The Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus celebrated their 75th jubilee anniversary on Nov. 7 at St. John Eudes Church in Chatsworth with a Mass of thanksgiving.
The Mass included celebrant Archbishop José H. Gomez, with concelebrants Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney, Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles; Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Los Angeles Gerald E. Wilkerson; Abbot Emeritus of Saint Andrews Abbey Francis Benedict, OSB; and Abbot Emeritus of Prince of Peace Abbey Oceanside, Charles Wright, OSB.
Archbishop Gomez gave the homily and praised the sisters for their 75 years of service and devotion to God. He reflected on the beauty of life and congratulated the sisters for accepting their call to vocation, especially during this year of consecrated life.
During the homily, the archbishop told the congregation of roughly 1,500 family members and friends celebrating the community’s jubilee, “God has conceived a plan for all of humanity. We are called to share God’s plan of love with our neighbors.”
Archbishop Gomez also imparted to the crowd that “God has created us out of love. God has set his heart on us.”
His homily mirrored the sentiments of the society’s foundress, Sister Ida Peterfy, SDSH, who often said, “God has a heart for you!”
Archbishop Gomez concluded his homily by saying, “We are all called to holiness. Let’s dedicate ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on this anniversary.”
After the homily the Sacred Heart sisters renewed their vows of chastity, poverty and obedience in front of the congregation. Throughout the Mass, the sisters sang hymns, including one song they wrote themselves.
Another song was sung in Hungarian, in honor of Sister Ida. The joyful community celebrated after Mass with a luncheon. Guests perused a history room filled with photographs and memorabilia throughout the years.
“We are grateful to God for the gifts, graces and charisms first given to the servant of God Sister Ida and now passed down to each of us as Sacred Heart Sisters,” said Sister Mary Tomasella, who is the superior general of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart.
In 1940, at 18, Sister Ida Peterfy founded the order when she took her perpetual vows in Kassa, Hungary (now known as Kosice, Slovakia).
Sister Ida answered the call to form a new religious community despite living in communist Hungary. The sisters did not wear traditional religious habits because of the potential for persecution. Wearing street clothes helped them catechize people without the communist authorities’ knowledge.
Sister Ida’s faith in God helped her to develop an innovative catechetical method, which became the community’s cherished religious education charism: the Five Step Illustrated Method, which the order is well known for today.
Back in Hungary, the small community of sisters was instrumental in the religious education of children and youths as well as formation of catechists. When Cardinal Mindszenty was arrested in 1948, Sister Ida and her companions were advised to leave the country due to the dangers of religious persecution. In fact, two of Sister Ida’s companions went to prison as they sought a way out of the country in 1949.
“When I came through the Hungarian/Austrian border, I was apprehended. I went to prison for four months,” said Sister Eva Batta, who is 89-years-old, and was one of Sister Ida’s original companions.
Sister Hermine Jaschko, 96, who said she “was in union with Sister Ida in scouting, camps and works for life” was another of Sister Ida’s early companions. Sister Hermine was instrumental in helping the sisters escape from Hungary in pairs after Sister Ida had already left to make a path for them. Sister Hermine stayed behind to make sure everybody was out of the country safely.
In 1950, Sister Ida and her companions found freedom in Toronto, Canada, where they worked as domestics and tobacco farmers, eventually earning enough to buy a small house and a printing machine to earn a modest income.
In 1956, Cardinal James Francis McIntyre welcomed the community to Los Angeles. Today, the Sacred Hear sisters serve on three continents. The community provides religious education in the archdioceses of St. Louis and Los Angeles, and the dioceses of Orange and San Bernardino.
Sacred Heart sisters evangelize in Taipai, Taiwan, complemented by medical work. Once communism collapsed in Hungary, Sister Ida opened a convent in Budapest, Hungary, where sisters are still engaged in catechist formation nationwide as well as providing enrichment programs in Slovakia, Romania and the Ukraine.
Beginning in the 1970s, Sister Ida launched girls’ camps, based on her own love of scouting and the great outdoors. Leadership retreats, sacramental retreats for children and teens, and family retreat camps were all inspired by Sister Ida and continue to this day by the community.
One attendee at the jubilee Mass, Katarina Wade, came to the celebration because she and her family attended the Sacred Heart Retreat Camp in Big Bear. Wade and her family agreed, the family camp “is so amazing.”
The Sacred Heart sisters have had an amazing impact on the children and families since their inception. Sister Ida had a television show on KABC called “My Friend Pookie,” which highlighted her effective Five Step Illustrated Method.
In addition, Sister Ida developed the “Sacred Heart Kids’ Club” video series. The program was so successful that it spread to five continents. The Sacred Heart Kids Club, an integral part of the Sacred Heart sisters, is a program to enrich the faith of children everywhere the Sisters have a convent.
Sister Ida died on Feb. 8, 2000 in the Society’s Motherhouse in Northridge. According to Sister Eva, Sister Ida’s last words were, “to love one another.”
Molly Stafford Castaing, sister to Sacred Heart Sister Jane Stafford, said, “I had the privilege to know and be with Sister Ida. It is the most remarkable order.”
Interested in more? Subscribe to Angelus News to get daily articles sent to your inbox.