When Jean DeJoy joined the Sacred Heart Society of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Auburn more than 20 years ago, she did so for a fairly practical reason.
"My mother was a member before I was. She was happy with it, so I became a member. I knew a lot of the women in it," DeJoy explained simply.
After she joined the society in 1980, however, DeJoy began to appreciate the society for its spiritual benefits as well as its social aspects.
"It’s just a nice society to be in because it honors the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and that’s why I stay in it," she said.
Hundreds of women have demonstrated their devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through their participation in the society since its inception more than 100 years ago, according to Arlene Ryan, the society’s president. St. Francis of Assisi Parish was founded in 1907, and parish records indicate the Sacred Heart Society was formed shortly thereafter, she said.
"We’re not positive of the exact year. We don’t have an exact date of when we were born, so to speak," Ryan said, noting that the society’s leaders estimated it was formed by approximately 1912, so the society held a 100th-anniversary celebration several years ago.
In its heyday, the society had more than 350 members, but over the past 20 years its membership has dwindled to approximately 130 members, Ryan said.
"They’re all good girls who are in it, but I wish we could get more," remarked longtime member and former treasurer Fran Graceffo.
When St. Francis of Assisi merged with St. Hyacinth Parish in Auburn in 2012 to form Ss. Mary and Martha Parish, membership in the society was opened up to women from the entire parish. Quite a few women who typically attend Mass at the parish’s St. Hyacinth worship site joined the society over the next few years, she said.
In fact, women who typically worship at St. Hyacinth make up most of the handful of new members who will be inducted into the society on June 3. The induction will take place at the culmination of the society’s triduum event, which is not to be confused with the Triduum that takes place during Holy Week, Ryan said.
This triduum takes place on the two nights leading up to the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as well as the evening of the feast day, she explained. Prayer services are held on the first two nights, and on the third night a Mass will be celebrated by Father Frank Lioi, pastor of Ss. Mary and Martha Parish. After the Mass new members will receive Sacred Heart Society badges and be inducted into the society with a few words of welcome, Ryan said.
The triduum is very special and is one of the highlights of the year for members of the society, DeJoy said. Sacred Heart Society members also gather for meetings five times a year as well as for a number of other annual events, Ryan said.
"Our main purpose is to foster devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We do this through a mixture of spiritual and social events," she explained.
The society helps with the parish’s living rosary each May and hosts a mother-daughter luncheon each spring. Each member pays $3 a year in dues, and throughout the year the society raises money by selling macaroni, meatballs, eggplant sandwiches and pizza fritte at the parish festival each summer and selling meatball sandwiches, submarine sandwiches and pastries at a community folk art festival held each December. The society’s members also solicit donations during a "bakeless bake sale" each spring. Proceeds from these events are presented to representatives of Ss. Mary and Martha Parish twice a year during banquets held in June and December.
"We give them a substantial amount. That’s been true ever since I can remember. We’re trying to keep our parish alive and well and living in Auburn," Ryan said.
The society also takes care of its members in death, she added. When a member of the Sacred Heart Society dies, a small group of members gather at the funeral home for a prayer service.
"We also make sure at that point the member who is deceased is wearing a badge, our Sacred Heart badge that you get at induction," Ryan said.
The Sacred Heart Society also sends Mass cards to the deceased member’s surviving family members.
At the heart of each of the society’s undertakings is a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and this devotion has remained constant for more than 100 years, Ryan said.
"(The society) gives you a chance to continue these things that our foremothers established," she added.