In 1875 Pope Pius IX asked Sr. Mary Maddalena Bentivoglio and her blood sister, Sr. Constanza to go from the Poor Clare Monastery in Rome to the United States and begin the contemplative presence of the Franciscan Poor Clare Nuns. After a difficult start in New York and Philadelphia, with bishops desiring sisters to do the active ministry in fields of education and health rather than have sisters whose main ministry was prayer, and depended on alms for support, Mother Magdalen continued to be faithful to the mission entrusted to her. The monasteries that she personally founded were:
1878 – Omaha, Nebraska
1885 – New Orleans, Louisiana
1897 – Evansville, Indiana
Mother Maddalena died in Evansville in 1905.
Monasteries founded from the original 3 were:
1906 – Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts (Boston 1906-1934)
1909 – Chesterfield, New Jersey (Bordentown 1909-’99, Trenton ’99-2001)
1912 – Duncan, British Columbia Canada (Victoria 1912-1973)
1914 – Spokane, Washington
1915 – Wappingers Falls, New York (Bronx 1915-1999, New Rochelle 1999-2004)
1916 – Langhorne, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia 1916-1977)
1924 – Sauk Rapids, Minnesota
1932 – Memphis, Tennessee
1947 – Andover, Massachusetts (Lowell 1947-1960)
1950 – Mission, British Columbia Canada (Burnaby 1950-1962)
1954 – Minneapolis, Minnesota
1955 – Greenville, South Carolina
1958 – St. Louis, Missouri
1987 – Victoria, Texas (Closed May 2007)
In 1950 Pope Pius XII issued the decree Sponsa Christi, which requested all contemplative women throughout the world to form into federations for reasons of mutual help and reduce their isolation. By November 30, 1958, after much initial resistance on the part of the monasteries, 10 Poor Clare communities from foundations of Mother Maddalena Bentivoglio in North America gathered at the Evansville Monastery in Indiana.
Communities in attendance with the Abbess and an official Delegate were:
Bordentown, New Jersey (now Chesterfield)
Burnaby, British Columbia (now Mission)
New Orleans, Lousiana
St. Louis, Missouri
Sauk Rapids, Minnesota
Victoria, British Columbia (now Duncan)
The sister’s agenda for the meeting had 24 items to discuss in the two working days set up. After the 4th working session, a verbal non-deliberative vote was taken. The results were almost unanimously “No” to the formation of a federation. The only monastery to vote in favor of federation was the newly established monastery of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Further time was allowed for discussions around the fears, as well as the request by the church for these federations. It was after these discussions that a deliberative vote was taken, and the results were now 19 in favor of, with 3 votes against. The proposal to send the Statues for the Federation was unanimously approved.
It was at this meeting that the decision was made that due to the large distances to be covered, there would be two federations formed instead of one. The Mother Bentivoglio Federation would be formed by the monasteries in the Midwest, West, and British Columbia, Canada. Holy Name Federation would consist of the monasteries along the East coast inland to Philadelphia. At the close of the two days of official sessions, the Abbesses and Delegates were encouraged by the friars facilitating this meeting to stay on at the Evansville meeting for several more days to profit from the exchange of ideas among themselves. This mutual sharing over common problems was tangible evidence on only one of the many benefits to be expected from a Federation of Monasteries.
A vote was taken at each of the monasteries and submitted to the Holy See in Rome. On June 13, 1963 the Federation Statutes were approved for a period of 7 years. It took another year before the English translation was available from the Latin. During the year of waiting, Fr. Pius Barth OFM, who had been appointed to assist the sisters, travelled tirelessly from monastery to monastery, talking with the sisters, allaying fears, and explaining the new Statutes.
The first Federal Chapter of the Mother Bentivoglio Federation met in Minneapolis July 27 to August 3, 1964. The principal duty was to elect a President and 4 Councillors from among the abbesses, so the first days were spent on fleshing out the duties, responsibilities and limits of the jurisdiction of the Federal President and Council. The elections were held on July 31, and Sr. Francis Clare McLaughlin of New Orleans was elected the first Federal President. The guidelines set for the President and the Council in these early years have remained the basis for how the Federation continues to function.
Mother Bentivoglio Federation Membership grew with the foundation of further monasteries:
1962 – Brenham, Texas (Corpus Christi 1962-1985) (closed 2011)
1972 – Jeju, South Korea
1981 – Huehuetenango, Guatemala
1987 – Victoria, Texas
1990 – Cincinnati, Ohio
1991 – Saginaw, Michigan
1994 – Alexandria, Ontario Canada (closed 2008)
2001 – Sokcho, South Korea
In the ensuing years, the responsibility and duties of the Federation have been generously assumed by different monasteries. The following sisters have served as Federation President: