Sister Clara transitioning into her own Congregation
When Sr. Clara decided she was being called to begin her own congregation, she found a great partnership with Bishop Conrad Martin of the diocese of Paderborn, Germany who was instrumental in the founding of the congregation of Franciscan Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Together, they dreamed of a Franciscan community of women religious dedicated to praying for the persecuted Church, caring for orphans and teaching.
Founding the Constitution
Sister Clara discerned to begin her own Congregation focused on both the contemplative and active life in Olpe, Germany. Her founding constitution was approved on October 30, 1860, thus establishing the Franciscan Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Coming to America
Mother Clara welcomed the opportunity to expand the congregation’s ministry to America by sending three Sisters to begin a hospital in St. Louis, MO.
The Burning Seal
Bishop Martin was imprisoned by the authorities of Prussia for his actions in championing the Church while the rules of the Kulturkampf suppressed the Church and its missions. In 1975, Mother Clara visited Bishop Martin in prison. He hastily wrote a document outlining powers he was authorizing her to use during the period of governmental oppression. He urged judicious use of these powers in strict secrecy.
The document remained on Mother Clara’s person in a leather purse she wore under her habit. It later became known to community members as “the Burning Seal.” Mother Clara utilized these special powers in a handful of situations as she would accept new novices and receive vows. Her sisters noticed and so did the new Ecclesiastic Superior, Fr. Klein.
These actions eventually led to Mother Clara being forced out of her office as General Superior and in to exile in Rome. Her goal was to have an audience with the Pope and gain his understanding. This never happened, and Mother Clara died in Rome in 1882, in disgrace with the congregation. The Burning Seal was not rediscovered until almost a century after her death.
Wreck of the Deutschland
By the winter of 1875, with 19 sisters already serving several missions in the U.S., Mother Clara decided it was time to send a leadership team to manage the new Province in the U.S. Communication back and forth took weeks. The culture and money were different, and frankly, without experiencing it, the distances between places in the U.S. were hard to imagine. Mother Clara assigned 28-year old, Sr. Henrica Fassbender, to be the first Provincial Superior. Henrica joined four other sisters (Barbara, Brigitta, Norberta and Aurea) to set sail for the U.S. on the ship the Deutschland in December 1875.
On the second day at sea, the Deutschland was caught in a terrible winter storm off the coast of Harwich, England. The Deutschland ran aground on a sandbar with a broken propeller. For 30 hours the ship was hammered with high winds and waves, as calls for help went unheeded. Our sisters gave up space in a limited number of life boats and died in their cabin. The body of Sr. Henrica was never recovered.
The bodies of our four Sisters were recovered and taken to St. Francis Church in Stratford, England where a requiem Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Manning of London. Newspaper accounts estimated more than 40,000 people lined the streets of the village as the funeral processed to St. Patrick Cemetery in nearby Leytonstone.
Sisters begin ministries
The archbishop of Chicago approached the Franciscan sisters to establish a home for single women seeking job opportunities in the growing city. In, 1882, they purchased the former rectory of St. Joseph’s parish in Chicago and named it House of Providence. Here residents were provided the simple comforts of home.
Recognizing the need for education and nursing, sisters taught in seven parishes in three states (Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado) between 1881 and 1890. As hospital work increased, many sisters left parish schools to assist in staffing the hospitals. This photograph taken in 1897 shows Sr. Clara Jung (one of the first of many sisters pioneers to the West) with children who attended St. Elizabeth’s Parish School in Denver, Colorado.
By 1888, requests were coming from as far as Denver, Colorado, for the sisters’ assistance. Franciscan friars wanted the sisters to teach in their newly establish St. Elizabeth’s Parish. There sisters were sent to teach at the Parish school. On Christmas night that same year, four children who has recently lost their mother were brought to the sisters. The need for an orphanage became evident, and in 1893, an addition was built.
The United States becomes the first Province of the Congregation
Hospital ministry grows
Mayor A. Hamilton Levings of Appleton, Wisconsin, invited Franciscan sisters to found a hospital. The sisters were unable to act until 1899 when the city agree to give land for the hospital. A meeting on November 19, St. Elizabeth’s feast day, solidified the plans, thus the hospital’s name. This photograph shows the first hospital site with a child in the yard. (Courtesy of St. Elizabeth Hospital.)
St. Anthony’s Hospital and Motherhouse is opened in St. Louis. St. Louis will be the Province’s home for almost 75 years.
