There was reverent rejoicing in the motherhouse chapel of the Franciscan Sisters of Peekskill when the provincial superior announced Pope Francis had recognized the heroic virtue of Servant of God Franciscan Father Gregorio Fioravanti, O.F.M., the Italian founder of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, advancing him on the path to sainthood and distinguishing him with the designation of “Venerable.”
The Vatican announced the pope’s decision Nov. 9, along with the news that he had declared Pope John Paul I “Venerable” and had advanced four other sainthood causes as well as the martyrdom of an Italian sister and a priest in Hungary.
“We were happy,” said Sister Laura Morgan, F.M.S.C., who as provincial superior since 2015 had the honor of relaying the news to the other women religious as the congregation convened for Evening Prayer at the provincial house known as Mount St. Francis on South Street.
Sister Laura had just received a call from order’s general superior in Rome. Like their sisters around the globe, the Peekskill Franciscan Sisters have been faithfully praying through the intercession of their founder for years. “To know that they thought there was enough evidence for that cause was great,” Sister Laura said.
Sister Laura, 66, a New Jersey native who entered the order at age 19, believes the acknowledgment could propel the congregation in a purposeful way.
“The exceptional thing that Father Gregory did is that he picked up somebody else’s beginnings and carried them through where they wouldn’t have been carried through,” Sister Laura said. Without him, the order would not exist, she said, adding he could see “this was something God wanted.”
Sister Laura was referring to the congregation’s beginning with a young French woman, Laura Leroux, wife of the Duke of Bauffremont who, according to the order’s history, was eager to found a convent. Mrs. Leroux approached Father Fioravanti and asked for his assistance to establish a Religious Franciscan and Missionary Institute of women.
The order was canonically founded in Gemona del Friuli, Italy, on April 21, 1861.
Though the beginning was promising and gave great hope, soon Father Fioravanti found himself to be the only one responsible for it, “because of the departure of the Duchess” in 1863.
“They sent the first missionary sisters out, to New York City, in 1865,” Sister Laura said. “So we are actually the first mission of the congregation.”
Sister Laura explained that “the O.F.M.’s (Order of Friars Minor, commonly known as the Franciscans) down at 31st Street (St. Francis of Assisi parish in Manhattan) were looking for sisters to teach the children of the German immigrants. We weren’t German, but they sent a German sister, an Italian sister and a Swiss sister, and they lived with the friars on 31st Street for two years until they came up to Peekskill and found what’s now our motherhouse.
“They always look at us as the first mission,” Sister Laura continued, adding she and the other Peekskill sisters think it would be “really nice if a sister from the first mission got the miracle.”
And that is precisely what they have been praying for since one of their own, Sister Katherine Siegel, F.M.S.C., 72, was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma in October. Sister Katherine said her cancer is inoperable. “All they can do is give me a little time,” she said simply and with a gentle laugh.
“I’m just very humbled of all the prayers that are being offered up for me, and that the congregation has taken this on through emails to the rest of the congregation—700 sisters in my congregation praying for me. We’re in 22 countries,” Sister Katherine said. “Plus, other kinds of people praying for me.
“It’s very fortifying in your faith. I know we’re all destined for eternity,” Sister Katherine said, but she is mindful of what she can do on earth, in particular, pray and attend Mass. “As for myself, I’m still independent, which is remarkable.
“I just ask for the cure to my body, through his intercession, that I may continue God’s mission here, whatever it may be.
“Now I believe this is my mission,” Sister Katherine continued, “to pray for Father Gregory’s intercession for a miracle.”
“I believe he’s a saint already, but he needs to be canonized,” she said.
A native of Yonkers who was raised in Westchester County, Sister Katherine, a former public school teacher’s aide and disciplinarian, entered the order in 2002 after receiving a calling while praying after school in the adoration chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Port Chester. She made final vows in 2008.
“Whoa!” was Sister Katherine’s reaction, she said, upon learning the news Father Gregory had been declared Venerable when Sister Laura informed her before she announced it to the other sisters at Evening Prayer.
“To me, I just put him on a pedestal,” Sister Katherine said of Father Gregory. “He cheered for us so much, in the beginning of our history. He gave up everything to be with the sisters and walk with the sisters.
“Father Gregory is also walking with me today, through this.”