Tag Archives: Franciscan Center in Little Falls

Friends and Neighbors Celebrate Sisters’ “Quaquicentennial”

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orphan Train Riders

Through stage productions, video and countless personal reflections most of us know something about the experiences of the Orphan Train Riders.  Beginning in 1854 and continuing until 1929  as many as 200,000 children were put on West-bound trains where they were sent to live – with mixed results – with new families in new homes.  The stories of these children, well recorded in numerous reports, are compelling.  Their descendents are estimated at over 2,000,000.

Thanks to committed individuals including an indefatigable Orphan Train Rider, Sister Justina Bieganek, OSF, the stories of Minnesota’s orphan train children are reflected, recorded and retold with love and care.  And each fall Orphan Train Riders and their descendents gather at the St. Francis Center in Little Falls, Minnesota, to remember.  Midst hugs, tears, laughs, scrapbooks, performance and good food, the stories unfold in a warm and wonderful celebration of tough times, good times, lives lived and survival.

One good story begins in 1913 when a 22 month baby arrived in Avon, Minnesota on the Orphan Train where she was met by John and Mary Bieganet who knew her only as child No 41.  The little girl was given the name Edith Peterson.  That little girl, now a nonagenarian, picks up the story.  “In 1929,” she notes, “two good things happened — the Orphan Train stopped and I entered the Convent.”  To be sure, in 1929 the young Edith Peterson joined the Sisters of St. Francis Little Falls where she took the name Sister Justina.

Among her many commitments over the past decades Sister Justina has played a key role in keeping the stories of the Orphan Train Riders alive.  In July 1861 Minnesota was the first state to carry out a gathering of Orphan Train Riders.  It all started when two Orphan Train Riders from North Dakota discovered their common heritage.  They decided that “if there are two of us, how many more shells in the ocean can we find?”   Starting with an ad in area newspapers, the region’s Orphan Train Riders met, reached out, and created a tradition that continues today with an annual gathering at the Franciscan Center in Little Falls.

This year, Sister Justina and her colleagues share the day with special relish. On Saturday, October 2, 2010, families, friends and interested persons (including “interested persons” Suzanne Mahmoodi and me) will gather for the 50th Celebration of Orphan Train Riders of New York (the generic name for the Riders groups).  A special feature of this year’s reunion is presentation of The Story of the Orphan Train, a one-woman show created by professional actress Pippa White of One’s Company Productions.

Impossible as it is to capture the spirit of the reunion, there are many ways to share the story.  Sister Justina herself is profiled in print and has created a 40-minute DVD in which she shares her experience of riding the Orphan Train from New York to central Minnesota.  Information about that video is available through the Sisters of St. Francis (info@fslf.org).   Among the several websites devoted to the Orphan Train Riders are many that are state-specific,  maps, statistics, personal reflections, contacts and more.  There is also a great website offering quick links to scores of educational resources and projects.

The story of the Orphan Train Riders offers a close and clear reminder of our relatively recent history rich with challenges, choices and consequences.  Long-time historian of Minnesota’s Orphan Train Riders Renee Wendinger has created an excellent up-to-date collection of articles by and about the Orphan Train Riders replete with original newspaper clippings, details re. the railroad depots, geograhic distribution and more   For a list of Minnesota’s Orphan Train Riders, check here.  Many thanks to Sister Justina and to the many Orphan Train Riders and their progeny who tell the stories, whether replete with pain or happy memories, stories so far and yet so near.