Franciscan Sisters of the Poor
The Franciscan Sisters of the Poor (Latin: Sorores Franciscanae Pauperorum, abbreviated to S.F.P.) are a religious congregation which was established in 1959 as an independent branch from the Congregation of the Poor Sisters of St. Francis, founded in Germany by Blessed Frances Schervier in 1845.
In 1959, the American province of the Congregation separated from the German Motherhouse to become an independent Congregation under its current name. They have their headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.
Blessed Mary Frances Schervier along with four companions, all members of the Third Order of St. Francis, moved into a common residence in the city of Aachen, Germany in 1845. They formed this community in response to a desire to help alleviate the desperate conditions of the poor in their region in that period.
From 1845 until 1848, the Sisters cared for the sick in their homes and operated a soup kitchen. They also cared for prostitutes in their own small convent and nursed women suffering from syphilis. Relying entirely upon donations for support, the Sisters experienced extreme poverty. The potato and grain failures which occurred during that period and the refusal of some benefactors to continue their assistance once the Sisters began ministering to prostitutes intensified their difficulties. More women joined the group in 1849, expanding the ministry beyond Aachen; not only did they care for victims of cholera, smallpox, typhoid fever, and cancer, but they also supervised women prisoners at the Aachen prison and assisted them in finding employment after their release.
The community was formally established as a religious congregation of the Franciscan Third Order Regular by the Archbishop of Cologne on 2 July 1851, and Mother Mary Frances was elected as Superior General. This took place despite objections by Church authorities to the foundress' severe position regarding personal poverty. According to the annalist of the Congregation, they received state acceptance in 1853 because "priests and religious persons were considered suitable for pacifying the people who had been roused by revolutionary ideas;" and that the tide of government sentiment turned when "through unification of the conservative elements in the state, the Revolution (ed. note: see the Revolutions of 1848) had been overcome."
The Sisters come to the United States
Soon after this legal recognition, the Sisters spread their service overseas. An American foundation was established within seven years of its founding, to serve German emigrant communities in New York, New Jersey and Ohio. At the same time, as their Superior General, Mother Frances oversaw the foundation of several hospitals and sanatoria in both Europe and the United States for those suffering from tuberculosis, then a widespread cause of death, especially among the working classes.
Over the next fifty years, hospitals were established in several states. In New York City, the Sisters opened and staffed St. Francis Hospital (1865-1966), St. Joseph Hospital for Chest Diseases (1888-1962) and the Frances Schervier Home and Hospital, all located in the Borough of the Bronx. They founded various community hospitals around the nation, including St. Anthony Community Hospital in Warwick, New York (now operated by the Bon Secours Charity Health System), and the former St. Mary Hospital in Hoboken, New Jersey (now Hoboken University Medical Center).
Mother Frances visited the United States in 1863, and helped her Sisters nurse soldiers wounded in the American Civil War. St. Mary Hospital in Hoboken, N.J. was founded for this work. She visited the United States one more time in 1868.
When Mother Frances died in 1876, there were 2,500 members of the congregation worldwide. The number kept growing until the 1970s, when, like many other religious orders, they began to experience a sharp decline in membership. In response to the request of both the European and American Congregations, and the research they provided regarding her life to the Holy See, Mother Frances was beatified in 1974 by Pope Paul VI.
Since the 1990s, the Congregation has transferred the ownership of many of their institutions to other organizations, and at present focuses on health care, pastoral ministry and social services. Currently, this Congregation has communities of Sisters serving in the United States, Brazil, Italy and Senegal.
- Jeiler, P. I. (1924). The Venerable Mother Frances Schervier, Foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Poor of Saint Francis: a Sketch of her Life and Character. Translated by Bonaventura Hammer. St. Louis, Missouri: B. Herder.
- A History of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor