HOLY LAND – They wear blue, brown or white… They work in offices, in schools, in institutions, in churches… They carry crosses around their neck, rings around their fingers, veils on their heads… They are the living stones of the Mother Church, the souls working discreetly to make the Church radiate. After meeting ten small female congregations in the Holy Land, lpj.org invites you today to visit the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
From left to right: Sr. Jolanta, Sr. Christella and Sr. Maria Boguslawa, Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth
It was in 1875 that Blessed Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd (Franciszka Siedliska) founded the Holy Family of Nazareth, in Rome. According to the latest statistics, it now has 1093 members, including 1043 sisters in final vows, 27 in temporary vows, 14 novices and 9 postulants. Spread all over the world, they pray for families and work in education, healthcare, pastoral care, social services, internal ministry and prayer.
The three sisters standing with friends next to a statue of the Holy Family, in the courtyard of the Sisters of Nazareth convent in Nazareth
Blessed Franciszka Siedliska
Franciszka Siedliska, the foundress of the congregation, was born in Poland in 1842. Growing up in a non-religious environment, she found her faith when she met a Franciscan Capuchin priest named Fr. Lendzian. In 1855, she received her first communion, and decided to devote her life to God by becoming a sister. However, in the following years she met a strong opposition from her father, and was only able to pursue her vocation after his death, in 1870. Three years later, encouraged by Fr. Lendzian, she founded her own congregation.
Because of Franciszka’s poor health as a child, her parents brought her to various European countries in order to seek treatment. When she became a nun, she continued to travel across the globe, and her continuous work to open houses and schools allowed her congregation spread rapidly all over the world. After her death in 1902, she was declared a Servant of God in 1941, Venerable in 1980 and was beatified in 1989 by Pope John Paul II.
Blessed Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd, often represented with the Holy Family, the heart of her congregation
Nurses, teachers and much more
The ministries of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth are multiple. While always referring to the simplicity and humbleness of the Holy Family as a model and lifestyle, they are present in many fields of work: education, healthcare, pastoral care, social services, internal ministry and prayer. In the Holy Land, for example, Sr. Jolanta, Sr. Christella and Sr. Maria work in the Vicariate of Israel, where the Patriarchal Vicar lives, and which is located right next to the Basilica of the Annunciation.
Mgr Rafic Nahra, recently appointed bishop and current Patriarchal Vicar for Israel.
In education, the sisters work as teachers from kindergarten to college and operate their own schools in various provinces, such as in Poland, the USA and the Philippines. They also occupy various position in hospitals and medical institutions, mostly in Poland and the USA. To the people surrounding them, they provide pastoral care, while some of them dedicate their lives to praying for the outside world and to fulfilling prayer requests specifically addressed to them. Finally, some sisters are devoted to “internal ministry”, meaning their duty is to take care of the house and of administrative chores, in the image of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Such is the task of the three sisters currently living in Nazareth, here in the house of the Patriarchal Vicar for Israel
Hand in hand with laity
One of the wishes of the foundress was to involve laypeople in the mission of her congregation. In the first constitution, she wrote, “Just as Jesus, God Almighty, who did not need anybody to fulfill his mission of salvation and yet invited certain people to cooperate with himself, so also sisters for their mission will invite those whom God would give under their protection, among them also lay people, who will form a Confraternity of the Holy Family of Nazareth.” Although it took years for this wish to take shape, it eventually came to life through the Association of the Holy Family (AHF), a body of laypeople willing to involve themselves in the mission of the congregation. Being a member of this association implies a one or two-year preparation, a will to follow the life of the Holy Family in one’s own familial, social and professional environment, an involvement in the daily prayers of for all families of the world and in unity with the congregation, as well as assisting the Sisters in their various missions.
Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth with members of the AHF. Photo credit: nazarethfamily.org
The path to the Holy Land
Today, the Holy Land hosts three sisters of the congregation, who were all sent to Nazareth only a few years ago, before the Covid-19 pandemic. Sr. Christella, who entered the congregation twenty-five years ago, first served in Poland, England and then Kazakhstan before coming to the Holy Land, where she first worked for several years in Haifa. Now in Nazareth, she, together with her two sisters, aims to provide warm hospitality to any visitor coming to the Vicariate in Nazareth, all while taking care of the house and the necessary tasks of everyday life. “My life in Nazareth inspires me to develop a deep intimate relationship with Jesus, Mary and Joseph – to feel what they felt and to look at life with their eyes. I am happy to live and share my life here with the people that God puts on my path.”
Sr. Christella and Sr. Maria at the Palm Sunday procession of 2022
Her words echo those of Sr. Jolanta, who joined the congregation twenty-six years ago. “The possibility of living in Nazareth is a real blessing to me. I feel that I live the charism of my congregation to the fullest, which is to follow the life of the Holy Family. Like Mary, the first consecrated woman, together with my two sisters we try, through the simplicity of daily life, to contemplate and to adore the real presence of Jesus among us and those we serve. The hidden life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Nazareth inspires us not to focus on the great things but on the little ones, the simple tasks which Mary was doing in her home. We cook, clean, garden, receive guests and visitors. And we always try to do so with love and joy. We are aware that without God we can do nothing. He is the center of our life.”
With Mgr Rafic Nahra
For Sr. Maria, the member of the Holy Family occupying a special place in her heart is the Virgin Mary. “I model my life on her example – the example of the faithful and humble Servant of the Lord,” she says. “Coming to Nazareth gives me the opportunity to imitate her ordinary and simple life, the one she shared with Joseph and Jesus. It is for me an honor, a challenge and a task that I undertake with a sense of responsibility, being aware that me and my two sisters make that small part of our congregation who draws grace directly from the source of our charism and spirituality. I will always be grateful to God for the desire He gave me to come here, and minister on the land where Jesus walked.”
- Name: Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth
- Foundress: † Frances Siedliska (religious name: Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd)
- Acronym: CSFN
- Charism: “To extend the Kingdom of God’s love among us and others by living the spirit of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, by service to the Church, especially the families.”
- Spirituality: “To live an ordinary life rooted in deep faith and intimacy with Christ” – “To cultivate an interior attitude of receptivity and reverent awe in front of the mystery of God’s love and presence among us” – “To experience a mysticism of the ordinary”
- Country of origin: Italy
- Localization today: Italy, the United States, Poland, France, England, Australia, the Philippines, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia Ghana, Spain, Kazakhstan and the Holy Land
- Habit: black or gray with a cross and a veil. The color of the habit depends on the season or the region of the world where the sisters are sent.
- Other facts: during World War II, eleven sisters of the congregation were shot by German soldiers in the town of Nowogrodek (Belarus). Shortly before their death, the sisters prayed for the release of the town habitants (120 men) who had been imprisoned by the Germans. The Sisters prayed that, if a sacrifice was needed, they be sacrificed and the men be returned to Nowogrodek. After their deaths on August 1st, 1943, the prisoners were spared. The martyred Sisters were beatified by Pope John Paul II on March 5th, 2000.
- Website: http://www.nazarethfamily.org/