Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Peoria Franciscan Sisters

I am in East Peoria these days, giving a week long retreat to the Sisters of the Third Order of St.
Francis.  On August 21, 1875 a community of 25 Sisters and 4 Postulants left Germany because of the Bismark Laws which restricted religious freedom.  They ended up in Iowa City where a priest whom they had met in Germany helped them get settled.  About a year later six of the Sisters went to Peoria at the request of a local priest who asked them to start a hospital.  The first bishop of Peoria, John Spalding, promised his help to them if they would form a separate congregation. Thus began this particular community of Franciscans with Mother Mary Frances as the first superior.

Mother Mary Frances' last words to her community capture the spirit that is still very much alive among these Sisters: "Dear Sisters, live in meekness and obedience. Nurse the sick with the greatest care and love, then will God's blessing be with you."

Our retreat will end on Wednesday, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the annual World Day of
the Sick.  In his message this year, Pope Francis wrote about "the wisdom of the heart."  What is this wisdom?  "It is a way of seeing things infused by the Holy Spirit in the minds and the hearts of those who are sensitive to the sufferings of their brothers and sisters and who can see in them the image of God."  He went on to say, "Time spent with the sick is holy time. It is a way of praising God who conforms us to the image of his Son, who 'came not to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many' (Mt. 20:28)."

It strikes me that the Sisters are living proof of these words.  The gift the Sisters make of themselves in service of the sick gives praise to God and helps them grow in holiness.  I'm praying that more women will hear the call to join them because they are very stretched as they direct the operations of 9 medical centers throughout Illinois and in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  Please join me in that prayer.

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