In 1794, he met Henriette Aymer de Chevalerie, who had been imprisoned with her mother for hiding priests. While in prison, she experienced a conversion calling her to serve God. Together, the Good Father and the Good Mother envisioned a Community of men and women who would go everywhere and spread the message of God’s unconditional love, as manifested through the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
At midnight on Christmas Eve in 1800, knowing they could face the guillotine for their actions, Pierre Coudrin and Henriette Aymer de Chevalerie professed their vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and officially established the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
The congregation was born
In 1827 the young religious congregation set off on a new mission by sending teams of missionaries to settle in several Pacific Ocean islands to spread the Gospel, build churches, and evangelize new faithful. Nowhere in the Pacific Islands did the presence of Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary inspire its people more than in the Kingdom of Hawaii. They established what is now the Diocese of Honolulu and built the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, the oldest Roman Catholic cathedral in continuous use in the United States. From 1833 to 1940 Hawaii’s first six bishops were all members of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Other churches founded by the community include Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Hilo and Maria Lanakila on Maui. Bishop William Stang, first Bishop of the Fall River Diocese on the East Coast of the United States, in Massachusetts, had been a student at the Catholic University of Louvain. While there, he met members of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts. Following his installation as bishop, he was faced with a shortage of priests and a multi-lingual diocese. Remembering his acquaintances from Louvain, he invited the Congregation to come to the Fall River Diocese to help minister to these communities and to establish parishes. The Congregation responded to his request by sending the first three priests in 1905.
The first community of SS.CC. in the US
Brothers Hubert Rakel and Jean Baptiste Leygraef along with Fathers Stanislaus Bernard, Hilarion Eikerling and Bernard Pierson arrived in Boston in May 1905 after having spent six months in Portugal learning the language. They already spoke French, English and German. Upon their arrival, they established two parishes, Saint Joseph in Fairhaven, for French and Portuguese Catholics, and Our Lady of the Assumption in New Bedford, for those from the Cape Verde Islands. Within a year, Father Eikerling had also established Saint Boniface, for German Catholics, in New Bedford.
The community flourished
From this simple beginning…
From this simple beginning, the Sacred Hearts established a secondary school and ten other parishes and missions in Massachusetts that eventually matured into parish communities. In 1946 the mission in the Hawaiian Islands formally became the Province of Hawaii, while the following year, in 1947, the missions on the mainland became the United States Province. Over the years, brothers were sent to establish missions in California, South Texas, Ireland, England, Japan, the Bahamas, and India. Finally, in 1970, the United States Province was subdivided into the Provinces of USA East, USA West, the quasi-province of Ireland England, and the Vice Province of Japan.
In 1975 the young mission in India officially became a Region of the USA East Province. In 1983 Ireland-England became a province followed in 2009 by the erection of the Province of Japan Philippines. The restructuring of the Congregation has always been defined by the needs of the Church and our capacity to respond to those needs. Thus in November 2011, the members of the Provinces of Hawaii and USA East, with the affirmation of the General Government in Rome, merged together to become the Congregation of the Sacred Heart United States Province. Including the brothers in the Region of India, the Province is now comprised of 78 members ranging in age from 95 to 23 a true testimony to the faith and spirit of a brotherhood of over 185 years.
The Damien Residence
The First Five Brothers…
When five brothers of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts arrived in Fairhaven, Massachusetts in May, 1905, at the request of Fr. William Stang, Bishop of Fall River, their community life began at the residence on the corner of Spring and Adams Street in the building that was known as “The Monastery”.
Although not a monastic order, the name aptly describes the kind of religious life lived by the community. The priests and brothers lived a strict common life under the direction of the superior and left the Monastery with the superiors permission to minister to the communities entrusted to them. They were expected to be home for community exercises, prayers and meals.
For many years the house and adjacent farm served as the central residence for community members serving in Fairhaven, Acushnet, Mattapoisett, and New Bedford. In 1971 it became the Provincial House. The first foundation of the Congregation in Fairhaven, the original building is of Greek revival style and was built in the 1880’s. When it became clear that a residence for members reaching retirement age would be needed, the Provincial House was moved to the former College and Apostolic School on the adjacent property and the Monastery was designated for retirement. Renovations followed in two phases and today, Damien Residence, as it was later renamed, serves as the community for retired priests and brothers Damien Residence along the East Coast of the Province.
A still-stately structure, Damien Residence consists of the original large three-level building and two additional single level wings which house rooms with private baths for residents, guest rooms, community dining and recreation rooms, a formal parlor and dining room, patio and beautiful chapel. Situated between the residence and the provincial house is the SSCC community cemetery where over 70 brothers have been laid to rest.