Province
of
Malta
Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

 

 

OUR HISTORY

 

    The Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus was founded in Gozo in 1880.  It had its origin in the Association of the Twelve Stars of the Heart of Jesus, initiated at Rabat, Gozo, by a group of young girls whose spiritual director was Fr. Joseph Diacono, the Vice-parish priest  at St. George's Basilica, Victoria (Gozo) . Fr. Diacono set about transforming this association into a diocesan religious congregation, at first known as Franciscan Tertiaries, and later Franciscan Sisters of  Malta.  In time, this congregation was given Papal approval and to express its charism better, the name was changed to Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus.

    While Fr. Diacono started the congregation, there was also Mother Margherita who through a divine disposition, led it on, cultivated it, and brought it to maturity.  Virginia Debrincat, who later became Mother Margherita of the Sacred Heart, was born in Kercem (Gozo), on the 28th of November 1862.  Virginia De Brincat made a vow of virginity when she was 15 years old and on the 8th of December 1877 she was accepted as a member of the Association of the Twelve Stars of the Heart of Jesus where she was trained in the school of Fr. Joseph Diacono. After repeated pleas, on the 5th of February 1881 she was accepted as a member of the newly-founded religious Congregation of the Franciscan Tertiaries. When she was still young, Father Joseph Diacono chose her as general Secretary of the Congregation.

When the new house in Birkirkara was opened in 1885, Mother Margherita became the superior and also taught there. At the age of 27, inspired by the Holy Spirit, she decided to run the congregation, and managed to overcome the crisis that had almost brought it to an end. Mother Margherita was a courageous woman, endowed by Providence with leadership qualities.  She possessed a strong faith in God’s loving plans, which she always followed with courage and determination. Her love for Christ, her sweet, Crucified spouse, branches out in two aspects, which were characteristic in her religious life: contemplation and apostolate.

 

Mother Margherita had a fascinating spiritual personality: profound faith and humility, devotion to prayer, mortification, and a willingness to serve. Her life is very tightly interwoven with that of the Congregation of which she was general superior for many years (1889-1901; 1904-1911; 1917-1923) and for a span of more than 24 years.

Since her youth, when she accepted the responsibility of running the congregation, she had to face numerous difficulties.  At times she totally lacked funds: she also faced tremendous opposition in opening a new house, on other occasions, a new community had to begin its existence without even the bare necessities, not to mention the difficult times of the two World wars.  Mother Margherita always faced all troubles with serenity, strength, patience, determination and above all, in a spirit of total acceptance of the will of Divine Providence.  Her rule was always (as she wrote to her spiritual director, Mgr. Alphonse Agius): “May the most holy will of our sweet Father, to whom we abandon ourselves with soul and body, in life and death, be done”.

As a result of this characteristic that excelled so much in her spirituality, Mother Margherita describes herself as “a small, small child accompanied by a Father whose presence makes her forget all troubles”.  She realized that to carry out this exercise, she had to have a strong character to be able to take the most important decisions.

The letters she wrote (about 200 are preserved) provide us with important information about her formative work. Here we will mention two aspects: the first, more personal, consisted of advising and encouraging the sisters to correspond faithfully and generously to the priceless gift of their vocation, so that their whole life becomes an expression of love in response to that love that the Crucified Spouse has shown them. The second aspect, more apostolic, consisted in emphasising the principle that the apostolate, wherever it is carried out, is a basic component of the religious vocation. In this context, her invitation to “love Love (God)” and to “make Him known and loved”, is persistent. Mother Margherita nurtured a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  She spent long hours in adoration and prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

From 1911 to 1917, she was Superior of the House of Corfu’, Greece. About this period, she herself provides us with some interesting information in her letters to Mons. Galea, her spiritual director: here we mention her desire to be able to build a “decent little church for our Beloved Prisoner”.

From 1924 to 1929 she was the first Superior of the House of Adoration in Valletta, Malta. During the six years she lived in this house, and which she always recalled with a certain nostalgia, Mother Margherita had the opportunity of refreshing, if not satiating her ardent and unquenchable thirst of intimacy with Jesus in the Eucharist. She discloses with a sister in one of her letters: “for the Beloved alone knows what the one who loves feels when in His presence” and in another letter to her confessor, she confides: “after an act of adoration, I thrust myself at His feet, and according to the attraction of his presence, I let him take me where He wills!..”

From 1930 to the first months of 1940, except for a brief interval, she was Superior at Xaghra. For this period, two things were particularly worth remembering by those living close to her: her tender care towards the sick and the elderly and her assiduous consideration for the spiritual formation of the younger sisters.

Once she wrote to one of the religious, who, it seems, lost heart when faced by difficulties: “Be courageous and do not behave as a small girl; but as a strong bride, totally abandon yourself to your Spouse, and this will be enough”. Today we need more persons who accept this message, to courageously face all difficult situations they may encounter, without yielding to their pressure, or without turning back from their decisions when the winds blow against them.

Under the providential direction, the congregation continued to spread. The first convent abroad was opened on the Greek island of Corfu’ on the 28th of May, 1907.  The Sisters opened a school and ran a hospice for Maltese who had settled there.  A convent was opened in Rome on the 21st of March 1927.  On the 18th October 1927, the sisters began missionary work in Sofi, Ethiopia.

Other houses were opened in Italy and Ethiopia, and later in London, Australia, Kenya, Brazil, Pakistan,  Israel and Philippines.  The congregation has houses in all five continents.

On the 22nd of July 1927, the Holy See granted the congregation the Decretum Laudis, and its foundation was formally recognized by the Pope. This was the first locally-founded congregation to be granted this recognition.

Mother Margherita died in odour of sanctity on 22nd  of January 1952, at the Mother House, Victoria (Gozo), at the venerable age of 89 years, sorely missed by the sisters and all those who had the fortune to know her. On 4th of July 1988, in the diocese of Gozo, the process of her beatification was initiated. After having gathered together the necessary documents and heard the witnesses of many sisters and lay, the diocesan process was concluded on the 22nd of January 2000, and on the 17th February 2000 the compilation of work was presented to the Congregation of Saints in Rome. On the 4th of March 2004, the “Positio” on the life and virtues of this great woman was presented to the Congregation of Saints. Many are convinced that throughout her life, Mother Margherita was the guardian angel and the spiritual guide of our Congregation. Together with Father Joseph Diacono, she is considered the foundress  of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus.

Throughout her long life, Mother Margherita had the satisfaction of seeing the Congregation grow in number of good vocations and spreading to the different Continents, assuming always wider international dimensions and a missionary spirit. When she died, she had been in religious life for 71 years, 27 of them as superior-general.  By 1952, the number of Franciscan Sisters had risen to 450. The Servant of God, Mother Margherita De Brincat (1862-1952), was a courageous, strong, brave and far-sighted woman who gave a very beneficial contribution to the Religious Congregation.