As we anticipate the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity feel called to feature a brightly-colored stained glass window of the Sacred Heart found in the old Holy Name of Jesus Convent, that once housed the Notre Dame Sisters in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The building is now called the Reinl Cener, no longer used for the Sisters’ residence, but for a chapel and meeting rooms for the Sheboygan North Catholic Parishes of Holy Name of Jesus, St. Clement and St. Dominic. Our own Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Maureen Anne Shepard served here in this building when she assisted the parishes in religious education.
Why is the Sacred Heart of Jesus Devotion Important to Franciscan Sisters?
Although prayer to the Sacred Heart can be seen as early as the second century with Saint. Justin Martyr and in the 7th century with Pope Gregory the Great, it is Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and Saint Anselm in the 12th century who spread a renewed emphasis on this theme. Franciscans and Dominicans then preached the devotion far and wide. In particular in the 13th century, St. Bonaventure’s work “With You is the Source of Life” (which is the reading for the Divine Office on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart) referred to the heart as the fountain from which God’s love poured into our lives:
“Take thought now, redeemed man, and consider how great and worthy is he who hangs on the cross for you. His death brings the dead to life, but at his passing heaven and earth are plunged into mourning and hard rocks are split asunder. It was a divine decree that permitted one of the soldiers to open his sacred side with a lance. This was done so that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross, and so that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘They shall look on him whom they pierced.’ The blood and water, which poured out at that moment, were the price of our salvation. Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord’s heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace, while for those already living in Christ it became a spring of living water welling up to life everlasting.”
Other holy men and women like Saint Gertrude and Saint Mechtild were also inspired to pray to Jesus in this way. However, it was Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque’s visions that encouraged Popes to alert the People of God to this tradition.
The feast of the Sacred Heart was approved for specified dioceses by Clement XIII in 1765, and extended to the whole Church by Pius IX in 1856. In 1889 Pope Leo XIII elevated it to the rank of first class, and through an encyclical letter in 1899 dedicated the whole Catholic world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Pope Leo XIII called this event “the great act” of his pontificate. The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity were founded in 1869. There is strong endorsement to devotion to the Sacred Heart in our Constitutions, p, 9, E. “Our Congregation is consecrated in a special way to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. We unite ourselves with Him Who, as Son, loved His Father and lived to do His Father’s will. We strive to love Him Who first loved us, to declare ourselves for Him and to adopt His Gospel way. We clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience so that we may love others as He loved us.”