The Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus were founded in Aquila, Italy by Barbara Micarelli on Christmas Day, 1879. We are vowed religious called to live the Gospel following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi and the spirituality of our Foundress. By living in simplicity, poverty, humility and charity, we give witness to the Christmas message of peace and joy.
When and where she was born
The Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus were founded in Aquila, Italy, in 1879 by Barbara Micarelli. Barbara Micarelli was born Dec. 3, 1845 in Sulmona Italy, the 6th of 7 children. Not much is known about her early life. Her parents were from Aquila and when Barbara was about 13 her family returned to Aquila, where they lived a simple life.
Barbara Receives a Cure and Vision from God
At around the age of 20 Barbara was stricken by a serious illness. Doctors told her family there was nothing they could do and advised them to prepare for her death. Her parents trustingly turned to St. Joseph and begged him to wrench a miracle from the Lord. Suddenly young Barbara woke up as from a deep sleep which had lasted for days and asked for something to eat, proclaiming to everyone the incredible good news that St. Joseph had cured her.
This divine intervention was pivotal to Barbara’s vocation and constituted a turning point in her life’s journey: “With the cure I had the clear and precise vision of what I was to do with the years which the Lord in His mercy was still granting me: to dedicate my life to the poor, the orphans and the abandoned, and to become the spiritual mother of souls, through the founding of an Institute of sisters who would work with me in the Church of God” (Writ. 4).
For her, the gift of new life came through the charity of God (which she often spoke of). Charity gave Barbara her life back, and charity in turn became her life: charity towards others-the poor, the orphans and the abandoned.
In Barbara’s early writings we read: “From the moment it pleased our Lord in the playful jests of his infinite wisdom to choose me, the most vile and worthless instrument, and use me for the realization of this Institution, I had the powerful inspiration that only from our Father St. Francis was I to receive light, support and guidance. At that moment I felt totally released by my Father St. Joseph into the hands of the poverello of Assisi.”
The Courage to Leave Home and Start Her Mission
In 1870 Barbara left her home with her sister Carmela, to take an apartment. They were soon followed by Catherine Vicentini, the 1st spiritual sister. They began their first apostolic work: catechism and educational instruction to the children of the neighborhood, home economics to the girls who had come to live with them, and home assistance to the sick. Barbara summarized the mission of the sisters: “The sisters should be true servants of the people by providing for all of their needs…in all their endeavors they will always embody simplicity, unselfishness, recollection, spirit of prayer and silence.”
An Institute is Born
On Christmas Day 1879, Barbara professed the vows of obedience and chastity and was invested in the Franciscan habit, taking the name Sr. Mary Joseph of the Infant Jesus (Her final profession of the 4 vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and charity was Jan. 18, 1882 at the Church of Aracoeli, Rome).
Because she professed on Christmas day that is considered the day our Institute was officially born. The document written by Fr. Bernardino of Portoguaro reads as follows: “On this holy day… I have given the exterior holy habit of the third order of our Father St. Francis to Lady Barbara Micarelli, from Aquila, who assumes the new name of Sr. Mary Joseph of the Infant Jesus… the name given to this pious association is Tertiary Franciscans of the Infant Jesus, so that from their very name they will learn the virtues they must exercise: humility, simplicity, docility and charity towards the girls they teach…”
A Dream Comes True
In 1888, Mother Mary Joseph’s dream of opening a house at St. Mary of the Angels, near the Portiuncula, a short distance from Assisi. Now the sisters could tap into the source and the spirituality and life of Francis of Assisi, her Spiritual Father.
Mother Mary Joseph’s faithfulness to the Lord’s call to a mission was rooted in her unwavering faith and trust in God. Her life was one of heroic generosity. She never refused anyone her help. She gave herself totally to with a heart open to all who were suffering, especially the poor. She would say, “May my dear daughters learn how it is God’s will that they be with me “little poor ones,” true daughters of the “little poor man” of Assisi and may they know how to appreciate the great treasure of belonging to the Seraphic Order.”
Following in the footprints of Jesus, the cross also entered her life. Events toward the end of her life are complex and painful, but are illuminated and take on meaning in the light of Christ’s Cross. She was sent to Sardinia to open a house but while she was there her already precarious health worsened. After a few months she had to return to Rome (1898) where she remained for a few years, separated from the Institute which she founded. These were years of great suffering due to her serious illness but also due to misunderstandings on the part of her superiors. Weak and exhausted, her only desire was to live her last days among her daughters in St. Mary of the Angels. She returned to St. Mary of the Angels, and knocked at the door of the convent, but she was denied entrance. She was taken to Assisi, where she was welcomed by the Franciscan Sisters of Assisi, with whom she remained until she died on April 19, 1909. Her final words were of pardon and blessing for the daughters.
Her death was not fruitless. On the contrary, it bore fruit abundantly. Today the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus are serving God’s Kingdom in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America. Let us praise the Lord for the gift of Mother Mary Joseph to the Church and to the world.
Keeping the Spirit Alive
On February 10, 1910 the Institute of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus was officially recognized by the Church. Then on May 29, 1959, the Church proclaimed Mother Mary Joseph Micarelli a “Servant of God,” starting the process towards her beatification.
Mother Mary Joseph made a simple and important request: “Try to help me in the salvation of souls!” With this plea, she asked her daughters then and continues to ask them now to keep missionary spirit of service alive in the world. Today, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters continue to foster a great love for Christ and desire to spread the Good News of the Gospel in a truly Franciscan manner.
In the 21st century, we continue to minister to and desire for the Savior born in Bethlehem to be born in the hearts of all we serve around the world. We aim to meet the needs of all people- raising the dignity of all through education, health care services, social work, and catechetical, pastoral, and liturgical ministries.
Delegation of Our Lady of the Angels
In the Delegation of Our Lady of the Angels, USA, we are present in the State of New Jersey in the Dioceses of Camden and Trenton. We strive to live and carry out our Charism of charity with enthusiasm, zeal, and Franciscan joy.
By our prayerful fraternal life, we give witness to the deep meaning of a life of consecration-mission within the Church in the United States, where often times Religious Sisters are living alone and do not live a community life.
In keeping with the desire of our Mother Foundress, that the sisters “be true servants of the common people…seeing Jesus in their neighbor and their neighbor in Jesus,” we serve here in many capacities, meeting the needs of the local church. The sisters serve in the style of Barbara Micarelli, rendering our service in a spirit of simplicity docility, humility, and charity.
Within the educational field, the sisters serve as Principals of schools, as Teachers, as Counselors to students who are hurting or suffering as a result of social situations within society and within their families, and as 1 to 1 assistants to students with special needs. Sisters also serve as Directors of Parish Religious Education Programs and youth ministry programs.
Today in the United States there is a surge of immigration from Mexico and other Latin American countries. As a delegation we are serving the immigrants by collaborating with the diocesan ministry to the Hispanic Community.
Sisters are also serving the Church by way of visitation to the homebound, bringing them the comfort and strength of the Eucharist and the Word.
Sisters are serving the parishes within the Liturgies, by way of directing children’s choirs, participating in Adult choirs, and serving as lectors and Eucharistic Ministers.
We offer hospitality to various groups who regularly come to our Delegation House for their meetings, gatherings, staff retreats and diocesan encounters. Each of the four fraternities has organized a lay group, which meets monthly for formative encounters about our Mother Foundress and our charism.
The sisters are able to carry out so many various activities of charity because they are constantly renewing themselves spiritually and professionally by way of retreats, workshops, and coursework in theology and Franciscan studies as
well as their various professional fields.
We currently have missions in the following countries: