The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls

Categories: Around the Diocese,consecrated life

A religious community devoted to prayer, simplicity and service

During this Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis instructs Catholics to “look to the past with gratitude … live the present with passion… [and] embrace the future with hope.” The Visitor will help to commemorate the past, present and future of the religious communities housed in the St. Cloud Diocese in the lead-up to the Mass for Consecrated Life at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. This is the fourth in a series.

Franciscan spirituality
The spirit of the Franciscan tradition is recognized as one of joy, gratitude, and care for the poor. The lives of the brothers and sisters witness to the transforming power of God’s love in human lives and to the wondrous giftedness of creation. The focus on the love and the goodness of God manifested in all creation, and on our free response to God’s grace is an important foundation for Franciscan self-understanding. —www.fslf.org

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

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Sisters perform a festive liturgical dance during a Jubilee liturgy in Sacred Heart Chapel at St. Francis Convent in Little Falls. Photos courtesy of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls

When guests walk through the doors of the St. Francis Convent in Little Falls, they are met with the warm smiles of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls and a joyful simplicity that radiates from their spirit within.

This hospitable welcome is at the center of the sisters’ Franciscan spirituality that flows through their lives and across borders into their diverse ministries.

Today, there are 128 sisters who are a part of this community, though some live as far away as California, Mississippi and Mexico. About 70 sisters live at the main convent in Little Falls.

“Because we believe that Christ is present among us, we are called to create community wherever we are,” said Sister Bea Eichten, community minister. “It is our calling to be in the midst of the people.”

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Sister Bea Eichten

Sister Bea, who grew up in Lindstrom, Minn., has served as the community’s leader twice — from 2001- 06 and her current term from 2011-18 — but not before teaching high school chemistry and home economics. She also took on a role as a school counselor, which fueled her desire to pursue a degree in counseling.

“I am very grateful for my vocation,” she said. “It gave me a depth of meaning and energy. It opened the world to me. I had opportunities in religious life that I never would have had anywhere else, like traveling and working with all kinds of people. I have been challenged and stretched to understand not only myself but others and the church.”

Grateful remembering

With over 80 years of experience as a Franciscan sister, Sister Mary Fabian Schneider said she lives her life to be a “dwelling place for Jesus.”

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Sisters Bernarda Sanoski, Sylvia Opatz and Mary Zirbes share a lighthearted moment of “green awareness” during the 2014 Green Fair Folk Festival. More than 60 vendors sell, exhibit and share information on their green and sustainable products or services at the annual event. This year’s festival will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Aug. 5 on the convent’s west lawn.

“My ministry has been a ministry of prayer and presence,” she said. “Our life as sisters is really a life of faith, to see Christ and see how he increases our faith each day.”

Sister Fabian, who will turn 100 on July 10, entered the convent in 1933. She spent time ministering in Flensburg, where she grew up, teaching religion and helping with various tasks. She also served at St. Otto’s Care Center in Little Falls and at the St. Cloud Orphanage. For 16 years, she worked as a housekeeper for the late Bishop Peter Bartholome.

Most recently, she worked as the receptionist at the convent for 32 years, retiring at the age of 99.

“I love to be with people and to be hospitable,” she said. “I even try to spiritualize that part of my work. When someone would come to me, I laid everything aside and really listened to that person. I tried to treat each person as Christ would treat them.”

She still imparts that charism to the nurses, staff and those she comes in contact with daily, whether it is offering a kind word, a blessing or a piece of her cherished chocolate candy gifted to her by fellow sisters.

Living the present with passion

When Franciscan Sister Char Grossman graduated from high school in Chokio in 1966, very few people knew she planned to enter the convent later that year.

“On senior night, in the program, it was shared what each of my classmates were going to do after graduation,” she recalled. “After my name, it said, ‘St. Francis Convent, Little Falls, MN.’ Relatives, friends, classmates had no clue I was going to do this. Some were quite surprised.”

