The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Mother Francisca Schervier

water colour portrait of Blessed Mary Frances Schervier; from the Franciscan Sisters, artist unknownArticle

A considerable number of new religious Congregations accrued to the Church in Germany. As a rule, those who took part in their foundation were pious persons of prominence. But as far as we know at present the process of beatification has been inaugurated for only one of them, Mother Francisca Schervier, foundress of the Poor Sisters of Saint Francis. Her life furnishes such evidence of extraordinary holiness that the hope of seeing her raised to the honor of the altar rests on solid foundation.

Francisca Schervier, daughter of a wealthy needle manufacturer, was born on 3 January 1819, in the ancient imperial city of Aix-la-Chapelle. As a child she was precocious not only in worldly knowledge, but in the understanding of the mysteries of faith as well. God introduced her early into the school of the cross, of interior sufferings and hard trials. It was important for her future vocation that she should learn from her own experience how those suffer who are severely tried. She received her First Communion when ten years old and after that time she kept unshaken her resolution to live only for God. She saw God in His image on earth and it pained her delicately sensitive mind to see so many men starving in misery and suffering. An irresistible impulse to practise charity took hold of her. She went into the huts of the poor, visited the sick, and everywhere left abundant alms, which she obtained partly from her paternal inheritance and partly from what she begged unremittingly from her relatives and friends. There lived at that time in Aix-la-Chapelle a priest who was very active in charitable work, Father Joseph Istas, chaplain at Saint Paul’s. In him Francisca found the greatest support and encouragement for her labors of charity. On his part Father Istas found no more zealous co-operator than our Servant of God in executing his many plans for the relief of social misery. For a long time she had desired to enter the religious life. One day a friend of hers, Gertrude Frank, declared that it was imperative upon her to establish a Congregation in Aix-la-Chapelle for the practice of works of mercy and that she clearly knew it was the manifest will of God. Francisca showed reluctance and alleged her unfitness; but her friend gave her no rest and finally she proposed the matter to an experienced priest Though he greatly approved the plan it was not easy to overcome the reluctance of Francisca. In the autumn of 1845 difficulties were removed, and Francisca began a community life with four companions, who chose her for their superior. The young community, which occupied itself with nursing the sick and the care of the poor people and the girls who were in danger, found much favor because of its great zeal and it soon began to win new members. In 1851 it obtained the approbation of the archbishop under the title of the Poor Sisters of Saint Francis. Until her death on 14 December 1876, Mother Francisca was to her subjects the ideal of a superior. Her discreet direction and sound spirituality secured interior solidity to her Congregation. There was a peculiar charm in her character that attracted every one and gave her great influence over the souls of women. The secret of this power was her lively faith and her interior union with God. She viewed everything in the light of faith and thus found it easy to inspire her Sisters to magnanimous sacrifices in their beautiful vocation. And this spirit brings with it continual joy. In prayer she sought assistance and light for every need. Hence she had no objection when some of the Sisters – those called “recluses” – gave themselves completely to the contemplative life, endeavoring by prayer to bring God’s blessing on the work of the rest, as when Moses prayed on the mountain while the people were fighting with the enemy.

One who loves God as did Mother Francisca must needs love immortal souls also. It is touching to read of the pains she took to seek after lost sheep according to the example of the Good Shepherd. Her bold and fiery zeal sometimes impelled her to do things that may be rather admired than imitated.

We must admit that Francisca’s young friend, Gertrude Frank, was right. It was God’s will that she should found a religious Congregation. Incalculable good for the relief of suffering humanity has been done by the Poor Sisters of Saint Francis, who labor fruitfully according to the spirit of their foundress in numerous residences throughout Germany and North America. God has visibly protected their work and has not failed to grant extraordinary favors through Francisca Schervier both before and after her death.

MLA Citation

  • Father Constantine Kempf, SJ. “Mother Francisca Schervier”. The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, 1916. CatholicSaints.Info. 28 March 2018. Web. 21 September 2018. <>