Mary Frances Schervier, (8 January 1819 – 14 December 1876) was the founder of two religious congregations of Religious Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, both committed to serving the neediest of the poor. One, the Poor Sisters of St. Francis, is based in her native Germany, and the other, the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, was later formed from its Province in the United States. She was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 1974.
Frances Schervier (German: Franziska) was born into a wealthy family in Aachen, Germany. Her father, Johann Heinrich Schervier was a wealthy needle factory owner and the vice-mayor of Aachen. Her French mother, Maria Louise Migeon, the goddaughter of Emperor Francis I of Austria provided a strict home environment. After the death of both her mother and two sisters from tuberculosis when she was thirteen, Frances become the homemaker for her father, and developed a reputation for generosity to the poor, from her growing awareness of their desperate conditions.
In a dispute over the rights of the Church in 1837 (Kölner Wirren), the Prussian government imprisoned the Archbishop of Cologne, Clemens August von Droste-Vischering, causing a great public reaction; the repercussion was a revival of religious spirit, especially in Westphalia and the Rhine country. In the wake of this spiritual awakening, some prominent Aachen ladies started a society for the relief of the poor and approached Johann Schervier to permit Frances to join. He agreed at first, but later demurred when Frances began to nurse the sick in their homes, fearing that she might carry the disease into his own house. The Reverend Joseph Istas, who was curate at Saint Paul Parish in Aachen and founder of "Saint John's Kitchen" for the poor, deeply impressed Frances, who began to work very closely with him; but their friendship ended abruptly with Istas' premature death in 1843. The following year she and four other young ladies (Catherine Daverkosen, Gertrude Frank, Joanna Bruchhans, and Catherine Lassen) became president
members of the Third Order of St. Francis.
In 1845 Frances's life took an unexpected turn: her father died and a friend, Family friend Getrude Frank told Frances that she was called to serve God and he would show her in whose company. She considered joining the Trappistines, but instead of entering an existing convent, on 3 October 1845 she and four other women left their homes to establish a religious community devoted to caring for the poor under Frances' leadership. With the permission of a priest, they went to live together in a small house beyond St. James's Gate, and Frances was chosen superior of the community. The life of the sisters was conventual, and the time spent in religious exercises, household duties, and caring for the sick poor. They formed the nucleus of the community that became known as the Poor Sisters of St. Francis.
From 1845 until 1848, the sisters continued to care for the sick in their homes and to operate a soup kitchen. They also cared for prostitutes in their own small home and nursed women suffering from syphilis. Relying entirely upon donations for support, the Sisters experienced extreme poverty. The pre-revolutionary potato and grain failures 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 congregation obtained formal church recognition from the local bishop on 2 July 1851, despite some authorities' objections to Frances' severe position regarding personal poverty. Soon after they received formal recognition as a religious congregation, the Sisters spread their service overseas. An American foundation was established within seven years, to serve German emigrant communities in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and northern Kentucky. At the same time 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.
In 1857, she encouraged Philip Hoever, a Franciscan tertiary, in his efforts to establish the Poor Brothers of St. Francis. Like the Sisters, they are a religious congregation of lay brothers of the Franciscan Third Order Regular, instituted for charitable work among orphan boys and educating the youth of the poorer classes.
Mother Frances visited the United States in 1863, and helped her Sisters nurse soldiers wounded in the American Civil War. St. Mary Hospital in Hoboken, N.J. was founded for this work. She visited the United States one more time in 1868. During this second visit, she attended the dedication of the new location of the St. Elizabeth Hospital in Covington, Kentucky, staffed by twelve sisters of her congregation.
When Mother Frances died, there were 2,500 members of her congregation worldwide. The number kept growing until the 1970s, when, like many other religious orders, they began to experience a sharp decline in membership. After a formal investigation into her life requested of the Holy See by the Archbishop of Cincinnati and the declaration of a miraculous cure of a man in Ohio, Mother Mary Frances was beatified in 1974 by Pope Paul VI.
In 1959, the American province of the congregation separated from the German branch, 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 a hospital and a home for the aged in Walden, New York, but have transferred the ownership of many of their institutions to other organizations. The Frances Schervier Home and Hospital was founded by the Sisters in the Bronx, New York, and named in her honor. (It too has been transferred as of 2000 to a medical chain but continues to operate under this name.) Currently this Congregation focuses on health care, pastoral ministries and social service.
1876 Frances Schervier dies in Aachen, Germany, on December 14.
In 1934 the Apostolic Process was opened in Rome. Decree issued for Introduction of the Cause of Mary Frances Schervier, of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis. On January 30, 1969 Pope Paul VI proclaims the "heroicity of the virtues" of Mother Frances and declares her "Venerable."
1972 On October 18, 1972 Pope Paul VI, on appeal by the Right Rev. Johannes Pohlschneider, Bishop of Aachen, grants an apostolic dispensation from the prescript contained in Canon 2117 of the Code of Canon Law, so that, after a legally valid verification and full examination of only one miracle, the cause might pass to the next phase.
1973 The "medically inexplicable" and sudden cure of Mr. Ludwig Braun from a life-threatening pancreatic and intestinal ailment is recognized as the miracle necessary for the Beatification of Mother Frances. The decree recognizing the miracle is signed on October 18, 1973 by Pope Paul VI. Mother Frances is beatified on April 28, 1974 in Rome by Pope Paul VI; this means that she is now called "Blessed Frances".
1989 In March an unexplainable and sudden cure is experienced by Mr. Thomas Siemers, who had a massive brain hemorrhage. Three medical doctors have no scientific explanation and one says it was "divine intervention" and another says "somebody up there likes him."
2008 The Cause for Canonization of Blessed Frances Schervier is introduced in Rome on July 16 jointly by Sister Tiziana Merletti, S.F.P., Congregational Minister of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor and Sister Katharina Maria Finken, S.P.S.F., Superior General of the Poor Sisters of St. Francis.
2009 The Opening Session of the Diocesan Inquiry Process takes place on April 17 in Cincinnati, Ohio to gather evidence on the cure of Mr. Thomas Siemers. Closing Session of Diocesan Inquiry on December 14 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
2010 On March 17 the official documents from the Diocesan Inquiry in Cincinnati were opened in Rome.