History of the Sylvania Franciscans
The Sylvania Franciscans were founded on December 8, 1916 as a province of the Sisters of St. Francis of Rochester, Minnesota. Responding to a request from Bishop Joseph Schrembs of Toledo, the Rochester Franciscans sent 23 Sisters, under the direction of Mother Mary Adelaide Sandusky, to establish a Franciscan presence in Northwest Ohio. Initially coming to serve as teachers for the Polish immigrants in the Diocese of Toledo, the Sisters were first stationed at St. Hedwig School in Toledo. In 1917, the Rochester community purchased eighty-nine acres of land in Sylvania, Ohio and formally established this spot as the new home for the province known as the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
Hard-working and always willing to respond to the needs of God’s people, the pioneer Sisters were soon asked to work with the sick in Gypsum, a small mining town on the shores of Lake Erie, as the influenza epidemic of 1918 spread from Europe to the United States. By 1923 the Sisters had assumed responsibility for Providence Hospital in Sandusky. In true Franciscan spirit, the early Sisters did not see themselves as bound to a particular place or to a single ministry, rather they were committed to living the Gospel and following in the footsteps of Jesus.
In 1930, owing to difficulties with transportation and communications, the province became an independent congregation under the title of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes, Sylvania, OH. The present status as a Pontifical Congregation was granted in 1964.
The community flourished under the able leadership of Mother Adelaide, who served as General Superior from 1916 to 1954. She was a woman of vision, courage, determination, gentleness, and peace. The Sylvania campus with its California mission style architecture, shrines, wooded areas, and varied works of art witnesses to her love of beauty and her openness to seeing the love of God reflected in the beauty of nature and in the work of human hands.
Throughout the years Sylvania Franciscans have adapted their ministries in response to God’s call to serve the ever-changing needs of the human family in education, health care, pastoral work, social work, and numerous other ministries. Committed to reverencing the dignity of each person and respecting the gift of all creation, the Sisters are active in issues of peace and justice and care for the environment. Their sponsored ministries include Lourdes University, the Franciscan Academy of Lourdes University, and Sylvania Franciscan Health, which serves as the umbrella for a variety of health and human services ministries in Ohio, Texas, and Kentucky. These ministries include hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, senior living communities, a counseling center, and a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Today, the Sylvania Franciscans have just under 200 Sisters working in a variety of ministries in 12 states and Haiti, all focused on “living the Gospel in joyful servanthood among all people” (Sisters of St. Francis Mission Statement). Drawn by a common dream to follow Jesus, the Sylvania Franciscans joyfully witness to God’s love for all people by living a simple life, rooted in prayer, and strengthened by community ties. As they rejoice in the unique gifts of each individual Sister, they also seek to realize the dream of Mother Adelaide that they remain a community of “one heart and one soul” (cf. Acts 4:32).