Poor Sisters of St. Francis
The Poor Sisters of St. Francis (Latin: Sorores Pauperae santi Francisci, abrreviated as S.P.S.F.) (German: Armen-Schwestern vom heiligen Franziskus), also known as the Aachener Franzikanerinnen, are a religious congregation founded by the Blessed Mary Frances Schervier in 1845 in Germany. Their distinguishing emblem is a red cross with the Instruments of the Passion on it, which was originally embroidered on the scapular of their religious habits.
Schervier formed a small community with four companions, all members of the Third Order of St. Francis, in the city of Aachen, in the Kingdom of Prussia, 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, which resulted from the economic and political upheavals taking place then.
From 1845 until 1848, the Sisters cared for the sick in their homes and operated a soup kitchen. They also cared for some of the many prostitutes in a city which was at that time a major spa resort, especially for relief from syphilis. They housed these women in their own small convent and nursed those suffering from that disease. 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 some Church authorities to the foundress' severe position regarding personal poverty. According to the archivist of the Congregation in that period, they received state acceptance in 1853 mainly 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".
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.
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 institutes, they began to experience a sharp decline in membership.
In 1959, the American province of the congregation separated from it, to become an independent congregation called the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. They have their headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. They are still engaged in operating hospitals and homes for the aged, but have transferred the ownership of many of these institutions to other organizations.
Currently, in addition to Germany, this congregation has communities of Sisters serving in Belgium and Denmark.
- "Startseite". Armen-Schwestern vom heiligen Franziskus (in German). Retrieved 3 January 2013.
- "Erkennungszeichen: Das rote Kreuz". Armen-Schwestern vom heiligen Franziskus (in German). Retrieved 3 January 2013.
- "Blessed Frances Schervier". Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
- "Francis Schervier". Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
- "Konvente". Armen-Schwestern vom heiligen Franziskus (in German). Retrieved 3 January 2013.
- 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.