The history of the Third Order Regular in Ireland dates back
to the later part of the 14th and early part of the 15th centuries. These
tertiary communities were small communities of clerical and lay friars.
Due to the poor economic condition of Ireland in the middle part of the 19th
century the friars were forced to look to other countries for financial support
for their apostolic work. In 1847 a group of brothers journeyed to the US and
settled in Loretto, Pennsylvania, in October of the same year.
The brothers settled in Loretto in response to a request from the bishop of
Pittsburgh, Bishop Michael O'Connor, who was in need of a religious community
to work in the educational apostolate of the diocese. Loretto was chosen as the
site for the new establishment because it included a parish school in need of
teachers (established in 1800 by Prince Demetrius Gallitzin), land available
for farming and cultivation, and the possibility for expansion.
As their ministry in the United States continued the
brothers were increasingly faced with the need for a stronger connection with
the Franciscan family.
On May 22, 1908, the Holy Father, Pope Pius X, approved the
incorporation of the Loretto brothers with the Third Order Regular.
Further permission was given to accept into Solemn Vows those brothers who had completed
three years in Simple Vows and to open a house of novitiate in Loretto. The
General and the General Curia "affected the union on May 28, 1908". The
petition was granted by the Sacred Congregation of Religious on August 2, 1910,
the Feast of the Portiuncula. The new American province was officially erected
on September 25, 1910, and was commended to the patronage of the Most Sacred
Heart of Jesus.
The province at this time was involved in the teaching
apostolates in Spalding and Loretto and the two parishes in Johnstown and
Altoona. It is significant to note that right from the beginning of the new
American province there was a presence both in the educational and in the
parochial apostolates. As the Third Order had done for the centuries, the
friars in the United States were striving to meet the needs of the local
The early years of the province were important in that they
helped consolidate the identity of the Order in the hearts and minds of the
friars. These years also saw the expansion of St. Francis College and the
introduction of seminary courses for the friars and, somewhat later, for the
In 1937 Fr. Giovanni Parisi, then Minister Provincial,
expressed a desire that the Order be more actively involved in foreign
missions. A group of friars, accompanied by the provincial, traveled to Rome in
September of 1938 and then on to India in November of the same year. The first
Mass was celebrated in Bhagalpur on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate
Conception, just two days after the friars reached India.
On the morning of Friday October, 30, 1942, Old Main on the
campus of St. Francis College was destroyed by fire. This building, which had
been gradually expanded since its foundation in 1848, contained the chapel,
monastery, seminary, dormitory, library, kitchen and food supplies. All were
destroyed by the fire which, according to published reports of the time, was of
The aftermath of the fire left St. Francis College, which
also included St. Francis Prep School for Boys and St. Francis Seminary all but
decimated. The one saving factor of the tragedy was that no lives were lost and
the friars energetically set about the work of rebuilding what had been
destroyed. Fortunately a large piece of property across the street from the
college had been purchased by a group of benefactors, known as the
"Friends of St. Francis." This property, "The Schwab
Estate," had previously been owned by Charles Schwab and contained a
number of buildings that could easily house the various departments of the
school on a temporary basis.
In 1946 a sixty-acre estate was purchased in Spring Grove,
Pennsylvania, and St. Francis Prep School was relocated to this site. The
friars of the province continued to serve this apostolate, which included dorm
facilities for the students, until1989 when declining enrollment forced its
Also in 1946, the Bishop of Steubenville, Ohio, Bishop John
King Mussio, requested the provincial to send friars to his diocese in order to
open a college. The bishop needed a religious community to provide higher
education to the students of the diocese and the area surrounding Steubenville.
A small group of friars left for Ohio. The College of Steubenville opened on
December 10, 1947, with a freshman class of over two hundred students.
Through the years the college had managed to hold its own
and attract a sufficient number of students to remain a viable institution.
However, in the early 70s, with a decreasing enrollment, the school was facing
an economic crisis. Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR was charged with the task of
establishing a new and viable direction for the college. Fr. Michael first
addressed himself to the spiritual condition and Christian identity of the
school. Priority was given to campus ministry and the spiritual needs of the
staff and student population, a priority which is still in place at the
university. Households, based on Christian principles and peer support, were
introduced into the dorms.
The province's presence in the Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania
schools began in September of 1957 when friars became members of the faculty at
Bishop Egan High School. In 1958 the friars took over the administration and
staffing this school, part of the Catholic school system of the Archdiocese of
Philadelphia. Today, the friars are no longer administrators of the
school but teach and serve there.
In 1962 St. Francis Seminary in Loretto opened its doors and
was able to house over two hundred students. Among this number included
religious and diocesan seminarians from various communities and dioceses, as
well as TOR friars. Declining enrollment, due in part to a trend among bishops
in the US to send their seminarians to larger theological schools, forced the
closure of the seminary in 1979.
The missionary zeal of the province did not end with India.
In the early 1960s the province was once again called upon to work in the
missionary apostolate. The province began a new missionary outreach in Brazil.
As their brothers did over thirty years previously, the friars once again
responded to the needs of the church and left for the missions in Manaus in the
state of Amazonas in 1962.
The central apostolate of Sacred Heart Province has been,
and to a certain extent still is, its educational outreach. This is represented
today in the province's continued involvement in St. Francis College in
Loretto, Pennsylvania, the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, and
Conwell-Egan Catholic High School in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. However, the
province has not restricted itself to educational institutions.
The Province has been involved in parish work in a number of
places, including Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Florida
and other places during the course of its history. Sacred Heart Province
extended its presence in the southern part of the United States when in 1979 it
responded to the needs of the Church in the Diocese of Fort Worth, staffing a number
of parishes in that diocese.
The province was also involved in retreat ministry at Sacred
Heart Monastery in Winchester, Virginia. The house was used as the novitiate of
the province from November 1961 to 1986, as well as a retreat center. The building
was later sold to the Diocese of Arlington, where today our friars engage
in retreat ministry at the San Damiano Spiritual Life Center.
The history of Sacred Heart Province is an ongoing story.
This narrative has attempted to list some of the more significant events in
what will, God willing, be only the opening chapter in a long history of
service to the people of God. The history of the province is, in the final
analysis, the story of their lives and dedication. They havedone their part,
May the Lord show us what is ours to do.
Based on a work by Fr. Michael J. Higgins, TOR