During the Centennial year, the Sisters told us what it means to be Franciscan…
100 Years of Mission and Ministry
2016 was a special year for the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania. It marked the 100-year anniversary since their founders came from Rochester, Minnesota, to teach Polish-speaking immigrants in Toledo schools. Over the years, their ministries have expanded to touch people in more than 25 states, Haiti and Africa. In honor of this milestone, we asked Sisters to tell us what it meant to be Franciscan and how each one of them felt to be celebrating the 100th anniversary. Following are some of their stories, reflections and observations.
Sister Austin Onisko
As for being Franciscan, it has been a part of me without me realizing it until later in life. I have always been a lover of creation. There is something about a beautiful sunrise that makes me appreciate the power of God. We get a good sunrise from my sister’s room in the morning. Many days we just stand there in awe. It is so beautiful. What always gets us is not a sound. God does it without a sound. Then he says, “Do you like it? I made it just for you.” So it’s a good beginning for the day.
I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors; planting a garden, raking leaves, anything outdoors. Many of our vacations have been to Mackinac Island with lots of stops in between to admire nature. We usually went in the spring and in the fall; get the new blooming things and then the beautiful colors. I’ve always loved being outdoors. I had a garden when I was in Sylvania. Planted corn for the kitchen, but the squirrels got to it first. The Good Lord has a sense of humor.
For the Sisters to leave their roots in Rochester, Minnesota and come to Sylvania had to be hard. Not knowing what was here, what they were going to do. Things start, improve and grow. It shows you the Lord had his hand in it. He directs. We just try to follow. There were a lot of shoulders to stand on over these past 100 years. My vocation and so much in my life has been a blessing. I was taught by the Sylvania Franciscans and eventually taught many of them. I have been blessed to be in three ministries. The biggest one was teaching, which I really enjoyed, 30 years
Bio: Sister Austin came to Sylvania in 1951 from St. Ladislaus Parish in Hamtramck, Michigan for senior year at St. Clare Academy and entered the novitiate in 1952. Sister spent 30 years as a teacher in grade school and middle school in Ohio, Minnesota, and Michigan. She then ministered in the House of Prayer in Cincinnati for 10 years and for five years in Detroit and Sylvania, where she gave retreats. Sister Austin completed her ministry in parish work for 17 years at St. Francis Cabrini in Allen Park, Michigan.
Sister Ann Francis Klimkowski
Being Franciscan means that what I say is in synch with what I do. It is not something you put on. It is who you are. To be a Franciscan in these days of Pope Francis and his wonderful encyclical on the environment is to be in the forefront of those who are just now catching on to the importance of caring for creation. It is a mixture of being who we say we are in our values statement and actually living it out. To me, it’s a challenge because the ideals we espouse are steeped in the history of the life of Francis and all Franciscans. It is knowing that there constantly needs to be conversion in our lives; to be aware that you are called to keep changing and growing to be more than you are right now. Being Franciscan has to do with relationships, caring for people, the environment, the poor.
Jubilees are a time to remember, a time to celebrate and a time to be grateful to God. Remembering the stories of Mother Adelaide and how this campus came to be, the struggles, the poverty the Sisters experienced always impressed me. I entered the community 10 years before Vatican II and remember and what life here was like then and what we were called to do after Vatican II; what an upheaval it was, a whole process of change. We need to celebrate all the achievements the community has accomplished, both in ministry and on the campus. Then we have to be grateful to God, because it is through His grace we accomplished all that we did. Gratitude is the natural outcome of observing something like a Centennial.
Bio: Sister Ann Francis entered the community in 1953 at the age of 22 from St. Stanislaus Parish in Wyandotte, Michigan. As she says, she was already formed and had to be reformed to become a Franciscan. Sister Ann Francis ministered in all levels of education for 21 years; elementary school teacher, high school teacher and principal. She then moved to Lourdes College, where she taught and was the dean before becoming the college’s president for 17 years. She finished her ministry teaching at the master’s level and now spends her time consulting and working with nonprofits.
Finding God in the ordinary
Caring for people at the everyday level is what it means to be Franciscan. Francis didn’t do things that were spectacular. Rather, he showed reverence for nature and people through ordinary things. I always remember the story of the little friar who was fasting, but was so hungry, he was crying. Francis broke his own fast to eat with the young friar, just to make him feel that it was alright. It’s those little points of caring that have been the big connection in my life. I am grateful for the people and circumstances God has brought me. Living at the everyday level has been such a blessing. And, in turn, God has used me to be a blessing to others. I say that with both humility and gratitude. Without this ordinariness I would have never had the kind of experiences God has brought me.
I’m proud to have been part of what it means to be Sylvania Franciscan. No one of us embodies that alone, we have done it all together. Times have really changed. When I first came, most of us were teachers. But because of what was happening in the Church, namely Vatican II, I moved from teaching into pastoral ministry and then into preaching, primarily at Church missions and retreats. Those were two things I never imagined doing, but those were the God surprises of my life and I am ever so grateful for having had them. I worked with two Dominican priests I met in Minneapolis and we conducted missions in parishes for 26 years in 17 states, ranging from college professors at Purdue University to farmers in Iowa.
Bio: Sister Dorothy came to Sylvania in 1957 from Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish on the eastside of Detroit to attend St. Clare Academy High School and entered the novitiate in 1961. She taught for 11 years and then worked in vocation/formation for six years. In 1978 Sister Dorothy went into parish ministry in two parishes in Minneapolis. At the same time, Sister conducted parish missions and retreats across the Midwest with two Dominican priests.
Sister Mary Ann Szydlowski
Love God and allow Him to love you.
To be a Franciscan is my choice, but also my privilege. I feel that through my Franciscan prayer I unite myself with Francis and Clare and come to know my God in all people and all creation. For many years, deep within me there has been a longing to love my God with all my heart and allow my God to love me. As a Sylvania Franciscan, I am called every day to serve the poor and marginalized and I do that in my own unique way. Focusing on the four core values of Franciscan life–conversion, contemplation, poverty and humility–gives me the foundation to learn to love my God with my whole heart and soul and to glorify God in all I do.
I was a novice the year we celebrated 50 years. We were still in traditional habit and lived a more restricted life. The growth in the last 50 years has been tremendous. We transitioned from traditional to intermediate habit, then to clothes, but basically some combination of brown, beige or whte, to wearing any color. That has made us more responsible to being who we really are, because people don’t recognize us by our clothing anymore, but by our actions and words. Our ministries have expanded from just education and healthcare into a variety of ways of helping the poor and the marginalized. Our life styles have become more independent, but that makes us more responsible to be true to our life as Franciscans. The campus has changed significantly also. When I came it was quiet, private and secluded. Lourdes was a two-year college for the Sisters. Now it is a co-educational university. I’m sure all of this growth was a dream of Mother Adelaide’s. It has been exciting to be a part of all of it.
Bio: Sister Mary Ann entered the community from St. Stanislaus Parish in Wyandotte, Michigan. She because an LPN and worked in hospitals in Texas and Michigan, got her RN degree and served in Texas and Ohio. She then went to New Mexico and studied massage and polarity therapy and has been ministering as a massage therapist in Sylvania ever since then.
Sister Marie Andree Chorzempa
Graced by God.
To be Franciscan is an evolutionary process. It has taken me 77 years to figure it out. Thank God others before me were older and had an idea because somehow all of this fits together so beautifully. Each year I grew a little bit more. I never stop changing or growing and I’m grateful for that.
To be a Franciscan means to respect all of God’s creation, especially people. We touched the lives on untold numbers of children in our education ministry in the earlier years. We taught them not only to be able to read, write and solve math and science problems, but we also gave them values to live by and become upstanding citizens and members of the Church. We did the same thing in our healthcare ministries, not just with the patients, but the nurses and doctors, also. We shared our Franciscan charism with them and I am proud that we did. We tried to make every person we came in contact with God loving and responsible people.
Through these past 100 years, God only knows the extent of how we touched each person we came in contact with through our ministries. The thought of reaching our centennial overwhelms me. I am humbled that God has allowed me to be part of what has happened here. I have been graced by God to be a part of this endeavor. We celebrate all of those people we touched.
I am so grateful to have been a part of this. I certainly had no idea when I entered the convent all this was going to happen. Some of our experiences were difficult, but I don’t regret any of them. Mother Adelaide made sure that every Sister fit into the place that was best for her and all of the places where our Sisters missioned were well established. This is a time of celebrating. Celebrate the fact that God has allowed us to be a part of his plan for all of the people in the areas where we ministered. Pope Francis has clarified for a lot of people what Franciscanism is all about.
Bio: Sister Marie Andree came to the convent in 1939 from Holy Cross Parish in Minneapolis, Minnesota and went to St. Clare Academy for high school. Sister taught in elementary education for 11 years, then high school and college for nine years. Her PhD Thesis, “Ionizing Radiation and Its Chemical Effects: A Historical Study of Chemical Dosimetry (1902-1962),” was granted in June 1971 by Oregon State University. Sister Marie Andree was president of Lourdes College for three years and then served as general superior of the community for eight years. Sister then ministered in healthcare administration for seven years in Texas and went to Pueblo New Mexico for five years, where she trained teachers. Sister finished up her ministry for nine years in the Archives Department at the Motherhouse.
The inspiration of Francis’ love for Christ.
Francis gave his whole life to Christ and was very much like Christ. I’ve always had a deep love for God. When I got to know Francis more, I realized this is a perfect place for me. I want to be like Christ the best I can. I’ll never be Francis, but he has been a good and wonderful inspiration for me. I did a lot of that in my many years of active ministry. Francis’ love for Christ has been a big inspiration for me to pray that I can be like Christ no matter where I am or what condition I am in. In my current physical limitations, I think of Francis in his later years when he was weak and couldn’t see so well. That’s an inspiration to me.
I’ve seen a lot of changes in my 61 years in community. Many took place after I came to the convent. When I came in 1955 the evergreen trees Mother Adelaide planted were only about five feet tall. Now to see the changes in the campus, the university; it’s a thrill to be a part of it all. I deeply appreciate it and am honored to be a member of this community celebrating 100 years. The Lord helped me grow and take chances I didn’t know I could do. Being part of this wonderful community is amazing. Where would I be today if I had not joined my community?
Bio: Sister La Donna entered the convent in 1955 from St. Elizabeth in Richfield, a small parish in a farming community west of Toledo, and attended St. Clare Academy for high school. Sister taught almost 20 years and additional nine years in religious education and youth ministry. Sister La Donna came to Sylvania as part of the retreat center for five years and then served as a hospital chaplain for 15 years before coming back to Sylvania where she ran the Franciscan Library for three years.