The Congregation of Sisters Hospitallers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was founded in Ciempozuelos, near Madrid, Spain on 31st May 1881.
The congregation was created as a compassionate response to the plight of people with psychiatric illnesses at the time. In those days there was little public health care, so people with mental and physical conditions routinely faced neglect and exclusion. Even children with physical disabilities, scrofula, tuberculosis and other illnesses were marginalised.
Benedict Menni, a native of Milan, Italy and a priest of the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God, was sent to Spain in 1867 by Pope Pius IX and the General Superior of the Order, Father Alfieri, to restore the Order after it had almost disappeared following the suppression of Mendizabal.
The name Hospitallers of the Sacred Heart expresses what is at the core of the Congregation: the desire to live a life of religious consecration according to the model of perfect Charity – Christ, symbolised by his Heart.
The Congregation of the Sisters Hospitallers is present today in 27 countries of Europe, America, Africa and Asia.
He achieved this task, and in 1881, Benedict Menni together with María Josefa Recio and María Angustias Giménez founded the Congregation of the Sisters Hospitallers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Their goal was to combine charity and science in providing medical treatment to those with nowhere else to turn.
Our Founder: Fr. Benedict Menni
Benedict Menni offered his whole life for the good of humanity. Perhaps the clearest way to understand his character is to open a Bible to the Gospel of St Luke and read the story of The Good Samaritan. This passage perfectly captures the spirit of Benedict Menni.
There was once a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands... a Samaritan who was travelling that way came upon him and when he saw him, his heart was filled with compassion. He went over to him, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them. He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him.
He was born Angel Hercules Menni in Milan, Italy on 11th March 1841. The son of Luis Menni and Luisa Figini, he was the fifth of 15 children. As he grew to manhood, four key events led to his decision to become a Brother of St. John of God:
- A spiritual retreat when he was 17 years old
- The advice of a hermit in Milan
- His daily prayer before a picture of Our Lady, and
- His experience helping the Brothers of St. John of God care for the wounded soldiers arriving at Milan station from Magenta.
He entered the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God in 1860 and changed his baptismal name of Angel Hercules to Benedict.
He studied philosophy and theology, first in the Seminary of Lodi and then in the Roman College (Gregorian Pontifical University of Rome). He was ordained a priest in 1866. Pope Pius IX entrusted him with the complex mission of restoring the extinct Hospitaller Order in Spain, a task that he began in 1867. Once the Order was restored in Spain, there followed similar restorations in Portugal at the end of the 19th century and in Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century.
On 31st May 1881 he founded the Congregation of Sisters Hospitallers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Benedict Menni was a man of inexhaustible charity with exceptional gifts of government. By the time of his death in Dinan, France in 1914, he had created 22 large centres, including homes for needy people, general hospitals and psychiatric hospitals. His remains are in the Mother House in Ciempozuelos, Spain.
On 23 June 1985 he was declared blessed by Pope John Paul II, and he was canonized on 21 November 1999. The Church acknowledges his holiness, which manifested itself in every aspect of his extraordinary life.Download the documented biography of St. Benedict Menni (Spanish)
María Josefa Recio
María Josefa Recio was born in Granada, Spain on 19 March 1846. She was married at a young age, but her husband died when she was 33 years old. Shortly thereafter she left her home town together with Maria Angustias.
Her life was a private one, enriched by humility and her love for God and for her neighbour, whom she served by caring for those in need.
Those who lived close to María Josefa testify to her hidden life of humility and love of God. This union with God was translated into kindness and unselfish service for society’s outcasts. She died on 30 October 1883, and those who knew her have borne witness to her kindness.
María Angustias Giménez
María Angustias Giménez Vera was born in Granada, Spain on 21 August 1849. In 1871 she met María Josefa Recio Martín and a deep friendship was formed between them. On 21 June 1880, they left Granada together and settled in Ciempozuelos, Madrid, where they began their religious life.
María Angustias was a woman of great spiritual sensitivity, grounded in a rich experience of Jesus as a source of mercy and goodness. She followed her spiritual path in humility and silence, with a grace she had always prayed for and which she attained through Mary, for whom she had great devotion under the title of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
She died in Sait Boi de Llobregat, near Barcelona, Spain on 2 August 1897
Pray, work, endure, suffer, love God and be silent
Both of these young women dedicated their lives to the cause of the poor and the sick. After several difficulties, they succeeded in placing themselves under the spiritual guidance of Fr. Menni, who gave them the following invitation from Ciempozuelos in the summer of 1880: “You may come, if you wish….” And so they went. Because of family opposition, they escaped from their own homes and travelled all night from Granada. They settled in Ciempozuelos and soon they were given the motto, which summed up all their ascetic demands: pray, work, endure, suffer, love God and be silent.
On 31 May 1881, along with Fr. Menni, they established the Congregation of the Sisters Hospitallers.Download Part one of the biography of María Josefa Recio (Spanish)