Nursing schools flourish
The Franciscan sisters and their ministries were flourishing, thanks to God’s blessings and exceptional counsel from clergy and lay business people. Increased utilization of the hospitals and the expansion of health care services meant new buildings and additions at each site. Meanwhile, technical advances were rapidly changing the field of medicine. This contributed to an increased need for lay and religious nurses. The St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing graduating classes of 1901 (top left) and 1902 are pictured. (Courtesy of Marquette University Archives.)
Sr. Berenice Beck completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree and a Master of Arts Degree from Marquette University. In 1929 she became the third Director of St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing. In 1935 she graduated from Catholic University in Washington, D. C. with a Doctor in Nursing Education. She received the first doctorate in nursing education awarded by Catholic University of America.
Sr. Berenice was instrumental in changing St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing into a collegiate program by establishing Marquette University College of Nursing in 1935. Sr. Berenice became the first Dean of the program in 1936. She was a state and national leader in nursing education, a visiting lecturer and writer. Her deanship at the College of Nursing ended in 1942 but she continued as a Professor of Nursing Education in the Department of Graduate Nursing Education until her retirement in 1952.
Sr. Augusta Woelfel was the second Dean of Marquette University College of Nursing from 1943-1949.
Sister Thomas Kolba became the third Dean of the College of Nursing, a position she held for 28 years.
Portable infant incubator
The infant mortality rate was high in the 1930s. To reverse this trend, Sr. Pulcheria Wuellner, a nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital, developed Wisconsin’s first premature baby nursery. She started one of the nation’s first breast milk banks. Most importantly, Sr. Pulcheria, a premature baby herself, fashioned a canvas-covered, portable incubator (photographed) that regulated humidity, oxygen, and temperature. Because of its affordable design, many premature babies lived. (Courtesy of St. Joseph’s Hospital.)
Mother Clara Pfaender wrote that the sisters are to “endeavor to integrate the contemplative and active life so that the active life is nourished, strengthened, and supported through the contemplative.” The sisters’ lives were built around prayer, adoration, Eucharist, and service. In the early days, they tended a two-acre garden, conquered mountains of dirty laundry, milked cows, and gathered eggs. Before electricity and central heating, they stoked fires (first wood, then coal) and lit candles and oil lamps. Each day consisted of long hours of cooking, sewing, mending, maintenance, and housework. The sisters did all this while caring for individuals as well as owning and managing large institutions.
The Sisters make the move
The sisters received permission from the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago to purchase land 26 miles west of Chicago in Wheaton, Illinois. The sisters felt the two large homes on the 90-acre property would be ideal for the motherhouse and novitiate. The road through the property was lined with tall elms. The land was beautifully landscaped with ample woods, a creek, an oak grove, and orchards filled with fruit trees. On the morning of July 1, 1947, several professed sisters and 14 novices set out for their new home in Wheaton. The larger of the two houses on the property was adapted for the novitiate. The photograph (right) shows novices picking apples from the orchard around 1950. In the top left photo, novices enjoy sledding and walking in the winter wonderland on the property in 1948.
The Polio epidemic
In a decade of fear and uncertainty associated with polio, the sisters focused on care and treatment. At the height of the epidemic, the outpatient physical therapy department at St. Anthony’s Hospital, St. Louis, MO treated 100 patients a day. In the photograph (right), Sr. Joanette Kleffner, the director of the rehabilitation department, assists a young boy to walk.
The sisters developed and taught polio treatment techniques to health care providers throughout the Midwest through the annual Institutes of Polio. The “Polio Center” became a model for the country in the treatment of the dreaded disease. Sr. Pulcheria Wuellner was selected to supervise the polio unit. In the photograph (top left), Sister Pulcheria tends to a young patient in an iron lung machine.
Increasing membership necessitates new construction
In the aftermath of World War II, the federal government restricted building due to the scarcity of resources such as steel and copper. However, permission was obtained in 1953 to break ground for the creation of a motherhouse and novitiate. The sisters hired Ralph Ranft to design the building. He envisioned a modern, clean structure that followed the natural slope of the land. Francis Deck from Emil Frei Associates, Inc., designed the stained-glass windows for the chapel (pictured) depicting the “Magnificat” (the Canticle of Mary from the Gospel of Luke). The windows were made from cathedral glass imported from Munich, Germany. The beautiful windows cast bright colors across the chapel from early morning until late afternoon. In 1955, Our Lady of the Angels motherhouse and Novitiate was dedicated just as membership for the Franciscan sisters crested to the all-time high of 496 members. There was no way of knowing the future would bring many changes and fewer members. (Photography by Stephen Lewellyn, courtesy of Lewellyn Studios.)
