Our Franciscan community in Loretto, PA has engaged in an active educational ministry since our earliest days, even pre-dating the foundation of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Saint Francis College (now Saint Francis University) was founded in 1847. It is the oldest Franciscan college and one of the oldest Catholic colleges in the United States.
On October 30, 1942, a terrible fire swept through the Old Main building on the campus. This building was the main center of the college and also housed our monastery, chapel, seminary, library, and food resources. Though no lives were lost, the fire was a terrible blow to the college and to our community.
Through the grace of God, however, this event was not the fatal blow to our ministry in Loretto that it might have been. Earlier that same year, a group of dedicated alumni had purchased at auction the nearby estate of the late steel magnate, Charles M. Schwab, and given it as a gift to the Province.
Because of this very fortunate circumstance, our community was able to quickly relocate into the building, resume our ministries, and start rebuilding.
While searching through the ruins of our old chapel, workers found a piece of stone which had been a part of the statue of the Sacred Heart. The fragment was in fact the image of the Heart itself, and was the only recognizable piece of the statue that could be recovered.
We recognized that this was a sign from God that, through the workings of His Sacred Heart in the hearts of our friends and benefactors, our community had been saved from what could have been a much more terrible blow.
We have preserved that Sacred Heart fragment (pictured here) ever since, honoring it as a token of God’s love and protection. In honor of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are having a display case constructed so that our community members, students and visitors can take inspiration from it and use it as a focus for prayer and reflection on God’s mercy.