Mary Schininà and the Institute of the Sisters of the
Sacred Heart of Ragusa
was Mother Maria Schinina, the Foundress of the Sisters
of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? What prompted a young woman
of wealth to choose to live her life serving the poor, the
sick, the elderly, and the abandoned? Why did she struggle
for so many years to establish a Congregation dedicated to
glorifying the infinite love of God.
Maria Schininà was born in Ragusa the 10th of April,
1844 to Giambattista and Rosalia Arezzo. Both of them were
noble in wealth and in sentiments. The fifth of eight children,
she lived her days of infancy and adolescence surrounded by
the care and attention of her parents and brothers.
Until 21 years of age, Maria was no more
than a carefree girl born of a wealthy family of nobles. Her
intense and happy life alternated between religious duties
which she carried out with her family and her love for beauty
which she continuously perfected through music, fashion and
above all dancing. Maria never displayed any particular spiritual
inclinations, even if she inherited her parents’ sensitivity
towards the poor and the needy, which eventually planted a
seed for her future decisions.
The death of her father in 1865
induced her to change her life, which she often declared that
she did not satisfy her inner needs. Her soul could no longer
ignore the cries of the poor who were living only steps away
from her home. Her comfortable lifestyle was too much of a
contrast to the misery just outside her door. It was for this
reason that Maria began to look into herself enlightened by
faith and God’s calling which became ever clearer at
the feet of the Eucharist. These were years of deep reflection.
In 1874, her youngest brother got married,
leaving her and her mother alone. This posed no obstacle to
her. She took off her elegant clothes and dressed like the
poor, saying: “Let that which served my vanity go to
From this moment on, she decided to dedicate herself completely
to the sick, the poor, to the outcasts who languished in the
most squalid hovels in the city, and to the abandoned children,
without paying attention to the criticisms from people of
her social class who thought she was insane. Everything was
suggested to her by the love for the Eucharist which would
constitute a fundamental characteristic of her Christian life
and would be passed on to her daughters with the same zeal
making it the centre of her apostolate.
Maria made herself poor to serve the poor, certain to cure
in them “the suffering members of Jesus’ body.”
Her life definitely took a new course. She started to participate
in various humane and charitable initiatives.
In 1877 she was elected Directress of the
newborn Pia Unione delle Figlie di Maria. With this position,
she was able to attract all the young people in Ragusa, becoming
a living example of how to carry out a “true social
revolution” in the light of the Gospel.
The voice she heard before the image of the Sacred Heart one
day while praying, incited her to obey the “Ministers
of the Church”. This brought her to renounce the monastic
life and found an Institute following the advice of Archbishop
Monsignor La Vecchia. This Institute would give material and
spiritual aid to the poor and the needy in her city.
She loves Christ in the poor and through
them reaches the total conformation to the sentiments of His
Heart. “Love and Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus”
meant for Maria Schininà an offering of herself as
a victim of expiation to God’s love in reparation to
Christ’s rejected and offended love by serving those
who are poor and emarginated.
She called the new Congregation Institute of the Sacred Heart.
The first residence was a rented house, but this soon proved
inadequate due to the many demands of the apostolate.
It was 1889, for the “Angel of Ragusa,” an adventure
began; an adventure that is still very much alive today. It
was an uphill road trodden with moments of joy, fatigue and
tenacity; a true walk of faith and sacrifice. This progressively
led to the Institute’s pontifical recognition as well
as a notable expansion in Sicily, in other Italian regions
and in other countries in the world.
After more than a century of activity, the Foundress’
marked sensitivity towards the poor and the needy even found
its place in today’s new realities. In a world which
is more and more bound to laws of efficiency and the market,
there is always less space for those who are no longer useful,
such as the elderly. In doing so, the heritage of experience
and memories are no longer passed on to the young generation
within the family. Often they vanish in solitude and at times
they are totally abandoned.
In the Retirement Homes, the Sisters work
continuously to guarantee the elderly the dignity and the
serenity to live their last years in peace. For those who
believe, this means an anticipation of a peaceful encounter
The orphanage, the starting point of the
Foundress’ apostolic work is still the strongest element
that constitutes their service. Orphanages have been practically
non-existent for the past two decades. Now, problems like
abandonment or neglect of minors are in the hands of smaller
and more agile structures: better known as “family homes.”
In these new structures, the children who are entrusted to
them by judicial authorities come from harsh realities, such
as total abandonment or severe cases of neglect by their parents.
These wounded children, thanks to the help of the Sisters
and professional experts, are given the chance to live a peaceful
and joyful life; a healthy one, with adequate nutrition and
On the footsteps of the Foundress, the sisters commit themselves
daily to these “little ones” in the strict and
evangelical sense of the word.
The sisters are also active in the education field,
with schools of every order and level: from preschool to high
school. These schools are attended by externs as well as intern
students of the family homes. Through education, they hope
to enhance the complete growth of the person in an environment
permeated by the Evangelical spirit of liberty and charity.
Not only knowledge is given to the students, but common values,
aware that knowledge must always be directed to helping the
individual grow in humanity.
They are present in hospitals with their
expertise in the paramedical field as well as in management,
trying to alleviate each person’s suffering with patient
and loving dedication. They take care of the body and alleviate
the spiritual wounds of the various patients, giving the testimony
of their Consecration to God and his children.
They even serve as assistants to many poor or abandoned
brothers who live a difficult life. Lastly, they
make visits to people who are alone and need help and comfort,
visits which as the Constitutions say, “Find their roots
in Mother Foundress’ form of charity, which goes beyond
the human aspect. She would not alleviate solely physical
pain but would give importance to suffering illuminating pain
with the light of faith”.
Living “in Christ” is a formula that embraces
the world inside and outside. For the Sisters of the Sacred
Heart, life in Christ represents the most profound adhesion
to the Spirituality of the Foundress. As a matter of fact,
she did not consider her works only in terms of assistance:
“We must not become proud or vain about our activities
– she reminded her Daughters – the poor are God’s
poor. Let Christ’s influence abound in you so that he
may think his thoughts through your mind and do his work through
The love and faith that comes through the Eucharist
makes it possible for the Sisters to see Christ in
the miserable guise of the various forms of poverty in our
times. This is why until now; there is only one love of Christ,
the Christ who has identified himself with the poor.
This peculiarity of her Charism has marked the Congregation’s
course adapting and evolving itself according to the changing
times and places.
Today, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are present
in many Italian regions.
For over a half century they have been in the United States
and in Canada.
They have been in missions abroad since 1961:
in Madagascar, Philippines, Nigeria, Romania, Panama, France
and most recently in India.
Orphanages, dispensaries and clinics, schools, women’s
centres, parish pastoral work, visits to prisons, human and
spiritual promotion and long-distance adoption programs. These
are all activities that the Sisters in the Missions carry
out in these far away places. Here, the gap between the rich
and the poor has severely accentuated problems which no longer
exist in the industrialized countries, like: hunger, malnutrition,
illiteracy, and disease.
A heavily widespread material and spiritual poverty for which
the Sisters attempt to seek God’s redemption, sharing
the same walk and the same bread with the people.