The Institute of the Bethlemite Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, arose from the Bethlemite Order, begun in Guatemala in 1658 by Saint Brother Pedro de San José Betancur, a native of the Canary Islands. Pedro gave his life to the service of God working with the poor, whom he sought out and aided with great love and charitable care. His house was everyone’s house; those seeking spiritual and material help including shelter, found it there.
Attracted by his life, several brothers of the Franciscan Third Order, to which Pedro also belonged, joined him. He became their master and radically carried out the demands of the Gospel. Because of the message which he perceived in the Lord’s Nativity and out of his great love for this mystery, Pedro dedicated his house to Our Lady of Bethlehem, and his brothers in the community took the name, Bethlemites.
In 1838, Maria Vicenta Rosal, a native of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, entered the Beaterio de Belen (Convent of Bethlehem). She took the name of Maria Encarnacion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Elected prioress in 1855, she undertook the reformation and revitalization of the Beaterio. To achieve this goal, she wrote the constitutions in faithfulness to Pedro’s spirit and to her own evangelical experience.
Her reforms were not accepted and, she founded a new convent. She thus made it possible for the charisma and spirituality of Pedro to be renewed through the Bethlemite community. It was officially recognized as a new Institute in the Church on February 20, 1891, and final approval was received in 1909.
The Mother House of the Bethlemite Sisters is located in Bogotá, Colombia. The Congregation is divided into five provinces. The Sacred Heart of Jesus Province encompasses the countries of Colombia, Spain, Panama, the USA, and Venezuela. Saint Michael the Archangel Province is comprised of the countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Our Lady of Bethlehem Province covers Chile and Ecuador. Immaculate Province is in Italy. Saint Brother Pedro Province is in India. The Sisters teach; perform parish and social work; work with the aged, the deaf and mute, disabled children, and children of patients with Hansen’s disease; and serve in mission territories.