Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary

The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary are a group of Catholic Religious Sisters who were established in London, England, in 1903. There they are commonly known as the Chigwell Sisters. In collaboration with their associates, auxiliaries, co-workers and volunteers, the Sisters work with the poor of the world, both to identify and transform underlying causes of suffering and to meet their practical needs.


The congregation has its origin in the French religious institute of the Sisters Servants of the Sacred Heart, founded by the Abbé Peter-Victor Braun in Paris in 1866. Braun, who was a native of Saint-Avold in the Lorraine region, had moved there to meet the spiritual needs of the people of his region who were flocking from the farms to the capital at the height of the Industrial Revolution in France to find work. He became a regular confessor at the famed Basilica of Our Lady of Victories in Paris.

In the course of his ministry, Braun served in a seedy quarter of the city where he became aware of the struggle of the young women there who had come as unskilled workers, especially when they were not able to find work in the factories. He also saw single mothers struggling to survive with their children. With the help of a small group of volunteers he opened a hostel where the young women could find a refuge and place of support. He also opened a day care center so that mothers could find could be free to find employment to support their families. Additionally home visits were done by his volunteer ladies to the residences of the sick poor to care for them in their need.

By October 1866, Braun had reluctantly concluded that the work had to be entrusted to an congregation of professed Religious Sisters in order to guarantee its continuity. Thus he established three of these volunteers as a religious congregation under the leadership of a Bavarian woman, Sister Anna Katharina Berger, who had come to Paris already a member of a community of Franciscan Sisters founded by the Blessed Paul Joseph Nardini in Pirmasens. She was appointed by Braun as Mother Superior of the small community under the name Mother Mary Odilia.

Braun expressed his vision for the congregation in these words:

The purpose of our congregation is to bring the love and compassion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to all those we meet in our service of love.[1]

Revolution and exile

The sudden outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 caused a major change in the future of the small congregation. Rumors of anti-Catholic atrocities by the Paris Commune caused a group of the Sisters to flee to England for safety. They were followed by a larger group, who brought with them Braun, who was suffering from shock due to having ministered at the battlefront. Because of her nationality, the co-founder, Mother Odilia, was forced to return to her native Germany.[lower-alpha 1]

The refugees were warmly received by Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, the Archbishop of Westminster, who gave them a small house in the Stratford area of the city. The Sisters quickly established themselves in the East End of London where they began again their mission of helping struggling workers and their families. Their numbers in England grew, and the Sisters began to serve in Scotland and Wales, where they provided medical care in mining towns. They also opened schools where they taught the local children. They began the tradition of the entire community going out on weekends to visit the Catholic homes of the area.


After the upheavals of the Franco-Prussian War, and the subsequent uprisings, with the establishment of peace in France by the late 1870s, some of the French Sisters returned to their homeland. They re-established the congregation there and its work.

After a generation, however, differences in vision began to emerge between the English and French Sisters. Under the advice of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, in 1902 the majority of Sisters in England elected to separate from the Servants of the Sacred Heart and to form a new congregation. They took the name the congregation now bears at its formal establishment on 3 March 1903.[2]

The Motherhouse of the new congregation was established in the London suburb of Chigwell, from which the Sisters are popularly known in England. Sister Winifride Tyrrell, born near Monasterevin in Ireland, who had served for many years as a principal in the Mile End neighborhood of London, was elected as the first Superior General.


Under the guidance of Mother Winifride the early Sisters served the poor in industrial cities, towns and villages throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Their first Irish foundation was made in Cork in 1922, followed by Cardiff in Wales.

In the mid-1950s the congregation was established in the United States, in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland and in Zambia. At the start of the 21st century, the Sisters started to serve war-ravaged populations in Colombia and El Salvador. In 2001 they embarked on providing computer literacy to the street children of Cebu in the Philippines. The following year they began caring for AIDS patients in Kampala, Uganda.

Projects are developed to meet local needs. In general terms these are aimed at the education and welfare of children and training and health education for adults.[3] The congregation has now formed an association with both the French mother congregation and another offshoot based in Austria called the Federation of the Sacred Heart. It has the approval of the Holy See.

The Sisters also operated a "mother and baby home" in Sean Ross Abbey in Ireland from 1930 to 1970. Life at the home features in the 2009 book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee[4] by Martin Sixsmith, and in Philomena, the 2013 film that is based on it. During that period, mothers and children were often forcibly separated, with some children being removed for adoption in the USA in exchange of donations for to the home.[5][6][7]

In 1939 the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts took over the Priory of St. Augustine, in Old Colwyn, Wales—originally built as a hotel—from a community of Augustinian nuns. They used it as a house of rest and nursing care for themselves. In 2010, the Congregation opened it as a House of Prayer open to all.[8]

Mission Statement

We, Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, urged by the compassion of Christ

and responsive to the anguish of peoples and planet, are called to help shape communities of gentleness, justice and peace that witness to the healing, liberating and empowering love of God.[9]


  1. Berger initially settled in the Rhineland, where she attempted to found a new community along the same lines. Thwarted by government policies of the Kulturkampf, she emigrated to the United States, settling with some companions in St. Louis, Missouri, where she founded the Sisters of St. Mary, now the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. They established and run hospitals throughout the Midwestern United States.


See also

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