The Servant of God, Father Gregorio (Ludovico) Fioravanti, Founder of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Sisters, was born on April 24, 1822, in Grotte di Castro (Viterbo), a small village near the lake of Bolsena. He was the last one of nine children, and belonged to a simple and modest family, in which, even though he lost his mother when he was six years old, he was educated on the fear of God, in assiduous prayer and in laboriousness.
Already, as an adolescent, he manifested a personality inclined to be reserved and determined and a clear and reflexive intelligence. In 1838, at the age of 16, he entered the Order of Friars Minor in Orvieto, where he took the habit of Francis and received the name of Fray Gregorio; a year later he made his solemn religious profession. In 1845 he was ordained a priest in Viterbo. He was first, professor of philosophy in Rome, then he was sent to Venice as professor in the Theological Study Center of St. Francis della Vigna. He distinguished himself by his humility and serenity, and made, of his chair, the altar of his unceasing offering, and during twelve years he was the wise and respected professor of life for groups of young people. In 1856, when he was 34 years old, he was called to govern the extensive Venetian Province of St Anthony of the Regular Friars Minor.
When the three years mandate expired as Provincial Minister, Providence, by means and instruments, known only by the loving divine plan, disposed for him an encounter which brought a decisive change in his life. A young French lady, Mrs. Laura Leroux, wife of the Duke of Bauffremont, eager to found a convent, came to him asking help to begin a new institute of Franciscan religious; because of his advice, she oriented it towards the apostolic missions Fully obedient to God's Will, with great sacrifice and humility, impelled by apostolic zeal, he accepted the heavy task of guiding the new foundation of the Franciscan Tertiaries for the missions, which, according to the wish of the Duchess, was canonically erected, in Gemona del Friuli, on April 21st, 1861.
Though the beginning of the Institute was very promising and gave great hopes, soon the Servant of God found himself to be the only one responsible for it, with difficulties and unspeakable sufferings, because of the departure of the Duchess (1863). The painful and heroic story of the origin of the Institute, marked deeply by the cross, celebrates the invincible fortitude, the heroic patience, the wisdom and laboriousness of this humble Franciscan who assumed the most unpleasant tasks, only for the glory of God; he had to face mortifying protests and threats, in his fidelity to God, to help so many young consecrated, for the purpose of taking the Word of salvation to the brothers and sisters who were far away and in need.
He wrote and, several times, modified the Rule for the new Institute, being an exemplary guardian and a wise guide in order that, by all the sisters would be lovingly observed, in communion of life, witness and apostolic zeal. At the request of the Franciscan Fathers, three Sisters came to America to St. Francis of Assisi Parish, New York City in 1865, to serve the migrants, the orphans, the poor. The community continues its service today in the United States. In 1872 he began a new Mission in the Middle East, where the sisters dedicated themselves to the education of the poor and abandoned youth. For this the Servant of God, though he never traveled outside of Italy, has been recognized as an Apostolic Missionary.
Later, in 1885, he also opened a ‘mission’ in Italy, where he collaborated with the work of the Church gravely damaged by anticlericalism and on account of the greatly diffused ignorance. He continued to be close to his Institute with untiring love though at that time he was twice re-elected Provincial Superior of the Friars of the Veneto Province, during very difficult times for the religious, affected by the Italian suppression (1866). Attentive to build up and to guide, especially by example and limitless dedication to all, he served God in silence, without claiming anything, without defending himself even when he was lead through trials of solitude and abandonment. He spent the last years of his life living a completely hidden life, transforming his time into prayer and offering it for the institute which, nevertheless, he saw that it was flourishing and extending. Struck by a sudden illness at the end of the Eucharistic celebration he died on January 23, 1894, in Gemona in the monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the convent of his daughters whom he had directed and supported during 34 years.
The last blessing for all the sisters, the present and those of the future, was most moving and still maintains the full efficacy of the solicitude of a Father.
Today, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart carry out their apostolic service in 20 'mission' countries of Europe, America, Asia and Africa. The Sisters' missionary work takes them to Italy, France, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Albania, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Cameroon, Republic of Central Africa, Congo, India, and the Philippines.
Founded mainly for evangelization through caring for the poor in the United States, the Sisters teach on elementary and high school levels, minister in social work, nursing, prisons, and various other programs within the Church in New York State and New Jersey.
As vowed women the Sisters live the Gospel in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi drawing inspiration from the compassionate, redemptive love of Jesus for all people. The Sisters share in a community life of prayer, penance and apostolic activity.
The Cause of Canonization was introduced in Udine in 1990, and in 1995 it was taken to Rome to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, where it follows the necessary requirements In January 1997, it obtained the positive vote in the examination of the historical consultation.
Prepared by Pontifical University Urbaniana, with the collaboration of the Missionary Institutes
For a gallery of historical photos of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, please click on this link to a gallery on our Sisters website in Rome - HISTORICAL PHOTO GALLERY.