The Foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth is Blessed Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd, Frances Siedliska, who started the Congregation in Rome, Italy in 1875. Though born into a family of privilege and wealth in mid 19th century Poland, Frances hungered for a deep spiritual life that expressed itself in the radical commitment of vowed religious life.
Our Mother Foundress is a true and convincing model for each of us in the way of our Nazareth Formation. Through her personal accompanying of particular sisters, and through her numerous correspondences with them, Mother showed us the importance of individual formation. She reached out to the many Nazareth’s communities in Europe and the United States in different ways, in consideration of the character of the particular house and place. She showed us how to make decisions in both small and big matters, particularly in difficult and conflictive situations. She teaches us how to solve everyday problems in our communities today.
Our Mother’s constant effort in the process of ongoing formation motivates us to make the same effort. When we experience internal strife and struggle in our spiritual journey, we can find much inspiration in her writings, especially in her Spiritual Journal. Our Mother is for us an example of trusting God, of courage and perseverance in accepting difficult situations. She teaches us to build our spiritual life based on the foundation of truth. She shows us the importance of discovering one’s own weaknesses and how precious are the moments of humiliation accepted in faith. Mother often reminded the sisters not to be indignant toward themselves or others when experiencing sin in their lives. Reacting with indignation, Mother pointed out, is a manifestation of pride. Instead, we need to stand in humility before God and others in the spirit of mutual forgiveness. In her letters, Mother also indicates how we are to understand the superiors’ role in relation to the sisters entrusted to them. She wrote: “We merely sow and irrigate; God provides growth.” Mother constantly reminded the sisters to trust God’s goodness and infinite mercy any time they learned a difficult truth about themselves. Her letters and conferences to her sisters are permeated by a constant call to conversion for the sake of the Kingdom of God. “It is necessary to discard the old vestments, and put on Christ’s attire to become a new person. The fact that this is a prolonged process need not come as a surprise, for it is our lifework. Complete victory awaits us only at death; it is a grace freely given.” Her attitude of urging in season and out of season (see 2Tm 4:2) encourages us also to continue the effort in the process of formation of dying to oneself and being transformed into Christ. Like Mother, so we, her spiritual daughters, experience conversion as a life-long process that involves the whole person.
Mother constantly pointed out to them the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as the model of obedience to the Will of God. She stressed the beauty of the ordinary life, a life in deep relationship with Jesus – God with us. By her example, even today, she teaches us that our daily life, externally, like that of the Holy Family of Nazareth, is to be marked by ordinariness and simplicity, but in the depth of our heart, there needs to be the closest union with the Beloved. She taught the sisters a life of contemplation in the simplicity of Nazareth, without exaggeration, ecstasy or exaltation. Following her example, successive generations of Nazareth learn the art of seeking and finding God in everyday, ordinary events, and to serve Him in simplicity, without wasting energy and time looking for what is only an illusory good.
People of different nationalities, races, religions and social classes found Mother to be a person with an open and generous heart. We also learn from her the proper way of relating to others, with respect for their dignity and loving all as children of the same God and Father.
Mother, as a true daughter of the Church, loved Holy Scripture, valued the Liturgy, and drew from the wisdom of the holy men and women who preceded her in their journey of faith. She trusted the power the Holy Spirit, leading God’s people throughout the centuries. She listened to the voice of God coming to her particularly through the teachings of the Holy Father, the visible head of the Church, whom she loved. Her example teaches us to be one with the Church – sentire cum Ecclesia and to surrender one’s life in order that the Good News of the Kingdom can be preached.
As a city set on mountain (see Mt 5:14), so the spirit of our Mother shines and shows us the beauty of Nazareth’s road of love, obedience, and simplicity.
Way of Love, Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth
Frances took the religious name of Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd. She was beatified in Rome on April 23, 1989 and at this time, just under 1500 Sisters in thirteen countries live with her animating spirit as their inspiration and motivation