A new day dawns: The Second Vatican Council
The Second Vatican Council was announced by Pope John XXIII just three months after his election in 1958. After a lengthy preparation, the council opened in 1962 and lasted three years. When asked about the council’s purpose. Pope John went to the window and threw it open. Fresh air was to blow through the age-old institution. He stressed the light of Christ as God’s gift for all people, the need to be a pastoral presence in today’s world, and the integration of contemporary theology. Women religious were directed to renew their way of life by studying their spiritual roots and by adapting both their founding purpose and their lifestyle to the conditions of the modern world and the needs of the times.
The invitation for renewal was issued to the whole church, but in particular to religious orders. The coming years would be tumultuous and transformative. Religious sisters and their life would never be the same again. As old institutional ways of living were examined and renewed, many sisters would make the choice to leave community life, while others found the new forms to be invigorating and life-fulfilling. In the 1966 Province Chapter, the Franciscan sisters elected Sr. Virginia Mary (Dolorine) Barta as their provincial directress. At 40 years old, she was the youngest woman to be elected. As she writes in her autobiography, “I came to the chapter with 100 proposals and was elected provincial.” Sr. Virginia Mary was an instrumental leader of change in the community. She is pictured at the beginning of her term.
Franciscan Educational Conference
When Mother Fidelis Gossens was elected as the provincial directress in 1960, a main focus became spiritual renewal. She encouraged every sister to take a month-long renewal program. During the early 1960s, the sisters hosted the Franciscan Educational Conference, emphasizing Franciscan principles in ministry. In 1963, the Franciscan sisters hosted the Better World Conference. Pictured are the 167 participants from 31 different congregations who participated in the retreat. (Photograph by Orlin Kohli).
Beginning a mission to the people of Santarem, Brazil.
A 1959 plea from the Vatican asked religious communities to increase their missions to South America. The Franciscan sisters explored collaborating with Bishop James Ryan, a Franciscan from Chicago who was bishop of Santarem, Brazil. Mother Fidelis Gossens, province directress and Sr. Virgilia Beichler, assistant visited Santarem, located at the juncture of the Amazon and Tapajos Rivers. The decision was made to start a medical services mission to the people in that area. Sisters volunteered for the mission, and three were selected. They began a preparation process that included a two-week Tuberculosis course in Milwaukee, WI, a three-week Leprosy program in Carville, LA, an eight-month midwifery course in Santa Fe, NM, and an immersion course in Portuguese held in Brazil. The photograph (right) Sisters Gemma, Adrienne, and Martha on their 10-day voyage to Brazil aboard the Mormcowl.
Medical supplies, household items, clothing, and medications were packed into 55-gallon barrels and sent along with the sisters to Brazil. The sisters saw extreme poverty and worked tirelessly making house calls, dispensing medications, and teaching basic hygiene. In the first year in Brazil, three sisters made 870 home visits and numerous food distributions. By 1968, the Franciscan sisters built a maternity hospital and a program was developed to train midwives. Meanwhile, back in Wheaton, sisters organized fund-raisers twice a year to collect food and medical supplies for the mission in Brazil. To this day, Brazil remains a vital region of the congregation. The photograph (top left) shows Sr. Gemma Backer talking with a mother and her son in 1965.
Partnering with the laity
Medical advances increased demand for expertise and specialization in hospitals, while labor laws complicated issues of management and personnel. The sisters, always ready to meet the changing needs of the times, hired laypeople for managerial positions in their hospitals as early as 1948. Lay advisory boards were formed to promote solid relationships between the hospitals and the surrounding communities. The photograph, taken in 1967 shows the newly restructured board at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee.
Sisters breaking the glass ceiling
This photograph shows three Wheaton Franciscans (in the first row, far left, is Sr. Illumina Gossens, and at far right are Srs. Jeanne Gengler and Lillian Van Domelen) as part of a business class in 1968. Women religious filled positions of high rank in schools, colleges, and hospitals and as members of corporate boards.
Grassroots participation was encouraged as sisters researched and discussed crucial themes of their community lives in light of scripture, Vatican II documents, and Franciscan values. Positions papers were composed on spirituality, religious development, the apostolate, and community structure. In 1968, these position papers along with proposed revisions to the constitution and way of life, were distributed to the members in a book called “We Are One in the Spirit (pictured).
