"In Jesus we find everything"

General Government of the Brothers and Sisters, Rome


Home / Congregation / Brief history of the Congregation

Brief history of the Congregation

1. The Period after the Founders, 1834-1853

The successors of Mother Henriette as Mother General of the Sisters were Françoise de Viart (1834-1850) and Constance Jobert (1850-1853). After the death of Father Coudrin, Monsignor Raphael Bonamie became the Superior General of the Brothers. (1837-1853).

During their government the Congregation suffered badly from internal tensions. In fact, there were two sharply opposed options. Should  Brothers and Sisters, cost what may, adhere to the lifestyle and work which took shape during the lives of the Founders, or should they adapt to the new developments in the world, in the Church, and in Religious life?

The communion of the Congregation was about to shatter, not only momentarily, as a parentheses, but definitively. This is a phenomenon which often happens in young Religious communities after the death of their founders, when they have to try a situation where new norms replace the reference to the Founders. In 1853 both Mother General and Father General resigned and were succeeded by Gabrielle Aymer de la Chevalerie (1853-1866) and Father Euthyme Rouchouze (1853-1869). After that, a number of Brothers and Sisters broke away from the Congregation.

In spite of these tensions the Congregation began to grow.  Many new foundations were established in France, and in 1840 the Brothers founded a house in Louvain, Belgium - the first house outside France. Sisters went to Chile (1838) and Perú (1848). More and more Brothers went to Latin America and the Pacific area. In December 1842 our own ship of the Congregation, the "Marie Joseph", set sail for the mission in the Sandwich Islands (today Hawaii). On board were the Bishop of Oceania, 13 Brothers, and 10 Sisters. They were shipwrecked; a painful loss for the mission work. The tragedy however showed how much the Congregation wanted to engage itself in mission work.


2. The Time of Quiet Healing and Reflection, 1853-1870


After that delicate moment of confrontation and schism was happily resolved under the leadership of Gabrielle Aymer de la Chevalerie (1853-1866) and Father Euthyme Rouchouze (1853-1869), an initial period of standing still and stagnation emerged. At the same time it was a period of self-reflection and recruiting new members.

It was a period of quiet preparation for the expansion which our Congregation would undergo, like so many other institutes, during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

In the field of finance the Superiors General had serious problems to overcome. As a result of the breakaway, a few painful, public legal proceedings were held against the Congregation. These were brought on by enormous financial debts caused by irresponsible management of Congregational possessions which were held in the names of individual members. This burdened the community with enormous financial debts.

The Superior General, Euthyme Rouchouze, was a man of deep spiritual insight who expressed his spirituality in his circular letters. He was particularly interested in the consecration to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and their mutual participation in the mystery of salvation. He emphasized, as a spiritual path, the assumption of suffering as a completion of the Lord's passion for his Body which is the Church. By the end of his life, the Community had recaptured its apostolic enthusiasm and fellowship in a spirit of fidelity to its charism. When Damien de Veuster spent part of his time of preparation in Issy, he was clearly inspired by the conferences of the Superior General.

The Sisters concentrated their energies on education, especially for poor children. The Brothers were also active in education. Their colleges and their work for the formation of the secular clergy were well known.

The Sisters started foundations in Honolulu (1859) and Ecuador (1862). In 1864 the Lay Brother Eugene Eyraud began the evangelisation of Easter Island. After a few difficult years the whole island became Catholic.

To train young people for the mission, the General Chapter of the Brothers in 1868 decided to found Apostolic Schools just at a time during which many young people wanted to join the Congregation. They had heard about the mission work of the Congregation through letters and articles in many periodicals. A fruit and expression of this reality is Fr. Damien De Veuster, who, at thirty-three years,  offered himself to the Vicar Apostolic to be "buried alive" with the lepers in Molokai (an Islands of Hawaii). From the beginning, he identified with the sick; he would come to say: "we lepers", an identification that was not only verbal. Indeed, a day arrived when the evil was manifested in his flesh and began its slow destruction, until his death.


3. Stormy Developments (1870-1914)

The Congregation developed rapidly during the terms of Superiors General Marcellin Bousquet (1870-1911) and Benjamin le Blais (1866-1879), Angela Chauvin (1879-1893) and Marie-Claire Pechuchet (1894-1925).  The fame of Father Damien de Veuster (1840-1889) also brought many young people into our Congregation. 

Because the French government was anticlerical, the Sisters and Brothers were forced to found communities outside France. During this period, the Congregation became international.  In May 1871, the four General Councilors were put to death by the communards. Ten years later, all orders and congregations became the target of French anticlerical laws. In 1903 the General Government of the Brothers sought refuge in the Belgium town of Braine-le-Comte.

The Sisters founded houses in Spain (1881), Belgium (1894), England (1895), the Netherlands (1803) and the United States (1908). The Brothers settled in Spain (1880), the Netherlands (1892), England (1894) and the United States (1905). The multiplication of international houses made it necessary to divide the Congregation into provinces for the Brothers, but not the Sisters.

In 1883 the first Sisters left for Bolivia.  The Brothers went to Peru (1885), the Cook Islands (1894), and Mexico (1909).

