On October 30th of every year, the international congregation of the Franciscan Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (known in the United States as the Wheaton Franciscans), celebrate the founding of their congregation. It was on this day in 1860 that Konrad Martin, Bishop of Paderborn, Germany, approved the Constitution of the new congregation, written by its foundress, Mother Clara Pfaender. It was not a usual occurrence to have a woman religious write the bylaws, statues, and constitution of a newly found women’s religious community in Prussia at that time. Yet, such was the relationship and trust between Bishop Martin and Mother Clara, that the bishop permitted this privilege.
The photograph shows the name of the community with Mother Clara’s name and below, the signature of Bishop Konrad Martin approving the Congregation on October 30, 1860.
Since that founding in 1860, the congregation has grown to have Provinces in Germany, the United States, the Netherlands, France, and Indonesia as well as sisters ministering in Romania, Brazil, Malawi, and East Timor with its Generalate in Rome, Italy.
Mother Clara was a person of integrity and deep faith. She, like many other founders and foundresses, stayed strong and faithful during times of unimaginable trials and difficulties. Mother Clara found herself in exile from her beloved community in Rome, the last two years of her life.
Sr. Audrey Marie Rothweil, FCJM, was serving on the General Council at the time that the original Constitution of the Congregation was found, handwritten in the Mother Clara’s hand with corrections in Bishop Martin’s hand. Sr. Audrey’s eyewitness account is an added treasure.
Since that time, more documentation and thorough research into the life and times of Mother Clara has revealed the true heart of our foundress. The most recent research and documentation was completed by Sr. Carola Thomann, former General Directress of the Congregation. So powerful was her research, that on February 18, 2018, the current Archbishop of Paderborn, Hans-Josef Becker, honored the restoration of Mother Clara’s honor at the Paderborn Cathedral.
It was a marvelous synchronicity that the unexpectedly gift of finding the founding constitution came just after the Second Vatican Council and the call of women and men religious to return to the original call and charism of their founders and foundresses. The women of our Congregation lived that invitation out in a very real way.
Founding Constitution Discovered in Rome
by Sr. Audrey Marie Rothweil
For almost 90 years the original copy of the Founding Constitution of our congregation of Franciscan Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, lay hidden in Rome. Apparently, this document was in Mother M. Clara Pfaender’s possession at the time of her death in Rome October 5, 1882.
In early 1970, Mother M. Aristilde Flake, then Superior General of our congregation, received a call from Fr. Willibald Ullrich, SDS (Society of the Divine Savior or Salvatorians), that an item of interest was being held for her at his generalate on Via della Conciliazione just beyond St. Peter’s Square in Rome. This “item of interest” proved to be an unaccessioned notebook discovered in a library cupboard containing old books at the Salvatorian generalate. The title page read, Constitution for the Sisters of St. Francis, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Presented on the feast of St. Ignatius, 1860, by Sister Clara Pfaender. One of the Salvatorian Fathers who had recently given a retreat at our generalate at Via della Maglianella, 135, had recognized the name of our Foundress. When Mother M. Aristilde arrived at the Salvatorian generalate, she was presented with this precious document out of our congregation’s past.
This discovery sparked renewed interest in researching the years Mother M. Clara spent in Rome and led to the discovery of other documents, places, etc., associated with her, resulting in Mother M. Aristilde’s eventual writing of Light Into the Darkness.
The original text of the Constitution, beautifully handwritten in Old German script, contained the official approval of Konrad Martin, Bishop of Paderborn, Germany, written in his own hand on October 30, 1860. There are also strike-outs and corrections written by both the Bishop and Mother M. Clara herself.The text of the Constitution is preceded by a handwritten copy of the Rule of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis that was in use in the mid-nineteenth century. Its placement at the beginning of the book attests to the preeminent position it held in the estimation of Bishop Konrad Martin and of Mother M. Clara, and in the lives of the Sisters of the new congregation.
Following the written approval of Bishop Martin, at the conclusion of the Constitution text, is given an enumerated series of Bylaws of the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. These bylaws served to identify and describe the congregation as a legal entity in Prussia and to promote its right to conduct appropriate legal acts under the civil law of that time.
We can only speculate on how this Constitution came to the Salvatorian Generalate in Rome, but there is no definitive record of why it was there. We can only wonder and thank God for his gracious providence in bringing this precious document back to us as a congregation. During the early years of the 1970s S. Audrey Marie Rothweil devoted whatever available time she could to translating this Founding Constitution into English for our Sisters in the United States and Brazil. The first rough translation was presented to the Sisters of the American Province of St. Clara in 1975 and a bound edition in 1990.