Education Ministry – Early Years

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In her history of the Wheaton Franciscans, Hearts Inflamed, Prudence Moylan writes, “Right from the start the Sisters had to choose, among many opportunities, what work they would do and where they would do it.” There were always more needs than the Sisters were able to meet. They focused their work on the guidance of Mother Clara “to educate children, especially orphans, to care for the sick, poor,” and “any manner of loving service for which the Lord gives them opportunity.” (Founding constitution)


In 1875, Father Theodore Bruenner asked Mother Clara for help in establishing a Deaf-Mute Institute near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sister Longina Sommer arrived before the institute was built and Fr. Bruenner taught her English and Sign Language. She became fluent in both. In 1888, Sr. Longina became the founder and superior of St. Elizabeth School in Denver.

Teaching had been important work for the Sisters in Germany before the “Kulterkampf.” In the United States, they received many requests to work in parish schools to meet the needs of German immigrants. Between 1881 and 1890, the sisters taught in seven parishes in three states – Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado. They continued teaching at St. Elizabeth’s school in Denver, Colorado, until 1917. 

Because of the increasing need for help in the hospitals, between 1917 and 1949 the sisters taught only at Schools of Nursing, the Colorado orphanages, and the high school at the motherhouse in St. Louis.

St. Clara’s Convent located at 952 10th Street in Denver, Colorado. Later known as St. Rose’s Convent and the St. Rose Residence, this building served as an orphanage and home for young working women.

The Provincial Motherhouse and Pius Hospital located on the southeast corner of 14th and O’Fallon Streets in St. Louis, Missouri. Completed in October of 1879, the sister’s remained at this location until moving to St. Anthony’s in 1894. The hospital itself closed in 1900, and the following year, the building was rededicated as St. Blandina’s Home, a safe haven for young women in the city. 

St. Clara’s Orphanage located in Denver, Colorado. Sister Maria (Clara) Jung is on the right. Originally at 952 10th Street (pictured), the orphanage moved to its second location at West 29th Avenue and Osceola Street in 1909.


St. Clara’s Convent and girls home opened in 1890. In 1905, a new orphanage opened on fifteen acres in Denver. The original building became St. Rosa Home for working girls.

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School of Nursing

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Population Shifts Reignite the Education Ministry

In the late 1940’s the United States began to see a growth in new births, later to be called the “baby boom.”   This demographic change combined with movement to the suburbs led to new parishes and new schools renewing the requests for the Sisters to teach. The education ministry was re-established in 1948 when Sisters were sent to Transfiguration Parish in Wauconda, Illinois.

 In 1950 the Sisters opened St. Joseph School in Raymond, Iowa and in 1963 they opened a school at Holy Family Parish in Pueblo, Colorado.

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St. Francis High School ~ Wheaton, IL ~ Celebrating 65 Years

In 1957 the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters joined with two other religious communities, the Sisters of Loretto (IBVM) and the Christian Brothers to staff St. Francis High School, a new diocesan school, on property just west of the Franciscans property.   This school also became the site of the Aspirancy.

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In 1955 the province leaders decided to open an Aspirancy for girls interested in religious life, but not old enough to enter as postulants (candidates for vowed religious life).   These high school students lived together and attended the high school program developed in the 1920s. From 1957, until the Aspirancy closed in 1967, the aspirants attended St. Francis High School while living in one of the two original homes on the Wheaton Franciscan property. 

Prudance Moylan wrote in Hearts Inflamed, “Just as in the early days, the number of Sisters who worked in education ministries was small compared to the number who worked in health care. The Sister teachers were flexible workers who taught different grade levels, taught in diverse institutional settings, and collaborated on school wide performances and projects.”