Sacred Heart Statute - Loretto, PAThe 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 church.

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 diocese.

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 "undetermined origin." 

St. Francis Friary - Alvernia Hall, Loretto, PA.

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 closure. 

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. 

Saint Joseph Church, Herndon, VAThe 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