In the city of Victoria, Gozo, the association of the “Twelve Stars of the Heart of Jesus” had been set up to make reparation for the offences that the Sacred Heart of Jesus receives in the Holy Eucharist. These young girls also dedicated themselves to teach catechism in the parishes.
Some of these girls expressed a strong desire to consecrate themselves completely to God. They met in a small house at Victoria, under the direction of Fr Joseph Diacono, and soon they had acquired diocesan approval. They professed the Rule of the Third Order Regular of St Francis of Assisi and took the name of Franciscan Tertiaries.
On 15th January 1882 the new Congregation moved to 10, Palm Street, in a building which Fr Diacono purchased, restored and enlarged, calling it House of Charity, and which later became the Mother House of the Congregation.
In this house Fr Diacono established an educational centre where the nuns welcomed little boys and girls, giving them a Christian and cultural education; at the same time they also taught the girls sewing, embroidery, lace making, preparing them for domestic work. Besides, they taught catechism in the parishes.
On 13th October 1883, the new Congregation received definitive approval from the Bishop of Gozo, Mons Peter Pace.
In 1885, desirous to give a solid religious and cultural education to children and youth around the island of Gozo, Fr Diacono opened another religious House in the village of Qala, where he was parish priest.
Some prominent people from Malta, the mother island, who greatly admired the educational work which our sisters in Gozo were carrying out, invited them to carry out their apostolate even in Malta.
On 31st May 1885, the first House of the Congregation in B’Kara, Malta was inaugurated and the nuns dedicated themselves to the same apostolate they were carrying out in Gozo.
On 7th May 1886, the Bishop of Gozo, Mons Peter Pace gave the new Constitutions to the Franciscan Sisters.
In a short while, vocations increased and the nuns could open other Houses in the island of Malta.
Around 1887, the Congregation went through a period of serious crisis, that seemed to threaten its very existence. In fact, due to economic and other problems, Fr Joseph Diacono was quitting, sending the nuns that were at the Mother House back home.
Here, God intervened through Mother Margherita De Brincat who was then superior at the House in Birkirkara. Through divine inspiration, she left for Gozo and managed to persuade Fr Joseph and the sisters not to depart, as she was convinced that the Congregation was willed by God. Fr Joseph, marvelled by her arrival, asked if she was willing to shoulder responsibility herself. To her affirmative answer, he left the direction and guidance of the Congregation completely in her hands.
From that day, the Congregation developed rapidly, and gradually assumed international dimensions, providing, beside educational and pastoral care, social service, in particular to those whom the world considers to be the least fortunate, the orphans, the sick, and the elderly.
On 12th October 1903, the Congregation was notified of its aggregation to the Order of the Friars Minor, through a letter sent by the Minister General, Father Dionisius Schuller ofm.
In 1907, the Congregation spread beyond the confinement of the Maltese Islands, opening a House in Corfu’, Greece, to help the many Maltese who had emigrated to that island to find work.
On 5th August 1921, the Bishop of Gozo, Mons. Giovanni Camilleri, approved the Constitutions, up-dated in conformity to the Code of Canon Law, which came into effect on the 1st January 1918.
Vocations continued to increase and Mother Margherita and her Council agreed to open other houses across the Continent. On 8th March 1922, two houses were opened in Sicily, one in Troina and another in Regalbuto.
In the same year, on 30th September 1922, the Congregation was given a Cardinal protector, in the person of Cardinal Oreste Giorni.
In 1923, the Bishop of Malta, Mons Mauro Caruana, invited Mother Margherita, who was then general Superior, to care for the House of Adoration in Valletta, which had been abandoned by the Sisters of Adoration.
Although the House presented many financial difficulties, Mother Margherita accepted with enthusiasm, pleased to have nuns, at last, who could adore Jesus in the Eucharist continually. The House was officially opened in 1924, and Mother Margherita was the first Superior.
In Victoria, on 22nd July 1924, Fr Joseph Diacono passed away, in the hands of Mother Margherita and surrounded by the Franciscan Sisters.
Many great foundations were made in 1927: the Congregation opened its first missionary House in Africa – in Sofi, Harar, Ethiopia. In the same year the Houses of Rome and Misterbianco, Catania, were also opened.
On 2nd July 1937, the Congregation received the “Decree of Praise” from the Holy See and definitive approval on 23rd December 1946. Thus, the Congregation became of pontifical right.
In 1952, the Congregation sent the first missionary nuns to Brazil, in Jaguapita’ and Rolandia, in Parana’.
The following year, another group of nuns arrived in the mission land of Pakistan.
Following various demands from Bishops and priests, another group of nuns were sent to Australia, to help the many Maltese who had emigrated to that distant land, in search of work.
In 1960, a House was opened in London to offer a place of welcome to those who were seriously ill, and to their families, many of them Maltese, who had been sent by the Ministry of Health to receive better medical care.
Due to the commitment of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council, during the Special General Chapter of 1969, the Congregation became more deeply aware of its particular identity, according to the grace of its origins. In these circumstances the present name of Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus was chosen, as it corresponded more faithfully to our spiritual patrimony.
The Constitutions, restructured and recompiled during the General Chapter to meet the new needs, were presented to the Holy See, and on 22nd June 1970 both the Constitutions and the modified name of the Congregation were approved.
In 1980, the Congregation accepted a new apostolate in the vicinity of the Custody of the Holy Land, in Jerusalem, helping Catholic Palestinian boys of school age, coming from very poor families or living outside the city.
In 1989 the Congregation further spread its missionary work with the opening of houses in Kenya.
On 13th December 2001 the Congregation transferred the Generalate from Malta to Santa Maria delle Mole, Marino, Rome.
On 29th January 2003, the Congregation established the first community in the Philippines.
Currently, the Congregation is made up of Provinces, and Regions, but structured in such a way as to guarantee the inspirational unity and fraternal communion in the diverse environments, and in view of the unique mission, in which all the sisters participate, wherever we live and work.