Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity
Holy Name Province
An international congregation, the
Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity was founded in the
Netherlands by Mother Magdalen (Catherine) Damen.
While working as a domestic in the
Belgian town of Maaseik, Catherine became acquainted with Franciscan
spirituality, and made her perpetual profession in the Franciscan Third Order
Secular in 1817. She and her tertiary companions taught religion, needlework,
and visited the sick. This was preparation for later work with the neglected
children of Heythuysen, the small Dutch village that became the birthplace of
Three women attracted by Catherine's
simplicity and dedication joined her in 1827 and became the nucleus of the
religious congregation which was founded in 1835.
The presence of the congregation in the
United States dates from 1874, when the first three missionary Sisters,
accompanied by General Superior Mother Aloysia Lenders, arrived in Buffalo, New York..
The difficulties of life in Bismarck's
Germany had coincided with an urgent plea for Sisters by the German Jesuits
working among the immigrants on the city's east side. Mother Aloysia answered
the request from America and by September 1874, nine Sisters were working in St.
Ann and St. Michael parishes. Before her return to Europe, Mother Aloysia
promised to send more.
Although the congregation expanded
throughout the country and today includes three U.S. provinces, it was in the
Diocese of Buffalo that the Sisters established their first American motherhouse
and novitiate, and it was here that hundreds of Sisters ministered in schools
and parishes over the next 125 years.
established on banks of Niagara
In 1907, after the Sisters of St.
Francis had been living in Buffalo for over 25 years, some moved into the former
March home on the banks of the Niagara. The following year, they laid the
cornerstone, dedicating the new building to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart with
the inscription, "Mother of the Heart of Jesus, show yourself to be our
Mother, too." Only later was the name Stella Niagara given to the property
by a Jesuit friend who was inspired by the old Latin hymn -"Ave Maris Stella."
Respect for the land and attention to
its beauty expresses the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi. In early years, the
Sisters planted vineyards, orchards, and gardens, and raised animals. In recent
years, they formed a group, "Stella as Earth Center," which focuses
attention on the beautification of the property and supports projects to provide
for the many varieties of wildlife which share the land with the Sisters.
Early on, mothers and children enjoyed the Sisters' hospitality each summer as they fled the heat of nearby cities. Retreats were offered at Stella Niagara for many years. The Center of Renewal, opened in 1974, continues the sisters' ministry of hospitality today.
Leonarda had always wanted to build a chapel in honor of the Sorrowful Mother.
Brother Joseph Stamen, S.J. who was also a contractor, was aware of this. He had
in his employ a Mr. Heusinger who was ill with a diabetic condition. One day
Brother Stamen told Mr. Heusinger that he should go to Stella and build this
chapel in honor of the Sorrowful Mother, and that in return he should petition
Our Lady for a cure. (The little building was a partial ruin on the riverbank.)
It was said that from the day Mr. Heusinger started to build the chapel in
honor of the Sorrowful Mother, his health steadily improved, and on September
15, the Feast of the Sorrowful Mother, when the chapel was finally finished, he
found himself cured. Mr. Heusinger charged the sisters nothing for his labor;
they supplied only the materials. The chapel remains to this
day, a testament to God's healing power.