A new and modern facility.
The provincial council received permission from the general council in 1968 to build an addition to the motherhouse for sick and infirmed sisters. A new and modern facility was built and dedicated as Marianjoy (the name honors Mary, the Blessed Mother, and St. Francis, who was known for his joy). The addition eventually was licensed as a skilled nursing facility and welcomed laypeople as well as sisters. In 1972, it was rededicated as an acute physical rehabilitation facility. Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital continues its fine work today in a new hospital on the property. This photograph is an aerial view of the Wheaton Franciscan campus in the early 1970s. In the center (left) is Marianjoy rehabilitation Hospital (the Y-shaped building) attached to the larger motherhouse. The building in the lower section of the photograph is original to the property and served as the novitiate. The building at the top right of the picture is the other original building that served as the motherhouse. (Courtesy of James Professional Photography.)
Starting up affordable housing
Lack of affordable housing was a critical social problem in the late 1960s. The Wheaton Franciscans proposed a visionary plan to address the need. The sisters would use portions of their properties for affordable housing. After thorough deliberations with the city council, social agencies, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Marian Park opened in Wheaton in 1973. The picture shows Sr. Sylvia Wehlisch, resident coordinator, with a young resident. Francis Heights was built on the grounds of St. Clara’s Orphanage in Denver (1972). The Wheaton Franciscans were the sponsoring agents and managers of these properties as they involved residents in the planning, programming, and management of the housing communities. The housing developments formed the foundation of a broader housing ministry sponsored by the Wheaton Franciscans. (Photo, courtesy of Wheaton Franciscans Services, Inc.)
Broadening our bonds
Bonds of friendship developed between sisters and laypeople they encountered. As early as 1969, the Wheaton Franciscans began exploring ways in which laywomen could be associated with the community. A goal of the 1980 Province Chapter was to “encourage, support, and integrate into our community new members and new forms of membership.” In 1983, Covenant Membership was developed for laymen and laywomen who wished to embrace the Wheaton Franciscans’ charism and philosophy in their daily lives now called Covenant Companionship. This form of belonging shares in and lives out the spirit of the Wheaton Franciscan charism. Prospective Covenant Companion’s participate in an orientation and integration process before making a public commitment with the community. There are currently more that 37 people in covenant membership. The photograph was taken during the first covenant membership ceremony in 1983. Covenant members Laurette Kelly (second from left) and Gwen Hudetz (third from right) celebrated their 25th anniversary as covenant members in October 2008.
Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc is founded.
On July 11, 1983, the corporate ministries of the Wheaton Franciscan sisters were incorporated as Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc. The parent company directed and oversaw the development of the system entities. At its inception, Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc., held 21 health, shelter, and human services organizations. Sr. Rose Mary Pint (pictured right) was named first chairperson of the board of directors, president, and chief executive officer. Bill Loebig was named executive vice president of health services, and Bob Makowski was named vice president of corporate services. Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc. established the following priorities for its corporate mission: “preserve and strengthen Judeo-Christian values, provide a framework for lay expertise and involvement, respond to an increasingly complex environment, ensure continuity of Franciscan sponsorship, and assure system-wide viability and excellence.” Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc., was futuristic in its planning and bold in its initiatives. It partnered with other lay and religious institutions to form cooperative efforts in providing health and public services. In the photography (top left) Bob Makowski, Bill Loebig, and Sr. Rose Mary Pint discuss the goals and objectives for the new corporate structure. (Courtesy of Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc.)
Human and Community Development (HCD) was embraced by the sisters as their community philosophy, firmly rooted in the Gospel and providing a clear vision for their ministries. It upheld the sacredness of life, fostered relationships, and encouraged the respectful growth and development of all people. HCD is grounded in the Franciscan principle that all creation is in relationship. Pictured here is a photograph of a pamphlet on HCD from 1987.
The evolution of sponsorship
Sponsorship of Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc., was carried out by sisters appointed to the sponsor member board and the sponsorship member committee. The board’s role was to exercise the authority of the provincial council in issues of governance and to evaluate corporate ministries in light of the mission of the church and the needs of the times. The committee consisted of board members who gave additional time and focus to sponsorship development and evolution. This photograph is of the sponsor member board in 2006: (from left to right) Srs. Beatrice Hernandez, Margaret Grempka, Sheila Kinsey, Clare Nyderek, Alice Drewek, Mary Beth Glueckstein (chairperson of the board), and Jane Madejczyk.
