In 1959, the Papal representative spoke to leaders of American Religious Congregations. He asked them to send 10% of their members to work in the missions, especially in Latin America. The Franciscan Friars of the Sacred Heart Province, which included the Chicago area, were working in the area of Santarém, Brazil. After consultation, the Wheaton Franciscans decided to explore the possibility of joining the work in this area.
Mother Fidelis Gossens and Sister Virgilia Beikler visited Santarém in December 1960. The need of the people for basic health care and health education was apparent. When they returned to Wheaton, planning began for mission service in this area. They were advised by the Friars and others with missionary experience to send people who were younger (between 25 and 35), in good health, could tolerate the heat and humidity, and who had the capacity to learn another language.
Three Sisters volunteered– Gemma Backer, Martha Friedman, and Adrienne Shannon– and began training programs including care for patients with tuberculosis and leprosy. Srs. Martha and Adrienne also attended an 8-month program on midwifery. The training and preparation lasted through most of 1962.