The Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus (FCJ)

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by Fr John Caruana

During the fifties, a certain zealous priest in Jaguapita, Parana Brazil, Fr Guido Cagnoni (PIME) built a small school in his parish with the intention of handing over the running of the school to a female Religious Order.

The parish priest and the nuns wanted to open the school as soon as possible. Language was a problem but when their Portuguese improved, they took over the teaching. When the parish priest formally passed on the school to the nuns he declared: “The progress that the children will experieFCJ Sistersnce in this institution will be inspired by Christian faith, Divine wisdom, and by what we understand as true education of the child”.

Decades passed and on the fiftieth anniversary of the inauguration of the school, Sr Madalena Cheron, a Brazilian nun and Regional Superior of the Franciscan Sisters, stated that “the Maltese nuns had run the School most satisfactorily. The school directors, parents and teachers had joined forces, looked towards the future, overcame possible failures and dreamt of a society of peace and goodness”.

Besides running the school, the nuns worked in the parishes where they lived, giving catechism lessons, visiting the sick, helping the poor and those in need. In Vila Oliveira, on the periphery of Rolandia, Sister Ismelia Micallef, in her eighties still runs the Creche Nossa Senhora Aparecida. In the words of Madre Cheron, “Sr Ismelia deserve a monument, an award for all the good work she accomplished and is still accomplishing at the age of 80 plus.”

In Rolandia the Congregation opened the College Sant’Antonio which for years was directed by Sr Isabel Dangio’, a Brazilian nun. Today it is a fully fledged college, one of the best in this developed city. In Sabuadia, a nearby city they were invited by Fr Frankie Tabone Adami to help in the parish. In Umuarama still in Parana, they were entrusted with the running of the Creche Anjo de Guardia.

After establishing their presence in Parana, they extended their mission to the States of Sao Paulo and Santa Caterina. Recently the nuns even accepted the risk of opening another mission in the State of Rondonia which forms part of the Amazon Forest, some three thousand kilometers away from Parana, in the North West of Brazil, carrying out pastoral work in a parish consisting of forty-nine communities, all served by one priest, if at all. They also opened a house in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondonia.

In the words of Padre Giuseppe Pesce, who was commissioned to write the story of the Congregation: “the nuns made themselves available to work and participate in these social structures that offered them the opportunity not only to instill in the children and teenagers a religious and moral formation, but also to build a bridge with their parents”
The arrival of the nuns in Brazil was spread over three decades between 1952 and 1983. Madre Dorothea Brincat was responsible for the first group of five nuns in 1952. Irma Madalena Cheron describes her as “loyal to God and to her companions. She was a coherent person and she was firm in her testimony in favour of what was beautiful and true!” With her came Sister Concetta Zerafa, an immensely lovable and dedicated nun.
The Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus have other missions in Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan, Australia and Italy.

Note for the reader: This abstract was taken from the book titled, The Maltese Missionary Experience: Go and Teach All Nations, by Fr John Caruana, a Maltese Missionary in Brazil. Each week, presents an excerpt from this book which encapsulates a wealth of experiences of God’s Grace and Love for all humanity, from the eyes of several Maltese and Gozitan missionaries who throughout the years have responded to the call to “go and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

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