St. Francis' Foundress

Foundress of The Franciscan Sisters of The Heart Of Jesus 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 as Fr. Joseph Diacono, The Vice-parish priest at St. George's.

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. Mother Margherita who was born Virginia Debrincat in Kercem (Gozo), on November 28 1862, was trained at Fr. Diacono's school. 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. Today, the congregation is still going strong and on Saturday 22nd January 2000, the diocesan informative process for the beatification of Mother Margherita - started in Gozo on July 4, 1988 - was concluded. The process will now be continued in Rome.

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.

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. But Mother Margherita always faced all troubles with serenity and strength, though patience and determination and above all, in a spirit of total acceptance of the will of Divine Providence. Her rule was always (as she once 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 strength of character to be able to take the most important decisions.

Once she wrote to one of her 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 May 28, 1907. The Sisters opened a school and ran a hospice for Maltese who had settled there. A convent was opened in Rome on March 21, 1927. On October 18, 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 July 2, 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.

During her lifetime, Mother Margherita nurtured a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She spent long hours in adoration and prayer in front f the Blessed Sacrament and often exhorted her Sisters: “Let us love Love”. When she died, she had been in religious life for 71 years, 27 of them as superior-general. In 1952, the number of Franciscan Sisters had risen to 450. Mother Margherita was a courageous woman who gave a very beneficial contribution. The process for her beatification is well under way and at the moment the Congregation of Saints is concluding its examination of a miraculous cure attributed to Mother Margherita.