.

-----

Main image: Mother Mary Frances Schervier

Authors

Dominic Monti

Dominic Monti

Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. A native of nearby Bradford, PA, he was educated at St. Bonaventure (BA); after joining the Order, he attended the Catholic University of America (STB), Union Theological Seminary, NY (STM), and the Divinity School of the University of Chicago (PhD). He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor. He is spiritual assistant to a federation of Poor Clares and the Franciscan Secular Institute, the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ.