Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart

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The Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart is a Roman Catholic religious congregation for women based in Frankfort, Illinois, in the south suburbs of Chicago. The Sisters serve in the area of health care in hospitals, clinics, home health programs, support programs for pregnant teens and social service programs; are minister in education as teachers, administrators, librarians and religious education coordinators, and serve in parish ministry as liturgists, pastoral associates, youth ministers and coordinators of parish programs.

The Sisters live together in convents that are located in Illinois, Indiana, California, and Kentucky as well as in the Amazon area of Brazil, South America. Following the Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis, and as members of the Franciscan family, they are women dedicated to sharing their lives in prayer, community and ministry. Their ministries were defined by their founder, title Wilhelm Berger, as "works of neighborly love".



The early history of the community of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart is traced back to the village of Seelbach, in the then Grand Duchy of Baden, Germany. Reverend Wilhelm Berger, pastor of the parish church, realized the difficulty that parishioners experienced in procuring proper nursing care in the time of illness and decided to organize a society of young women who would undertake the care of the sick, the aged and children. Under his inspiration and guidance six young ladies from his parish and six from the adjoining parishes formed in 1866, the nucleus of a religious community conforming from its earliest existence to the Rule of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis.[1] From this small group grew the Congregation now known as the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

Initially, the young women lived in a farmhouse belonging to Sister M. Coletta Himmelsbach's mother. In 1868 they were able to establish a Motherhouse on the Trettenhoff property near Seelbach. The Sisters worked on the battlefield nursing the wounded of the Franco-Prussian War.[1] They also cared for the sick in their homes, nursed victims of the plagues of smallpox and typhoid fever. They taught the young and opened their convent doors to the orphans and to the elderly. The “Iron Cross” was bestowed by the German Government upon Sister M. Frances for “faithful service on the battlefield”.


By 1876, there were 60 sisters in eleven houses. When the political climate in Germany changed, during the period known as the Kulturkampf, the Sisters were asked to disband or find a new home in a new land. After a chance meeting with the Reverend Dominic Duehmig of Avilla, Indiana, who was at that time on a visit to his native land, twenty-seven travelled to the United States, at different times and in various groups. It is related in the German Chronicles that when the Sisters arrived in New York they stayed with the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor at a hospital in New York.[1]

The Sisters arrived in the Diocese of Fort Wayne, Indiana and settled first in the town of Avilla. The following year they began staffing schools in Indiana and Illinois.[2] Later, circumstances drew the Sister's Motherhouse to Illinois, first to Joliet and now to its present location in Frankfort.


Over the years, the Sisters have continued to answer the call for help in many communities. Their heritage of industry and discipline has equipped them to adapt to the needs of the times and local customs. Their deep trust in Divine Providence continually supports their readiness to become involved in a diversity of needed services.

The Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart Development Office was established to seek funding for present and future ministries and needs and to develop relationships with their partners and donors.