Tag Archives: Franciscan Sisters of 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!









Sister Justina Bieganek, OSF, continues her heavenly journey

Sister Justina Bieganek died yesterday at age 100.  She was surrounded by her Franciscan community and the undying love of an extended family that embraced her beloved Orphan Train Riders and their descendants.  Sister Justina was a prime mover and the Franciscan Center the meeting place for hundreds of families who might not have known their own or others’ stories were it not for the unflagging work of this diminutive woman

Sister Justina was herself an Orphan Train Rider. !hen she who made the trek from the New York orphanage to Minnesota in 1913 she was identified only as #41.  She was not yet two years old.  The little girl whose birth name was Edith Peterson had a happy childhood on the farm near Avon, Minnesota, with Mary and John Bieganet and their large family.  When Mary Bieganek died in 1919 one of the Biaganek sons and his wife opened their home to the six-year-old Edith.

Edith’s introduction to the Sisters of St. Francis came when, as a teen, she attended a Franciscan boarding school.   In 1929 young Edith joined the Franciscans, taking the name Sister Justina.

For decades Sister Justina was a busy woman with little time or resources to explore her roots.  It wasn’t until 1969 that she was able to visit the New York Foundling Hospital where she learned her parents’ names and that the reason she was placed in the orphanage and thus on the Orphan Train was recorded as her widowed mother’s “inability to care for the child.”

Inspired by learning something of her roots Sister Justina had a new mission – to locate and reach out to other Orphan Train Riders and to collect and preserve their stories. She was not the only inquisitive Rider; two women from North Dakota who had shared the Orphan Train experience had also realized that they were not alone.   In July 1961 Minnesota was the first state to sponsor a gathering of Orphan Train Riders.

Soon, with Sister Justina’s active involvement, the Orphan Train gathering moved to the gracious setting at the Franciscan Center in Little Falls where it has become an honored tradition.  At first it was the Riders themselves, then their children joined them, and their grandchildren and a host of others eager to learn more about the Orphan Train Riders – the people and their stories.

Since the Orphan Train stopped running in 1929 there are few Riders still living.  Still, the gathering at Sister Justina’s Franciscan home continues as a time and setting for families to share memories, pour over scrapbooks and family photos, relax  and enjoy their common heritage.

In January this year the Orphan Train families and the Franciscans celebrated Sister Justina’s 100th Birthday with a grand party open to all who knew and loved Sister Justina. The proud and perky centenarian reflected that  “at each step of my life, I have been graced with God’s great blessings,” concluding that “my life has been better than good.”

With a look to the future she added “I pray for a happy death and I look forward to meeting my parents.”