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Power Plant, one of the many URock bands formed during St. Francis Music Center’s URock Summer Camp, performs on stage during an outdoor concert at the 2014 Green Fair Folk Festival. St. Francis Music Center, located on the campus at St. Francis Center, Little Falls, is a community school for music and the arts serving Little Falls and the surrounding area. More than 325 students attend music lessons there each week.

Not surprising is that almost 50 years later, Sister Char still loves the life she was called to live. Learning and living the Rule of St. Francis, especially the values of joy, simplicity and hospitality are evident in her life, work and ministry, especially in her role as a chaplain for Community Addiction Recovery Enterprise in Fergus Falls, operated by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

“ ‘Let the sisters and brothers always be mindful that they should desire one thing alone, namely, the Spirit of God at work within them and let them be happy to live among the outcast and despised, among the poor, the weak, the sick, the lepers and those who beg on the street,’ ” she quoted from the Rule. “This is my call to be a consecrated religious sister.”

Sister Char worked as a licensed practical nurse from 1971 to 1979, when she was asked to consider working in pastoral care at St. Francis Hospital in Breckenridge. She trained in clinical pastoral education in Fargo, N.D., and eventually completed her chaplaincy internship at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

“This work has been very rewarding for me,” she said, “knowing all persons are seeking to find a purpose and meaning in their lives. Persons with mental illnesses and addictions sometimes feel ‘less than’ or alienated. They are our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, co-workers, parishioners and neighbors. They deserve respect and dignity like everyone else.”

When Sister Char comes “home” to her community, she is always impressed by the presence of the Franciscan Associates.

“What excites me about being a Franciscan Sister today is our relationship with our associates — men and women and their families who connect with us in sharing of life and prayer, wanting to know more about the life of St. Francis and St. Clare and giving of themselves in living the Gospel values. As we become fewer in number, our associates will continue to live out and share our mission, our charism into the future. They are an integral part of our Franciscan community.”

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Maureen Erickson, water aerobics instructor at St. Francis Health and Recreation Center, prepares to teach a dance and fitness class. The Franciscan Sisters started St. Francis Health and Recreation Center after St. Francis High School closed in 1977. This full-service fitness and recreation center has a membership of more than 600.

Sister Char is most passionate about her ministry with the poor and vulnerable.

“It seems so much of what Pope Francis wants for the church to be and become,” she said. “What I look forward to in the future is how Pope Francis will continue to challenge the church in our living out the Gospel values. It’s everyone’s call and mission.”

A hopeful future

Over the years, the sisters have helped found institutions like St. Gabriel’s Hospital, St. Otto’s Care Center and St. Camilla’s Place — an organization that provides a homelike environment and encourages independent living for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“We helped build them but transferred our sponsorship so their work could continue,” Sister Bea explained. “Whether we have 100 people or 10 people we have a mission in the church and our mission stays the same. We express it through our ministries and those can change with the needs of our community and the greater community.”

The sisters come together twice a year from wherever they are ministering to talk about progress and assess their needs.

“We have great vitality in our sisters,” Sister Bea said. “We may be an older group, but the energy is very strong. We are doing a lot of planning, especially around buildings that we might not need in the future, ministries that we can’t sustain ourselves. We want to pass that on to other people or figure out ways for them to be self-sustaining. Community is more than a roof over your head. It’s the bonds of relationship that you build.”

 

2015 Jubilarians

80 Years (Class of 1935):
Sister M. Bernarda Sanoski

75 Years (Class of 1940):
Sister M. Evangeline Stanoch
Sister M. Maureen Blenkush

60 Years (Class of 1955):
Sister Loretta Beyer
Sister Loretta Denfeld
Sister Bernice Ebner
Sister Jan Kilian
Sister Trudy Schommer
Sister Jean Schwieters
Sister M. Hope Uphoff
Sister Louise McKigney

50 Years (Class of 1965):
Sister Doretta Meier

The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls will honor their jubilarians on Sunday, Aug. 9, with a Mass of Thanksgiving for all the jubilarians and their invited guests at Sacred Heart Chapel, St. Francis Convent, Little Falls.