A remarkable personage of that time was Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey. In 1907 Pope Pius X and Father General commissioned him to preach the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in Homes all over the world.  This form of family apostolate soon became organized world-wide as a flourishing activity of our Congregation.  

Another means to propagate the consecration to the Sacred Hearts and to make the Congregation known was the publication of magazines. Of these, the Annals of the Sacred Hearts (Annales des Sacrés-Coeurs) deserve special mention.

During this time of growth and expansion, all religious communities began to lay down their own spirituality in a Rule of Life. In 1898 our Congregation compiled the book, The Religious of the Sacred Hearts, and presented it to the Brothers and Sisters. 


4. Quiet Growth and Stabilization, 1914-1940


Father Flavien Prat (1911-1938), Sister Marie-Claire Pecuchet (1894-1925), and Sister Benjamin de Noual de la Billais (1925-1948) led the Congregation during the First World War and the succeeding interbellum period. The war claimed victims among the members of the Congregation and houses were damaged. 

The time after the war was again a period of growth throughout the Congregation and the Brothers, especially, made good use of that.  French, Belgian, and Latin American Provinces had already been established. Now followed Germany (1920), Spain (1923), and the Netherlands (1923). New foundations by the Brothers included Norway (1920), Portugal (1931), and Austria (1933). The Sisters went to Canada in 1928.

In Mexico, the Brothers had great difficulty during the persecution of the Church (1918-1924).  They went to Brazil (1925) and to Argentina (1929). A remarkable the life is that of Fr. Eustaquio van Lieshout, born in Aarle-Rixtel (Holland), who was a missionary in Brazil, apostle of “peace and health”, who was beatified on June 15, 2006 in Belo Horizonte (Brazil).  

The Sisters went to Argentina as well (1935). For the first time, missionaries of the Congregation went to Asia. The Brothers started in the Dutch East Indies (1924) and the Chinese Island of Hainan (1923). Eyes were cast on Africa as well and a mission was started in the Congo (1930).

The Spanish Civil War was the prelude to a world-wide disaster. Fourteen of our Fathers became victims of this war. Father Teofilo (Benjamin) Fernández de Lagaria Goñi (38 years), superior of the Seminary at El Escorial, with Fathers Isidro (Juan) Iñiguez de Ciriano Avechuco (35), Gonzalo (Fortunato) Barrón Nanclares (37 years), Eladio (Leonicio) López Ramos (32) and Mario (Luis) Ros Ezcurra (26) were beatified on 13 October 2013.

The time "between wars" was not a moment in which the Brothers and Sisters of the Congregation were open to a genuine renewal and deepening of the spirituality. It would be necessary to wait until the immense changes that occurred in society, which raised questions that would be addressed. In fact, it would be necessary to await the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The Congregation until that moment lived from the received tradition and did not move to new horizons.


5. The Transition to a New Period, 1940-1960


In 1938 Father Jean du Coeur de Jésus d'Elbée was chosen as Superior General of the Brothers. In 1958 he renounced his right to be Superior General for life and was succeeded by the Belgium Father Henry Systermans (1958-1970), the first non-French Superior General. During that period, Sister Benjamine de Noual de la Billais (1925-1948) and Sister Zenaïde sLorier (1948-1964) were the Superiors General for the Sisters.

The time after 1945 was a period of intense labor for rebuilding. For our Congregation it was a time of new expansion. In 1955, the Congregation numbered 1779 Brothers and 1500 Sisters.  New foundations were made in the First World: the Fathers in Poland (1946), in Ireland and Canada (1948), and the Sisters in Ireland (1950).

The General Government moved to Rome, and few foundations by the Brothers were begun in Northern Italy (1956).

New foundations also took place outside the First World.  In 1948 the Brothers went to Ecuador and missionaries were sent to Japan. The missionaries of the Cook Islands extended care temporarily to the Chatham Islands and settled in New Zealand to look after the immigrants of their mission. In 1956 some Brothers went to Mozambique and a year later to Singapore.

After the war the work of the Enthronement still flourished nearly everywhere under the zealous leadership of Father Mateo, until his death in 1960. The work of the Exterior Association also did well and many families took part in night adoration.  More than 700,000 members were signed up for night adoration, prompting a news reporter to remark that the Congregation of Father Coudrin prevented mankind from sleeping!

During the fifties changes began to occur, so that our spiritual inheritance had to be formulated in a new theological, biblical, and historical framework. A new Spirituality Commission was set up which studied and published some excellent works. The General Chapter of the Brothers issued an Explanation of the Spirituality of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts as a guideline for the future. Much was done during the following years when drastic changes, stemming from Vatican II, made it imperative to look for totally new paths.


6. The Congregation from Vatican II until Today (1958-present)


The profound changes taking place in society and in the Church over the second half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries affected the life of the Congregation.

Throughout that time, the Superiors General (now  "ad tempus" for six or twelve years maximum) were the Belgian Henri Systermans (1958-1970), the Dutch Jan Scheepens (1970-1982), the Irish Patrick Bradley (1982-1994), the Spanish Enrique Losada (1994-2006) and from 2006 to present Javier Alvarez-Ossorio, also Spanish (reelected in 2012). And in the branch of the Sisters, the Superiors General were Zenaide Lorier from France (1948-1964), Brigid Mary McSweeney from Ireland (1964-1975), María Paloma Aguirre from Spain (1975-83) Maria Pia Lafont from Spain (1983-1994), Jeanne Cadiou from France (1994-2006 ), Rosa Maria Ferreiro from Spain (2006-2012) and Emperatriz Arrobo, from Ecuador, elected in 2012.

This was a time of many changes and tensions in the Congregation which we are going to simply list here without much detail.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) raised a profound reflection on the nature and mission of the Church in the world. It drew up an inventory of the situation and proposed future directions which touched religious life. The decree "Perfectae Caritatis" somehow marks the basic orientations for the renewal and from there flows a stream of life that all congregations lived in tension between fidelity to tradition and finding new ways of life and mission for religious life today.

Brothers and Sisters have been taking similar steps. We can mention some milestones in this process. Vatican II opened all the doors and only during the twelve years of Father. Henri Systermans (1958-1970) "almost everything changed."  The decentralization of the Congregation was emphasized; Provinces were given the authority to have Provincial Chapters with the ability to make decisions on many issues. A tension was incubating over the meaning of a religious life more oriented to mission, integrated into the local church and "international communities" of the Congregation which were more likely to ensure unity. The Sisters lived a similar process especially after the extraordinary General Chapter of 1968 and then with Maria Paloma Aguirre as Superior General.

The General Chapter of 1982 was very important for the Brothers. It offered a program for the future: to build a more just world in solidarity with the poor, to achieve a renewed and inspired community life at all levels, to seek together what is essential to our charism and mission. Some steps of development were nurtured especially with the frequent presence of the General Government in the provinces (provincial chapters, continental conferences, international meetings ...) and by the deepening and implementing of initiatives that synchronized with these three lines of growth.

Also, in those years the process of elaborating the new Constitutions and Statutes of the Congregation took place with the participation of both branches of the entire Congregation.  In 1988, the Congregation celebrated jointly, in El Escorial (Spain), the 34th General Chapter of the Brothers and the 31st General Chapter of the Sisters where together they approved Chapter I of the new Constitutions which is common to both branches.

Despite differences, points of consensus are emerging, many more than in the recent past that precedes this period. From the autonomy of the Provinces a sense of belonging to the same international community in which all members live and work with the same charism, vision and mission is progressively emerging. A new consciousness in life is being expressed in many ways, and a global presence also gives way to the idea of being in other continents, not only in a mission perspective, but also with the idea of becoming a Congregation with the specific "face" of each continent or country: in Africa, in Asia, and in some Latin American countries.

This more structural evolution is accompanied by something else that gives life, hope and a sense of identity to new generations of religious, who though not prisoners of the past, passionately value our origins as Congregation.  We can say that the Congregation has journeyed a long way in the past few decades in searching and articulating our ss.cc. charism. The invitation came from the Council.

In the Brothers Constitutions (1964) elements and sensitivities of the future are somehow present. In 1970 came the Rule of Life which inspired and encouraged so many members of the Congregation during these years; studies on some elements of the charism and especially those on historical issues around the times of the Founders and the first Community; efforts to reformulate the charism by Brothers and Sisters who dared to do it from different perspectives; Patrick Bradley´s letters on our ss.cc. mission, charism and identity; the collaborative effort of our Brothers and Sisters to develop the first chapter of the Constitutions, and "Our SS.CC. Vocation and Mission" published in 1988. These, among others, are milestones of a positive movement which generated identity, life, and hope for the Congregation today.

With this spiritual and organizational background, the Congregation is acquiring a multicolored appearance. It faces the future from a diversity that enriches, is animated by the same spirituality and mission, experiences different challenges in Europe, North America and Latin American countries with long-established presences and the emerging presences in Asia and Africa.  It is a path of unity, relationship in life and mission and collaboration between Brothers and Sisters; with the challenge not only to live significantly the ss.cc. charism in a male and female style, but also in the different "states of life" in which Christians embody their life story.

This is the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts which is one Congregation, a ss.cc. family of religious and laity. The Brothers’ General Chapter of 2006 underlines the fact that the Lord calls us to be contemplative, compassionate and companions.  Above all, we are called to contemplate Jesus, his person, his word, his continual, abiding presence, to accompany each other and to extend fraternity to many different areas, to translate contemplation and fraternity into compassion which testifies to the love of God especially to the most vulnerable and marginalized.

General Chapters, September 2012, Rome


The ideal of the Founders was concisely put into words by the sixth Superior General of the Brothers, Father Jean du Coeur du Jèsus d’Elbée, who wrote: "Our Congregation is small in numbers, but great, very great, through the divine gifts which so abundantly have been bestowed on us, namely: the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary, inseparable from each other and closely connected with the Holy Eucharist and the mission to make LOVE loved where it is not loved. This is the most glorious mission there is, for God is Love!"