Celebrating Alton Franciscans, and all religious sisters, called to life of sharing God’s joy 

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, 

This past Dec. 28 marked the 100th anniversary of the arrival of five religious sisters from Germany belonging to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, who came to serve here in the United States. Mother Mary Anselma Bopp and Father John Gerard Dall founded the Order in Thuine, Germany, in 1869. Inspired by the joyful witness of St. Francis of Assisi to show the love of Christ to others, Mother Anselma adopted the Rule of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, and therefore, joyful simplicity marks the lives of her spiritual daughters.

Mother Anselma and the first sisters originally asked for the name “Sisters of St. Francis of the Sacred Heart,” but there was already a religious order by that name. They were encouraged to take the name of their parish in Germany — St. George, a soldier who was executed on April 23, 303, by order of the Emperor Diocletian during the last major persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Thus, the name of the congregation: Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George. 

Initially responding to the request to staff and operate a home for unwanted and neglected boys in St. Louis, the five Sisters who arrived on Dec. 28, 1923, soon realized that they did not have the training to do this work, so they began negotiations to purchase Nazareth Home, a residence for the elderly, in Alton. On April 1, 1925, the Sisters moved to Alton, thus establishing their house in the United States, which was renamed Saint Anthony’s Infirmary. With their Provincial House and Novitiate in Alton, this community of Franciscan Sisters has come to be known as the Alton Franciscans. Their motto is, “Seeking to Make the Merciful Love of Christ Visible.” They serve Christ and the Church in a variety of apostolic works: health care, education, child care, work with the elderly, nursing homes, parish and diocesan office work, service in Bishops’ households and priests’ retirement homes, as well as service to their own sisters. 

In order to fulfill their lives of service, communal and private prayer are at the heart of their relationship with the Lord. Daily celebration of the Eucharist, meditation upon and reading of Scripture, the Liturgy of the Hours, eucharistic adoration, the rosary, and Stations of the Cross characterize their lives of prayer.

In celebration of the centenary of the American Province, it was my privilege to lead a Day of Recollection for the Alton Franciscans this past Dec. 27 and then celebrate Mass with them the next day on the actual one hundredth anniversary of these German Franciscan Sisters’ arrival in the United States.

It is also a joy for me to celebrate Mass for the Alton Franciscans every year in August when their new Sisters enter the Novitiate and others make their first vows or final profession of vows as permanent members of the congregation. This is a growing community that is attracting a good number of young women every year. This is very refreshing to see and it gives great hope for the future!

The entrance requirements for the Alton Franciscans are: ages 18 to 30 (exceptions can be made); good physical, mental, and moral health; appropriate personal maturity; and the desire to give oneself totally to the Lord. 

Women who are interested in learning more about religious life and how to discern a vocation to it are invited to join the Alton Franciscan Sisters for a weekend of prayer, talks, and encountering the Lord through the charism of Merciful Love! Contact Sister M. Karolyn, FSGM, Vocations Director, St. Francis Convent, 1 Franciscan Way, Alton, IL 62002; telephone (618) 463-2757; email: vocations@altonfranciscans.org; website: https://altonfranciscans.org/.  

Another religious community of women in our diocese are the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, who celebrated their 150th anniversary of their arrival in Central Illinois last year. The Springfield Dominican Sisters are committed to communal living, sung common prayer and liturgy, and their desire to stand with the poor, to accompany those on the margins, and to work toward systems that promote life. They also have “Come & See” weekends as well as virtual events, called “Zoom & See” weekends. Women who are interested should contact Sister Denise Glazik, OP, Vocation Director, Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Sacred Heart Convent, 1237 W. Monroe St., Springfield, IL 62704; telephone (217) 787-0481 ext. 6021; email: dglazik@spdom.org; website: https://springfieldop.org/

For women who may be interested in a more contemplative life, there is a community of  Dominican Nuns at the Monastery of Mary the Queen in our diocese at 15635 Greenridge Road, Girard, IL; telephone (217) 627-2023; website: https://opnunsil.org/. The Prioress is Sister Anna Marie, OP. 

People who meet religious sisters are often impressed by the joy that these women exude. Women who feel called to a life of sharing God’s joy with others are invited to consider a religious vocation. We should all pray for more young women to have the courage, strength, and grace to say yes to God’s call to religious life.

May God give us this grace. Amen.