Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis Records
Scope and Content
The records of the Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis consist primarily of manuscripts and financial ledgers for the province and for Mount Alverno School but contain printed and photographic material, audiocassettes and an artifact. With the exception of the earliest ledgers and parts of the photo collection, the period covered by the materials begins in the first decade of the twentieth century and continues through 1992. The order's internal histories also include reproductions of chronicles written in the late nineteenth century.
The manuscripts in the collection do not reflect a systematic office structure. They begin with the constitutions, statutes, prayer books and related documents that pertain either to the whole order or to the members of the American congregation. These items are followed by chronicles, newsletters and similar materials gathered and reproduced in Burlington in the early 1990s in a conscious effort to preserve the order's history. A separate series presents materials collected for a biographical project on the life of the founder. The non-financial papers of specific institutions, each primarily an assortment of chronicles and newsletters, retain the order in which they were contributed. Morris School and Mount Alverno are the only apostolates represented among these institutional records. Finally, a series of financial records of contributions to the order and the notebooks of three St. Margaret's Societies complete the collection.
Without an office structure or the papers of particular brothers to serve as a consistent organizing principle for the collection, the records are presented according to document type and project and are arranged in two broad groups: papers and ledger books. Thus the community's constitutions, statutes, directories and rule of life commence the arrangement in chronological order from 1903 to the most recent included draft revision in 1986. Several of these documents were kept in files marked as constitutions prior to or after 1969; where documents that are identified with title and date are marked and filed accordingly, undated documents have retained this differentiation. The reason for selecting 1969 as a watershed year is unclear, as the brothers did not demonstrate strong interest in deliberated constitutional revision until the 1980s. Prayer books follow a similar arrangement, although no file separate existed for prayer books after 1969. These manuals and booklets were prepared for internal use. General prayer books, such as the Divine Office, may be found in the collection of printed materials.
In 1992, Brother Mark Gastel, acting as Superior General of the order, authorized the preservation of several chronicles that documented the development of the order in the United States beginning in 1868. Several of these reproductions appear among other materials such as commemorative books, community directories, newspaper clippings, a file of Brother Christopher Singler's educational and spiritual projects from the 1970s and 1980s, necrologies and provincial publications assembled during this internal history project. Newsletters and series of chronicles are arranged chronologically; otherwise these records retain the order in which they were donated.
An earlier project completed in 1985 concentrated upon the life of the founder and resulted in the publication of two translations of Höver (Hoever) biographies as well as the collection of related materials. The first, Brother Theodore Weber's old translation of Hans Hummeler, was published in 1983; in 1985, Helmut Neurohr finished his translation of Heinrich Schiffer's 1930 work. Published copies of each translation may be found with other works on Höver (Hoever) among the order's printed materials. The collection of biographical manuscripts, which follows the internal history series, consists of typed copies of each of these works, unattributed and undated biographies that appear to be largely derived from them, an original biography in English by the Rev. John Harbrecht and notes from these works compiled by Brother Mark Gastel.
As noted in the historical sketch, the Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis became involved in several ministries around the United States while maintaining their own institutions, principally Morris School and Mount Alverno. Records for these institutions are arranged alphabetically by institution. Within each institutional grouping, the records are kept in their original order with newsletters and student newspapers filed chronologically. Such items comprise the bulk of the Morris School and Mount Alverno collections, which also contain informational booklets, commemorative booklets, student handbooks, school-specific chronicles, yearbooks, a narrative of the 1906 fire that burned most of Mount Alverno, and assorted financial records that were originally located in ledgers but were removed for the purpose of preservation.
The remainder of the manuscripts are the ledgers, grouped once again according to originating entity. Accounts for external contributions and notebooks from the various St. Margaret's Societies that organized to offer financial support to the order in Cincinnati appear first, followed by provincial ledger books, and a miscellaneous collection that could not be attributed to one particular institution with certainty. Ledgers for Mount Alverno School and the St. Vincent's Home for Boys follow. In each case, membership or pupil ledgers were separated from financial ledgers within their institutional grouping.
- Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis (Organization)
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
The Congregation of the Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis Seraph was founded by John Philip Höver (Hoever) as a community of religious brothers dedicated to serving the abandoned and troubled boys of the city of Aachen. Höver (Hoever) was an experienced teacher and schoolmaster whose wife died after the birth of their second son in 1845. His struggle to raise his children on a teacher's income alerted him to the needs of the city's poor, especially those of the youth. Work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society and friendships with Mother Francis Schervier of the Aachener Society of the Poor Sisters of St. Francis and Aachen Bishop John Laurent slowly developed his receptivity to a religious vocation. On December 23, 1857, Höver (Hoever) and three other men committed themselves to live according to the tertiary rule of the Franciscan Order and to dedicate their efforts to "the total care of neglected male youths." [Unattributed biography of John Philipp Höver (Hoever), box 3, folder 30, p. 80.]
Shortly after Höver's death in the mid-1860s, a small group of brothers journeyed to the United States with the intention of establishing a school for boys. They settled in the Cincinnati area and built the Mount Alverno Protectory for Boys, a school that provided academic and manual training for school-aged runaways and boys whose parents were unable to care for them. Hostility toward the Catholic Church and religious orders during the German Kulturkampf of the 1870s proved beneficial to the American community as the Aachen motherhouse moved to Bleyerheide, Holland and sent several brothers to assist with the work at Mount Alverno. By 1913, the community, working at Mount Alverno and the St. Vincent's Home on Bank Street in Cincinnati, had grown large enough to establish itself as the congregation's North American Province of St. Joseph.
The community continued to expand through the end of the 1960s both in membership and apostolates but saw recruitment and lasting professions lag in subsequent decades. By 1998, through the steady retirement and departure of members, total provincial membership sank to 24 professed members and found the remaining brothers dispersed across several assignments at schools, prisons and hospitals. The Morris School for Boys, established in 1922 near Searcy, Arkansas, continues to be the brothers' primary ministry. The order's motherhouse remains in Aachen and the order maintains houses in Brazil, Holland and the United States.
6 linear feet of manuscript material. 1.25 linear feet of printed material. 1 linear foot of objects. 4 linear feet of photographic material. .25 linear feet of audiovisual material .
Immediate Source of Acquisition
- Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis Records
- University of Notre Dame Archives
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note