By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — The Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton are celebrating a special milestone this year: their 150th year as a community. “We plan to have many opportunities for reflection, celebration and planning,” said the congregation’s president, Sister Anne Martin Phelan, OSF.
The anniversary celebration officially opens Jan. 21 with a eucharistic liturgy and reception at The Canticle, the sisters’ motherhouse. During the event, which is open to the public, the sisters will reflect on their founding story, the gratitude they have for the sisters who came before them and all people who have helped the sisters in their journey. The liturgy begins at 2 p.m.
The event will kick off a yearlong celebration for the sisters, which will include retreats, reunions, a road trip to the sisters’ original home in Kentucky, a celebration with the Clinton Lumberkings and a peace concert.
The sisters began their journey in 1866, when the abbot of the Trappist Monastery in Gethsemani, Ky., asked three local women — Caroline Warren and her niece Sally Walker and Lizzie Lillis — to operate a school for girls who lived in the surrounding area. When the women decided to become sisters, they pronounced their vows in the presence of the abbot and a Franciscan priest and were declared a Franciscan congregation.
“They were on a journey,” Sr. Phelan said. “Not a personal journey, but a community journey. They answered a call and took the Franciscan habit, destined to be the precursors of a new community of Sisters of St. Francis. We know they must have had deep convictions and vivid dreams. They dreamt of something worthy of the Catholic religion, something worthy of investing their lives in. They dreamed of serving Christ’s poor, of teaching poor girls. (The sisters) were few; they were poor, but their hearts were the hearts of great women. Their efforts were as large as the dream they projected. And they were able to describe their dream to others, who chose to follow them.”
The sisters moved to Iowa in 1890, where need for their service was greater than in Kentucky, and established a motherhouse in Clinton three years later.
“Journey is a great word for us,” said Sister Judy McKenna, OSF, in a written reflection. “We have been on the move, shaking dust from our feet at least four times.”
In Clinton, the sisters taught at St. Patrick Elementary School and opened the former Mount St. Clare Academy. St. Patrick later merged into Prince of Peace School. Until the 1960s, the sisters undertook operation of three hospitals and schools of nursing in the region. Additionally, sisters worked with elderly individuals and persons with speech and hearing impediments, and opened a school in Peru.
The sisters built The Canticle in 1997 as a destination for retreats, conferences and workshops. Some of the most active ministries of the sisters include care of the earth, promoting justice and working toward active nonviolence and systemic change. The sisters serve sack lunches to people in need throughout Clinton, participate in the Franciscan Peace Center’s advocacy programs, work toward building awareness about human trafficking and support community efforts that help the less fortunate in Clinton work toward a better life.
“Today our mission and ministry is to live and teach active nonviolence and to build peace in a world that so much needs to find ways of caring and peace for all people,” Sr. Phelan said.
The community has 55 sisters, 17 sojourners and 63 associates active in the Sisters of St. Francis. They serve or have served throughout the country and the world.
To RSVP for the liturgy and reception, call (563) 242-7903.