The Franciscans of the Province of the Sacred Heart trace their roots from the Province of the Holy Cross in Germany. In 1858, at the invitation of the bishop of Alton, Illinois, the German Friars assumed the care of the German speaking immigrants in the Midwest. Their first ministry was to the German speaking parish of St. Francis in Teutopolis, Illinois. Additional ministries were accepted in Quincy and St. Louis, Missouri. More Friars arrived in Illinois due to Bismark’s Kulturkampf and the suppression of all religious communities. By 1879, there were 202 friars that made up the Province of the Sacred Heart.
The friars ministered not only in Illinois, but soon began to minister in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Tennessee and Minnesota. Their ministries included parishes and schools (a seminary in Teutopolis and an academy in Quincy, Illinois) and preaching (retreat houses). Because of the quick growth of the Sacred Heart Province, the superiors of the Order gave the care of the California missions to the province in 1885. This venture eventually led to the formation of what is today called the St. Barbara Province.
Since its beginnings, with the move out of Germany, the Sacred Heart Province has had a missionary heart. In 1915, the friars established a mission in China. This missionary spirit expanded to friars serving in Brazil (1943) and Zaire, Africa (1975).
Other ministries over these many years included outreach to the Native Americans (Wisconsin, Michigan and Alaska), and chaplaincies (military, prisons, hospitals, convents). While the friars are no longer characterized by the German language or ministry to German immigrants, they remain open to diverse ministries today: to the homeless and those afflicted with AIDS, to peace initiatives and to Hispanic and African American peoples. A large number of friars from the province can be found in a wide variety of ministries: the arts, community organizations and social agencies. The friars are teachers, lawyers, sculptors and artists, bricklayers, doctors and editors.
Because of the impetus of the Second Vatican Council, the friars have grown in their awareness of who they are as followers of St. Francis of Assisi: men living in a communal and simple life in solidarity with all, especially the poor.