Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
During June, the month traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we can remember how Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1673-74 with revelations about his Sacred Heart, devotion to his Sacred Heart, and receiving Communion on the First Fridays of the month.
But hardly anyone know of another nun with a message from Jesus with universal implications about his Sacred Heart. She’s Sister Mary of the Divine Heart who received her messages from Jesus specifically about his Sacred Heart two centuries later.
In them, Jesus told her to give his request to the Holy Father.
Who was the Nun?
First, who was this nun, Sister Mary of the Divine Heart who Blessed Paul VI beatified in 1975?
She was born Maria Droste, to German nobility, on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sept. 8, 1863. In 1879, she went to school in Bavaria with the Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart) Sisters. Very sickly she had to return home. She held dear a little statue of the Sacred Heart, a gift from her parents. Though she would remain sickly and suffer a great deal the rest of her life, Maria entered the Good Shepherd Sisters in Münster and receive her habit Jan 10, 1889 (the same day and same year, her congregation notes, that Therese of Lisieux received her habit.) She was named Maria of the Divine Heart.
Working with young girls as these sister did, she would say, “The unhappy, most abandoned and poorest I love the most, they are my treasures.”
A short five years later, in 1894, Mary of the Divine Heart was appointed new Superior for the nuns’ convent in Porto, Portugal, 121 miles directly north of Fatima.
It was here that her intense mystical experiences with Jesus began and soon she would receive the message about the world’s consecration to the Sacred Heart.
Jesus Makes His Request
In Porto, Sister Mary of the Divine Heart’s convent was near a Benedictine monastery. Soon Abbot Ildefons Schober who as from Austria became the good sister’s spiritual director. She told him of her mystical experiences with Jesus.
At the same time, she became more and more ill. By July 1896 she was unable to get up and move about by herself. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bones.
Then on June 4, 1898, she revealed to her confessor: “The Lord gave me the directive to write to the Holy Father with the request to dedicate the whole of humankind to the Sacred Heart.”
It was extraordinary, but not unusual because for her entire life she had a fervent devotion to the Heart of Jesus.
“She saw this Heart as the light illuminating the whole world, as an ocean of love, of compassion and kindness,” explained her congregation’s biography of her.
Sister Mary of the Divine Heart called herself the “Apostle of His Heart.”
Contacting the Pope
She wrote to Pope Leo XIII to persuade him to consecrate the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus requested her to contact the Holy Father. Despite getting no answer from Leo, Sister Mary of the Divine Heart did not stop. She wrote again on Jan. 6, 1899.
It’s enlightening to read a good portion of this letter to Leo in which she told him:
“By the express command of Our Lord and with the consent of my confessor, I come, with the most profound respect and perfect submission, to pass on to Your Holiness some new communications that Our Lord has deigned to give me. When, last summer Your Holiness was suffering from an indisposition which, due to your advanced age, filled the hearts of your children with anxiety, Our Lord gave me the sweet consolation that he would prolong Your Holiness’ days so that the consecration of the whole world to his Heart could be realized.
“Later, on the first Friday in the month of December, He told me that he had prolonged Your Holiness’ days so as to give you this grace (to make the consecration).”
She did not know the pope was suffering from a serious illness at the time.
She continued: “On the eve of the Immaculate Conception, I seemed to see (interiorly) this light, the Heart of Jesus, this adorable sun, whose rays descended on the earth, first narrowly, then more widely, and finally, lighting up the whole world. I recognized the ardent desire He has to see his adorable Heart more and more glorified and known and to spread his gifts and blessings over the whole world. And He has chosen Your Holiness, prolonging your days, so that you might render Him this honor, console his outraged Heart and draw on your soul the choice graces that come from this Divine Heart, this source of all graces, this place of peace and happiness.”
She explained that if he thinks it strange Jesus asks for consecrating the whole world and not just the Catholic Church, “his desire to reign, to be loved and glorified and to embrace all hearts with his love and mercy is so ardent, that he wants Your Holiness to offer him the hearts of all those who by holy baptism belong to him so as to facilitate their return to the true Church, and the hearts of all those who have not yet received spiritual life through baptism, but for whom He has given his life and blood and who are likewise called to be one day the children of holy Church, so as to hasten by this means of their spiritual birth.”
