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Frances Schervier

Frances Schervier, born January 8, 1819, was the daughter of John Henry Schervier, a wealthy and respected needle manufacturer and vice-mayor of Aachen. Her French mother, Marie Louise Migeon, reared her children sternly. After the death of her mother and two elder sisters, at thirteen Frances assumed care of the family household. Although Frances' life was one of privilege she developed an acute awareness of the desperate condition of the poor while still quite young, selling silver and other articles in the house through a trusted seamstress and giving the proceeds to the poor along with money set aside for her dowry.

In a dispute over the rights of the church in 1837 (Kölner Wirren), the Prussian government imprisoned the Archbishop of Cologne, Clement 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 spirtual awakening some prominent Aachen ladies started a society for the relief of the poor and petitioned John Schervier to permit Frances to join. He at first agreed but later demurred when Frances began nurse the sick in their homes, fearing that Frances would spread disease into his own house. Rather than respond vigorously to her father's objection, Frances discreetly continued to visit the sick until he gradually became accustomed to her involvement; her father later recalled that his daughter grasped how to emancipate herself.

Joseph Istas, 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 Kaplan Istas' premature death in 1843. In 1845 Frances life took an unexpected turn: her father died and a friend, Getrude Frank, told her of a religious experience. Getrude related to Frances, "Our Lord wills that you leave your parental home and your family in order that, in company with those he will more clearly show you, you may save souls for him and heal his wounds." Instead of entering a convent, on October 3, 1845 she and four other women left their homes and under Frances' leadership formed the nucleus of the community that became known as the Sisters of the Poor of Saint Francis.

From 1845 until 1848, the sisters continued to care for the sick in their homes and to work in the soup kitchen. They also cared for prostitutes in their own small home and nursed syphilitic women of the city of Aachen. Relying entirely upon donations for support, the sisters experienced extreme pover ty. 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, small pox, typhoid fever, and cancer, but they also supervised women prisoners at the Aachen prison and assisted them in finding employment after their release.

The community obtained formal church recognition in 1851, despite authorities' objections to Frances' severe position regarding personal poverty. According to the annalist of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Poor of Saint Francis, they received state acceptance in 1853 because "priests and religious persons were considered suitable for pacifying the people who had been roused by revolutionary ideas;" and that the tide of government sentiment turned when "through unification of the conservative elements in the state, the revolution had been overcome."
Carol Ryan


P. I. Jeiler, The Venerable Mother Frances Schervier Foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Poor of Saint Francis: a Sketch of her Life and Character trans. by Bonaventura Hammer 3d ed St. Louis, Missouri: B. Herder ,1924.

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