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Sister M. Stella Maris Larkin, FSGM, visited with Mary Jane Niemann, 94, at the Mother of Good Counsel Home on Sept. 12.
Sister M. Stella Maris Larkin, FSGM, visited with Mary Jane Niemann, 94, at the Mother of Good Counsel Home on Sept. 12.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George celebrate 150 years of service in obedience to God

After 150 years, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George stand ready to serve in God’s obedience

Sister M. Caterina Vola sat at the nurse’s station with Rosemary Kilian as the sister took care of some paperwork.

A resident at Mother of Good Counsel Home, Kilian is being cared for by Sister M. Caterina, a registered nurse and junior professed member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Marytr St. George.

The young sister attended Duchesne High School in St. Charles, where she felt a calling to a religious vocation. Three people on separate occasions told her about the community, based in Alton, Illinois. The last one to tell her was then-Father Edward Rice, who was the vocation director for the Archdiocese of St. Louis at the time.

Sister M. Caterina Vola, FSGM, visited with Rosemary Kilian, who worked for 50 years as a nurse and likes to help behind the desk at the Mother of Good Counsel Home.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
“I felt very at peace,” she said of visiting the community. “I knew at that moment I was called to be there.” As a nurse at Mother of Good Counsel Home, a skilled nursing facility in Northwoods that the sisters founded in 1932, Sister M. Caterina said it was a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that eventually attracted her to this life.

“Our charism is to make the merciful love of Christ visible,” she said. “We see that love coming from His pierced heart. He invites me to show others that merciful love. Here at the home — everyday you’re doing constant works of mercy. It’s built into our day. Here, I feel like I get to be a light for the residents, and to bring them comfort.”

Sister M. Stella Maris Larkin, FSGM, visited with Mary Jane Niemann, 94.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the community’s founding in Thuine, Germany, in 1869. An open house will take place in October at the sisters’ convent in Alton, Illinois (see related).

The sisters follow the Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis, with a mission to be simply ready in obedience to God’s call. The spirituality of the community also focuses on the Sacred Heart, striving to make His merciful love visible through their service to others in a variety of apostolic activities, including hospital work, care of the elderly, education, day care, religious education, parish work and social services.

“Our apostolate has never been one specific thing,” said Sister M. Luka Brandenburg. “We were founded to do whatever the Church has asked for. If the Church needs something, we do it. We are simply ready in obedience to God’s call.”

Sister M. Juliana Ramirez, FSGM, and Sister Mary Elizabeth Voss, FSGM, walked with Benedictine Father Ralph Wright through the hallway at Mother of Good Counsel Home.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

From Germany to the United States

The first sisters who came to the United States in 1923 were considered a financial safeguard for the motherhouse in Germany. “At the time the economy in the United States was booming,” Sister M. Luka said. “There were a lot of possibilities here.”

The sisters were missioned to Father Dunne’s Newsboys Home. However, the troubled boys who spoke street English, and sisters who only spoke German was not a good match. One of the sisters had a brother in what is now the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, who knew about an infirmary for sale in Alton. The sisters purchased Nazareth Infirmary in 1925. Today, the facility is now known as OSF St. Anthony’s Health Center in Alton, where the sisters remain active.

In 1932, the sisters began to serve at and later purchased Mother of Good Counsel Home, a skilled nursing facility on Natural Bridge Road in Northwoods. There were 10 sisters at the home in the the beginning. The home has expanded multiple times over the years, adding several wings. A renovation took place in 2008-09. The sisters’ convent on campus was renovated in 2014.

In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the sisters served in other areas, primarily in the 1990s and early 2000s, including the Archbishop’s residence, Office of Consecrated Life and Office of Youth Ministry. In 1998, the sisters opened a convent at St. Alban Roe in Wildwood, where the sisters teach at the school and are involved in youth ministry.

Vocations

In 1970, the sisters reopened their novitiate in Alton. Vocations to the community had taken off, especially since the 1980s, said Sister M. Luka. The community in the United States now typically receives on average about three to four new vocations every year, which she described as “a good and steady number, not overwhelming.”