Before signing her letter with the full name of name as Sister Mary of the Divine Heart Droste zu Vischering, she begged with “most lively insistence Your Holiness to accord Our Lord the consolation he asks and to add to the cult of his Divine Heart some new brightness as the Our Lord will inspire you. Our Lord has only spoken to me directly about the consecration, but on different occasions he has shown me the ardent desire he has that his Heart be more and more glorified and loved for the good of the nations.”
Then she concluded that to her it seemed it would be agreeable to the Sacred Heart “if the devotion of the first Fridays be strengthened by an exhortation from Your Holiness to the clergy and the faithful. He has not said this to me expressly, as when he talked about the consecration, but I believe I perceived this ardent desire of his Heart, without however being able to affirm it.”
She told her spiritual director that her “mission on earth will be completed as soon as the consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is accomplished.”
Actions of the Pope
Seriously ill himself, Leo did not take long to make a decision after theological reflection. In May he released his encyclical Annum Sacrum (On Consecration To The Sacred Heart) for the coming Holy Year. He was going to consecrate the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as Our Lord had requested him to do through Sister Mary of the Divine Heart. Leo said he expected “extraordinary and lasting benefits for Christendom in the first place and also for the whole human race.”
He said that more than once he strove after his predecessors’ examples “to foster and bring out into fuller light that most excellent form of devotion which has for its object the veneration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
Now he wanted a devotion that would be “the crowning perfection of all the honors that people have been accustomed to pay to the Sacred Heart, and which We confidently trust will be most pleasing to Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.”
Believing now was the time, he affirmed: “Christ reigns nor only by natural right as the Son of God, but also by a right that He has acquired. For He it was who snatched us ‘from the power of darkness’ (Colossians 1:13), and ‘gave Himself for the redemption of all’ (I Timothy 2:6). Therefore, not only Catholics, and those who have duly received Christian baptism, but also all men, individually and collectively, have become to Him ‘a purchased people’ (I Peter 2:9).”
Leo reminded that consecrating “ourselves to Him we declare our open and free acknowledgment and acceptance of His authority over us…”
Moreover, he wanted everyone to consecrate themselves individually, too, “since there is in the Sacred Heart a symbol and a sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love one another, therefore is it fit and proper that we should consecrate ourselves to His Most Sacred Heart — an act which is nothing else than an offering and a binding of oneself to Jesus Christ, seeing that whatever honor, veneration and love is given to this divine Heart is really and truly given to Christ Himself.”
Leo asked everyone to make this consecration individually on the same day as the worldwide consecration.
Prophetically, he said the act of consecration could either establish or “draw tighter the bonds which naturally connect public affairs with God” and that “gives to States a hope of better things.” Why? Because he emphasized in constitutions and administrations states “utterly disregarded” the “authority of sacred and divine law,” aiming to exclude “religion from having any constant part in public life.”
Result? “This policy almost tends to the removal of the Christian faith from our midst, and, if that were possible, of the banishment of God Himself from the earth. When men's minds are raised to such a height of insolent pride, what wonder is it that the greater part of the human race should have fallen into such disquiet of mind and be buffeted by waves so rough that no one is suffered to be free from anxiety and peril? When religion is once discarded it follows of necessity that the surest foundations of the public welfare must give way, whilst God, to inflict on His enemies the punishment they so richly deserve, has left them the prey of their own evil desires, so that they give themselves up to their passions and finally wear themselves out by excess of liberty.”
Leo acknowledged this situation urgently calls “upon us to seek for help from Him by whose strength alone they can be driven away. Who can He be but Jesus Christ the Only —begotten Son of God?”
The remedy? In the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus “all our hopes should be placed, and from it the salvation of men is to be confidently besought.”
Before ending, Leo also wanted to make clear his miraculous healing also prompted him to make this upcoming consecration to the Sacred Heart. “God, the author of every good, not long ago preserved Our life by curing Us of a dangerous disease. We now wish, by this increase of the honor paid to the Sacred Heart, that the memory of this great mercy should be brought prominently forward, and Our gratitude be publicly acknowledged.”
Leo made June 9, 10, 11 a triduum of prayer including the Litany of the Sacred Heart before the consecration of the world on Sunday, June 11, 1899, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that year. He would call it “the greatest act of my pontificate.”
And Sister Mary of the Divine Heart?
Totally paralyzed and with organs failing, Sister Mary of the Divine Heart heard the news of the upcoming consecration with great joy. On the June 8, about 3 pm, she died as the sisters began the first vespers of the Triduum.
Today, people can pray before the incorrupt body of Blessed Maria of the Divine Heart in the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Ermesinde, Portugal.