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Lent : turn away from sin

History of the Sacred Heart Province



Historical Survey of Sacred Heart Province

In the beginning – after the first nine Franciscan Friars of Holy Cross Province in Saxony arrived in the United States on September 14, 1858, and established their community in Teutopolis, Illinois, on September 23rd – they began to carry out their mission in three significant areas of ministry, which shaped the future of Sacred Heart Province: pastoring the faithful, preaching the Word, and educating youth and young adults.

From the beginning the Franciscan friars’ fraternity-in-mission was committed to observing and proclaiming the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi.  This commitment took shape according to the customs and traditions passed on by the members of Holy Cross Province of Saxony, Germany, and in response to the situations most needed by the signs of the times in the prairie heartland of the USA.

The friars took charge of St. Francis Parish in Teutopolis, Illinois, on October 3, 1858. One month later two friars began to preach parish missions in the areas. Within a year (May 1, 1859) a foundation was begun in Quincy, Illinois, which led to the establishment of a school at the request of the bishop.

A year and two months after the first group of friars arrived in Teutopolis, another six members of Holy Cross Province came to the U.S. mission field to contribute their commitment to building the friars’ fraternity-in-mission of responding to the needs of the Church to bring about holiness of life, to create sacred faith communities, and to evangelize all people and all creation by permeating society with gospel values, by becoming instruments of peace, and by realizing reconciliation and healing.

In the 1860s the fraternity-in-mission continued to expand through central Illinois. Parishes and missions were established in the Quincy area and throughout southeastern Illinois. St. Francis Solanus School (later Quincy College and then University), as well as St. Joseph Diocesan College in Teutopolis (later St. Joseph Minor Seminary and then St. Joseph Major Seminary) were inaugurated. The Third Order of St. Francis was begun in Quincy, Illinois, and soon spread to other sites as well. The pastoral work was expanded to Missouri, Iowa, and Ohio. Almost 50 more friars and candidates arrived from Germany.

Over the next two decades the foundation of Franciscan friars continued to grow.  By 1875 there were 87 men: 14 priests, 15 clerics, 24 brothers, 18 cleric candidates, and 16 brother candidates. Because of the Kulturkampf, more men arrived that same year: 65 friars, two tertiary brothers, and 16 candidates on the first run, and 24 friars and one candidate on the second. The friars were able to expand their fraternity-in-mission to Tennessee, Indiana, Minnesota, and northern Illinois (Chicago and Joliet).

When Sacred Heart Province was canonically established on April 26, 1879, there were 202 friars living in community and ministering in parishes, schools, and missions.  Shortly thereafter, pastoral care to the marginalized and alien was expressed with ministry to the Native Americans, with the incorporation of St. Barbara Mission, and with the first five missionaries to China: Remy Goette OFM, Athanasius Goette OFM (later bishop), John Capistran Goette OFM, Edmund Poediger OFM, and Francis Xavier Engbring OFM, the first American-born missionary.

Toward the end of the 1880s, the friars in Pulaski, Wisconsin, formed the Custody of the Assumption and the friars in California formed the Custody of Santa Barbara, both dependent on Sacred Heart Province. The friars of the province expanded their fraternity-in-mission into other Midwest States, usually serving the immigrants from Germany.  They also worked to stabilize their educational ministry.  Quincy became a school of humanities.  Teutopolis stressed the classics to train candidates for priesthood.  The friars continued to proclaim the Word with parish missions and with missionary activities in China.

In the first quarter of the new century the fraternity-in-mission of the Province of the Sacred Heart developed into new expressions. The ministry of the Word expanded into print with the “Franciscan Herald” and the “Third Order Forum.”  The St. Barbara Custody matured into an independent province.  The first national convention of the Third Order of St. Francis was celebrated in Chicago in 1921 with the impetus of Sacred Heart Province. More friars joined the missions in China, a prefecture was established, and the missionaries of Sacred Heart Province received its own mission field.  The first retreat was held at the Peabody Mansion (Hinsdale, now Oak Brook, Illinois), St. Francis Retreat House, which launched the strong retreat movement within Sacred Heart Province.

The second quarter of the 1900s was characterized by five movements in the evolution of the friars’ ministries.  First, more friars went to China, the Vicariate Apostolic came into being through the work of Bishop Pinger, but the whole Chinese mission was shut down by the Communist takeover; the friars eventually came home, some after time in prison or house arrest.  Secondly, as the Chinese mission activity was waning, Sacred Heart friars first went to Brazil to begin a missionary effort among the people along the Amazon River.  The first four missionaries were Juniper Freitag OFM, Severin Nelles OFM, James Ryan OFM (who became bishop of Santarém) and Jude Prost OFM (who became auxiliary bishop of Belém).

Thirdly, the combination of pastoral work and ministry to the poor and marginalized took on a new and effective expression with the friars’ new presence and work in northern Louisiana.  Then, during this same period of time the retreat movement expanded with the opening of Alverna Retreat House in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

Lastly, the quarter century was crowned with constructing the new church and its friary for St. Peter’s in the Loop  (Chicago, Illinois) where the friars of Sacred Heart Province would roll their fraternity-in-mission into one: sacramental services (especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation), educational opportunities, and proclamation of the Word through preaching and counseling all under one roof.

The 1950s were characterized by growth: St. Francis Retreat House in Oak Brook and Alverna in Indianapolis were expanded with new additions. The Retreat and Mission Band was inaugurated with 15 friar members. The newly built St. Peter’s Church was opened in downtown Chicago.  The friars’ mission of Brazil, based in Santarém in the state of Pará, continued to grow; James Ryan OFM became the first bishop of the Diocese of Santarém.

The 1960s was the decade of education.  Two high schools were opened: Hales Franciscan in Chicago and Padua Franciscan in Parma, Ohio.  St. Paschal’s School for brothers was built in Oak Brook (Westmont).  The seminary system was revised with the building of the new Our Lady of Angels Seminary in Quincy. 

In 1963 a new retreat house was opened outside of Lincoln, Nebraska – Our Lady of Good Counsel in Waverly.  For fifteen years, before its administration was turned over to the Diocese of Lincoln, it was the site of spiritual formation and pastoral education for the laity and also was used for retreats and workshops for the friars.

The friars were educated on the aggiornamento of Vatican II with a series of province-sponsored retreats.  The publications called Lesser Brothers and Open Line afforded friars throughout the province the opportunity to learn about happenings and to voice their opinions.  The Sacred Heart Province joined with the Passionists and the Servites, as the founders and charter members, to inaugurate the new school of ministry, Catholic Theological Union, on the south side of Chicago.  In the ‘60s, educating seniors how to live more fruitfully, Sacred Heart Province also stepped into housing for the elderly together with the Third Order in Oak Brook, Illinois, and in Crowley, Texas.

The fraternity-in-mission of the 1970s found itself in the middle of new adventures: A house of prayer opened in Indianapolis; later it moved to southwestern Missouri. After 111 years the Board of Trustees of Quincy University was made up of both laity and friars.  Four new entities came into being: The Franciscan Associate Program, the Office of Retirement, the Office of Justice and Peace, and the Board of Fraternal Relations. The first peace-and-justice director was named by the administration, and the office continues today to animate the friars.  Four missionaries headed to Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Africa, to assist the Belgian friars with their work in the Shaba Province: the late Cyril J. Wagner OFM, Jim Hoffman OFM, the late Valerius Messerich OFM, and Richard Jeske OFM.

During this decades of the ‘70s friars began a new venture in fraternity-in-mission in the French Quarter of New Orleans, called Tau House, which provides fraternal and pastoral services for those who felt alienated and marginalized by society and the Church.  Tau House built up a Franciscan and church community and became the home of a Secular Franciscan Fraternity.  By 1983 the friars also were responsible for founding in New Orleans the Lazarus Project which provides transitional and permanent housing, as well as social services, for those with a terminal diagnosis of AIDS.

The Apostolic Formation Program began, and St. Joseph’s Minor Seminary closed.  At its provincial chapter of 1978 the friars approved a “Direction Plan” for the future development of the province. The decade closed with the celebration of the centenary of the province and with the visit of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II to St. Peter’s Church-in-the-Loop, Chicago. The friars of Sacred Heart Province continued to stretch the possibilities for their fraternity-in-mission: pastoral and sacramental services less in parishes and more in new ventures; educational possibilities beyond the sponsored institutions; and the proclamation of the Word through retreats and missions, foreign missionary activities, involvement in peace and justice issues, and individual pursuits of proclaiming the Good News.

Again, throughout the 1980s, the friars’ fraternity-in-mission was in flux.  Parishes were returned to bishops, while a new mission was opened in Alaska with Andre Schludecker OFM, Bill Cardy OFM, Joe Rogenski OFM, and Bobby Joe Ruzicka OFM.  The novitiate moved from St. Paschal’s to Franklin, Indiana, while Our Lady of Angels Seminary was sold to Quincy University. 

The efforts of one friar in Chicago to feed the poor, shelter the homeless, and care for ex-offenders became a corporate provincial effort between 1982 and 1986 with the realization of the Franciscan Outreach Association which feeds the poor, gives overnight shelter to the homeless, and serves as an advocate for the needy.

The provincial chapter of ’84 was opened to all the friars of the province, and it initiated a 20-year “Pastoral Planning Process” which was published in 1986 and ratified at the Chapter of 1987. This chapter also endorsed the visual and performing arts as media for evangelization.

The 1990s continued to expand the mission of Sacred Heart Province into new expressions of ministry.  Franciscan Connection, serving the need of the poor in St. Louis with emergency assistance and home repairs for low-income people, opened its doors in 1991. 

In that same year the preaching ministry expanded in new directions.  Alverna Retreat House closed in 1990.  When the retreat house at Mayslake closed in 1991, Mayslake Ministries continued the proclamation of the Word.   During this same period a number of friars took up the ministry of preaching retreats and missions and presenting workshops and seminars. 

The year 1993 saw the novitiate move again; this time to Cedar Lake, Indiana, for an interprovincial endeavor.  A new opportunity came in 1994 when the Franciscan Volunteer Program was begun and continues till now.

The friars’ pastoring, preaching, and teaching reached into the new millennium with new interprovincial initiatives.  The annual interprovincial retreat in Las Cruces, New Mexico, continues to gain in popularity.  The Border Project near El Paso, an interprovincial effort to serve immigrants, began its operation in 2004, based at Purisima Mission, Socorro, Texas.  The interprovincial House of Prayer in Ava, Missouri, near the Trappists, opened its doors in 2005 as Our Lady of Angels Friary.

The Interprovincial Convocation was held in June of 2007 to celebrate the friars’ unity and cooperation through diversity and uniqueness and to explore new means of collaboration among friars of different provinces.

As the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart celebrates the 150 the anniversary of its foundation in 2008, the mission of the fraternity makes present the charism of the Order, enfleshes the traditions and legacy of a history of gospel service, is embodied in the friars of today, and continues to unfold the commitment to pastoring, preaching, and teaching in tried-and-true ways and in new creative expressions.

Benet A. Fonck OFM