By the 1980s, the bishops were becoming “significantly frantic,” Sister M. Luka said, because of the decline in religious vocations. “They were pretty much disappearing from the landscape of the Church,” Sister M. Luka said. “We had vocations — we were at capacity at both the (Mother of Good Counsel) home and Alton.” The former superior, the late Mother Ingeborg Rohner had the vision to send sisters to other apostolates in the United States, including Michigan, Kansas, northern Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Oklahoma.

Sister Mary James Becker, a second-year novice who works in the activities department at Mother of Good Counsel Home, had been sensing a call from God since high school to become a religious sister. The native of Eau Calre, Wisconsin, visited a discernment program run by the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Wisconsin, where “I asked the Lord to help me find the perfect community.”

She wrote down the three things she felt God was specifically calling her to: prayer, community and work. Those elements fit the Franciscan Sisters to a T.

“That’s when I surrendered to the Lord,” she said. “My prayer is to show his merciful love to others. He brought me here.”


>> From Thuine to the New World

In 1869, Mother M. Anselma Bopp, in collaboration with Father John Gerard Dall, founded the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Thuine, a small village in northwest Germany. Father Dall desired to have a community of sisters for his people and to establish a home for needy children and the sick. The dream of Father Dall was realized in 1857, with the arrival of two Sisters of the Holy Cross from Strassbourg.

Eventually, Sister M. Anselma carried out a separation from her original congregation to serve the people of Thuine, who lived in extreme poverty. The new community adopted the Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis with the mission to be simply ready in obedience to God’s call. The community, called the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, took part of its name from St. George Parish, where Father Dall was stationed.

The spirituality of this new Franciscan community centered on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (“They shall look on the One Whom they have pierced” John 19:37.) Because of the politics and the animosity toward the Catholic Church in Germany at the end of the 19th century, the community established a house in Holland in 1875.

The American Province began in 1923 in poverty with many hardships. In St. Louis, Father Dunne was looking for sisters to staff and operate Newsboys Home, an institution for unwanted and neglected boys. The sisters arrived on Dec. 27, 1923, but soon realized that they did not have the training to do this work. The next year negotiations began for the sisters to purchase Nazareth Home, a residence for the elderly, in Alton, Illinois. On April 1, 1925, the Sisters moved to Alton, thus establishing the first Thuiner Franciscan house in the United States, renamed Saint Anthony’s Infirmary. Today, it is known as OSF St. Anthony’s Health Center in Alton.

Over the years, the sisters have served in various ministries, including in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. In 1932, the sisters established Mother of Good Counsel Home, a skilled nursing facility in Northwoods. There currently are 12 sisters who live and work there. The sisters in 1998 established a convent at St. Alban Roe Parish in Wildwood, where they teach in the school and are involved in youth ministry.

The sisters also have sent missionaries to other countries including Japan (1920), Indonesia (1932), Tanzania (1960), Brazil (1972) and Cuba (2011).

Source: Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George

>> Vocations retreat

The sisters host Veni Si Amas, a discernment retreat, several times a year for single women ages 17-30. The weekend retreat includes talks on discernment and religious life, time in prayer with the Lord, and opportunities to meet, share and pray with the sisters. The next retreat is Oct. 18-20 at St. Francis Convent in Alton. A donation of $20 is suggested. To register, visit www.bit.ly/2mnCdiu. To schedule an individual or group visit, contact vocation director Sister M. Karolyn at (618) 463-2757 or vocations@altonfranciscans.org.

>> 150th jubilee open house

The Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George are hosting an open house for the 150th anniversary of the community’s foundation in Germany.

The open house will take place from 2-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, at St. Francis Convent, 1 Franciscan Way in Alton, Ill. To RSVP online, see http://evite.me/qWwHKwZERb.

Sister M. Stella Maris Larkin, FSGM, visited with Mary Jane Niemann, 94.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

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