Unaccustomed as I am to being early for any occasion, this recognition of National Catholic Sisters Week (NCSW) begins early with a heartfelt celebration of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi of Little Falls, Minnesota. Today, March 1, 2016, the Sisters join with their neighbors and friends to celebrate their 125th year of serving the community in Little Falls, Morrison County and beyond.
First, a word about NCSW – it’s actually next week, March 8-14, 2016. Now in its third year NCSW is scheduled as a key component of National Women’s History Month. The intent is to honor women religious through a series of events that “instruct, enlighten and bring greater focus to the lives of these incredible women.” Learn more about NCSW at http://www.nationalcatholicsistersweek.org/about.php
For a glimpse at the work of today’s women religious there is no better example than the Franciscans celebrating in Little Falls today. These women have been a major part of my family for as long as I can remember (which is many decades) and many decades before that. My beloved aunt, Sister Mary Stephen Treacy was a Franciscan whom I remember best for her infectious laugh, for the chocolate milk she could always find for special guests, and as a legend in the community. Three of my cousins followed her lead – Sister Mary Leone Furnstahl, a teacher, died in 1998. Today Sister Therese Furnstahl and Sister Anne Furnstahl continue to serve a broadly defined community in myriad ways.
Today thoughts are with the Sisters and the countless people they have served for 125 years. I even learned a new word to describe the year–long celebration – this is the Franciscans’ “quaquicentennial.” The year is highlighted by two significant dates – today, March 1, is Founding Day, marking the 1891 date when sixteen women established the community in Belle Prairie, Minnesota. The other key date is October 4, the Feast of Saint Francis Assisi, patron of the community and namesake of Pope Francis, a fact that brings both pleasure and renewed inspiration to the Sisters.
Today the 129 members of the community serve in countless ministries including home health care, teaching, catechetical work, missionary work in South America and more. The Franciscan Center has also built a reputation for hospitality as it opens the doors to the community and visitors from afar. Neighbors gather at the Center regularly to socialize, exercise, worship, garden, to conduct the business of the community and to learn. Conference attendees and other visitors find respite – not to mention great meals and a warm welcome — in the gracious setting.
Scholars visit the Franciscan Center on a regular basis to learn about the history of the community and the area preserved in the Franciscan archives and to reflect on the magnificent architecture of the Chapel and other historic buildings on the grounds.
Members of the public are welcome to join the Franciscans as they continue to celebrate their “quaquicentennial” throughout the year. Activities range from an Open House on Saturday July 9, featuring musicians from the St. Francis Music Center, to a tour and tractor or horse-drawn wagon tour, to a September 30 liturgical performance by David Haas, Marty Haugen and Michael Joncas.
The “Little Falls Franciscans” offer a glimpse and just one example of 21st Century women religious meeting the challenge of change with grit and grace!