Establishing Upendo Village
The Provincial Chapter in 2000 expressed interest in exploring how they could respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. Out of this a working group was formed to explore this issue. Shortly there after Sr. Florence Muia, ASN, a native of Kenya, explored with Sr. Marge Zulaski, OSF, a Wheaton Franciscan sister, how to offer assistance and support to Kenyans with HIV/AIDS. The Wheaton Franciscans were involved in HIV/AIDS ministries and desired to fight the disease on a global level. A mutual collaboration was established with the Wheaton Franciscans and Sr. Florence to lay the foundation for a project in Kenya. Opening in 2003, Upendo Village provides a broad spectrum of services to people living with HIV/AIDS in Naivasha. The ministry continues to serve thousands of people livening with HIV/AIDS.
Wheaton Franciscan Collaborative Ministries known as Tau Center
The Wheaton Franciscans believe that their Franciscan spirituality offers a unique and much – needed perspective in today’s world. To make this available, more than 40 vowed and covenant members shared their time and talent in providing spiritual development and healing arts options through Collaborative Ministries. Collaborative Ministries (now Tau Center) was established by the Wheaton Franciscan community for the purpose of integrating “body, mind, and spirit in the lineage of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi.” Located on the beautiful campus of the Wheaton Franciscans, Collaborative Ministries provided an environment that is conducive to spiritual deepening through program opportunities for physical, emotional, social, and spiritual nurturing and healing. More than 1,200 people from the general public participated in programs offered by Collaborative Ministries from its inception in 2005 through 2008. The programs attracted women and men seeking a contemporary Franciscan perspective with an integrated approach to well-being, as well as persons committed to deepening earth awareness and cultivating the sacredness of all life the present Tau Center continues this ministry.
Continue the mission work in Brazil
In 1988, on the 25th anniversary of the American sisters in Santarem, Brazil, the decision was made to continue the mission work as a “region” under the general council, and the Holy Family Region was established. In this 2006 photograph, (seated from left to right) Sr. Maureen Elfrink, Sr. Alice Reckamp, and Sr. Martha Friedman pose with the Brazilian sisters who follow in their footsteps. Sister Martha, one of the original sisters to go to Brazil, organized a midwifery training program that continues today under the direction of a Brazilian sister. Sister Martha directed the novitiate program established in 1988. Sister Alice had also been in Brazil since 1969 as a medical technologist and was the director of the aspirancy program, with the assistance of a Brazilian sister. Both Sister Martha and Sister Alice returned to the States on June 1, 2016. Sr. Aleunice Sousa de Lima from Brazil now manages the program. Sister Maureen went to Brazil in 1989 and worked with the sisters in temporary vows. When a Brazilian sister assumed the responsibility for the temporary professed sisters, Sister Maureen returned to the United States.
25th anniversary of Covenant Membership
Celebration of the 25th anniversary of Covenant Membership (formally changed name to Covenant Companionship in 2015).
150th anniversary of the Congregation
Celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Congregation.
Divesting our properties in healthcare & housing
The Provincial Council engaged in a lengthy period of discernment regarding the future of our ministries giving consideration to the changing health care and housing environment and our ability to continue oversight of these ministries. Options were explored with the final decision made that the ministries would be best served long term under new sponsorship that would ultimately position the ministries for ongoing success. The values of these organizations are consistent with ours and all have a strong commitment to a superior patient experience, clinical excellence, being the preferred partner of physicians, and a special concern for poor and vulnerable patients and residents.
As a result:
- Wheaton’s Southeast Wisconsin region joined Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.
- Wheaton’s Iowa region joined Mercy Health Network (MHN), an integrated system of hospitals and other health and patient care facilities in Iowa and surrounding communities. Founded in 1998 between two of the largest Catholic, not-for-profit health organizations in the US: Catholic Health Initiatives, based in Englewood, Colorado, and Trinity Health, based in Livonia, Michigan.
- Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital became part of Northwestern Medicine, based in the Chicago area, which is a collaboration between Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
- Franciscan Ministries subsidiaries became part of Mercy Housing, Inc. Based in Denver, CO, Mercy Housing is one of the nation’s largest affordable housing nonprofits. The Founding Communities of Mercy Housing include eight congregations of Catholic Women Religious across the country.