Mother Clara Pfaender founded a congregation of women religious in Olpe, Germany in 1860. The purpose of the Congregation was prayer through perpetual adoration (especially for the persecuted Catholic Church), care and education of orphans, and care of the sick. In addition, Mother Clara wrote, “no manner of charitable service for which the Lord gives them opportunity shall be excluded from their loving concern.” Mother Clara founded the community under Bishop Konrad Martin of Paderborn, Germany. Bishop Martin encouraged Mother Clara to write the Constitution for the Congregation, an uncommon privilege at the time for a woman and for the Church. Bishop Martin approved the Constitution and the name of the Congregation, “Sisters of St. Francis, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.”
Sr. Mary Lou Wirtz, former General Directress of the Congregation, addressed the community with a reflection on the Feast of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 2018. Sr. Mary Lou explained, “The devotion of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary was very popular at the time of Mother Clara. The devotion stemmed from the revelations of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary in the 17th century. In an apparition Jesus said to her, ‘Behold the heart that has loved humanity so much and has been so little loved in return.’ ”
The Franciscan Sisters were called into nursing duty when Germany was at war in 1866 and in the 1870s. It was also a time of severe religious persecution under the German government’s Kulturkampf laws. Mother Clara often partnered with the laity in ministry, noting that “unusual situations call for unusual actions.”
Responding to a call to provide health services in the United States, the first three German Sisters went to St. Louis, Missouri in 1872. The missions in the United States continued to flourish; more Sisters were needed to help in the hospitals and parish schools for German immigrants. Over the decades, the Franciscan Sisters (today known in the United States as the Wheaton Franciscans) developed an expansive and comprehensive health care network in Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. In later decades, the Wheaton Franciscans sponsored affordable housing in these states and Denver, CO. In 2016, the Wheaton Franciscans transferred their sponsored ministries to other Catholic ministries for continued service.
Today, the Sisters welcome lay women and men who share their Franciscan charism through Covenant Companionship. The Sisters sponsor a spirituality center whose purpose is explained in the following way; “Established in 2008 by the Wheaton Franciscans, who live intentionally as a presence of blessing in our world, the Tau Center is committed to the transformation of our world by helping individuals awaken to the sacredness of life.” The Sisters share their beautiful chapel with a growing faith community on Sundays and Feast Days. These women live their lives as a presence to all, with warm hospitality, unconditional love and holy awareness for all beings and Mother Earth.
In her reflection, Sr. Mary Lou continued, “I’m quite sure we are all familiar with the images of these Sacred Hearts—the Heart of Jesus is shown with a flame arising from its center and a crown of thorns around the heart, whereas Mary has a sword piercing her heart. Both images communicate a message of deep love born through suffering. Whether we hold the traditional images or the more contemporary ones, this feast day is a reminder that the images of the Sacred Hearts are a mirror of what our own hearts look like when we open ourselves to love. Our heart is also our capacity to be touched and to be wounded…
…Teilhard de Chardin stretches our thinking further when he speaks of the cosmic Christ being born from the Sacred Heart. He writes, ‘The great secret, the great mystery is this: there is a heart of the world and this heart is the heart of Christ.’ For him, this Sacred Heart was not only the love of Jesus for humanity, but this love was a unifying force upholding the universe. The Sacred Heart is what love looks like.”