Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.
posted on June 30, 2014 14:11
Sacred Heart Province has a rich and lengthy history of missionary evangelization "ad gentes." The Franciscan Friars of the Holy Cross Province in what is now northern Germany came to this country in answer to the call to care for the needs of German-speaking immigrants. That missionary effort grew from 1858 until 1879 when the Franciscan Order established Sacred Heart Province as an independent entity. Shortly thereafter the friars sent the first missionaries to China where they labored until the communist take-over of that country after World War II. Eventually, the Franciscan Friars of Sacred Heart Province were entrusted with their own mission in Tsianfu Province of China. Bishop Ambrose Pinger, O.F.M., one of the friar missionaries was appointed Ordinary of the Prelature. As is the case with all missionaries "ad gentes," one of the primary concerns was the development and education of a native clergy. Those efforts resulted in several ordinations of native Chinese men who continued to minister in their country after the Communist take-over.
At the same time as this effort was being made in China, the German-speaking friars of Sacred Heart Province took up the Gospel challenge to learn new languages and minister to the needs of the indigenous people of the United States, the Native American tribes of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. At one time, the Franciscan friars of Sacred Heart Province ministered to hundreds of communities on the various reservations in these States. They were instrumental in translating the catechism and the Scriptures into the language of the Native American. Today, the friars still minister to the people of the Bad River Reservation in Odanah, Wisconsin.
In 1942, the friars received a request from the General Minister of the Order to consider sending missionaries to the Amazon Valley of Brazil. This mission had been begun by German friars who were then unable to send missionaries because of the war. Four Franciscan friars were sent to minister to the needs of the people who worked in Fordlandia, an enterprise of Henry Ford, the auto maker. The Amazon rain forest provided a rich source of rubber, so necessary in the war effort. After the war, the friars remained and set up their headquarters in Santarem, Para, Brazil. From the end of the war and for the next fifty years, the friars continued to staff this mission effort expanding to hundreds of small communities that dotted the Amazon River and its tributaries. Again, the friars worked to educate and develop a native clergy. Today that effort has matured and is represented by the Custody of St. Benedict of the Amazon. While a few American born missionaries are still present in the Amazon Valley, the majority of the friars of this effort are natives of Brazil.
In 1977, the friars were invited to participate in the mission efforts of the Belgian Province in Zaire, Africa. Because of the volatile political climate of the region, that missionary effort was short-lived. However, the General Minister of the Order initiated an "Africa Project" in which some of the friars of Sacred Heart Province participated. Today that effort continues. In addition, one of the Sacred Heart friars participates in the evangelizing community of South Sudan.
When the possibility of returning to China opened in the late twentieth century, two friars returned to China as educators. For several years, these friars taught in the public schools and universities.
In the 1980's, the friars were invited by the Bishop of Fairbanks, Alaska, to work among the Athabascan Indians of northern Alaska. Today three friars still work and minister among these people.
Several other countries have welcomed missionaries from Sacred Heart Province over the past 150 years. This would include Bolivia, Columbia, Nicaragua, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Morocco, Uganda, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, and Vietnam.
As the 21st Century dawned, the friars wrestled with the notion of continuing the rich missionary history of Sacred Heart Province despite our aging and declining population. The "Flex Mission" program was initiated at the Province Chapter of 2005. The concept of the project was to provide short-term personnel commitments to Franciscan missions which could use the particular skills of the American friars, especially but not limited to the areas of formation and education. Several friars have traveled to Peru, to Malaysia, and to Vietnam as flex missioners. That effort continues to this date.