The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charities
What is the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charities?
The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity are a Congregation of Roman Catholic apostolic religious women. The congregation was founded in 1869 in Manitowoc, Wisconsin in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, later part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay. They follow St. Francis of Assisi’s Gospel way of life and declared their aspiration to live the Gospel in simplicity, built on faith in a loving God, joyful acceptance of poverty, love for the Church and selfless dedication to the service of others.
The Reverend Ambrose Oschwald arrived from Germany in 1854 in the frontier region of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, with a community of men and women dedicated to Gospel-living as members of the Third Order of St. Francis. On November 9, 1869 five women from this group were declared a religious community and began living under the Rule of the Franciscan Third Order Regular.
This was done with the approval of the Rt. Rev. John Henni, Bishop (later Archbishop) of Milwaukee and the Very Reverend Father Francis J. Haas, O.M.C., at that time the Minister Provincial of the Capuchin Friars in Wisconsin. The Reverend Joseph Fessler, pastor of Manitowoc, was the investing priest.
In 1875, the Congregation of the Poor School Sisters of St. Francis from Gieboldehausen, Germany, in the Diocese of Hildesheim, relocated to the United States and amalgamated with the American Congregation of Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity of Manitowoc.
The German Congregation had been founded in 1857. Archbishop Henni suggested residence with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc County when these Sisters were seeking a place of refuge from the Kulturkampf which had developed from Prince Otto von Bismarck's conflict with the Roman Catholic Church in his efforts to unify Germany.
Leaving Germany on the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis (September 17), they arrived in New York City on October 3 and left for their new home on October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.
As the Congregation grew, so did the Church in mid-western America, with an increased demand for teachers for parochial schools. A paramount concern of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity has been the religious formation of its members and the professional education necessary for quality teaching in the Catholic schools.
In the early 1900s, to expand the professional training of the members of the Congregation, sisters were prepared at The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.. A new college wing was added to the Sisters' motherhouse in 1935 and a four-year liberal arts college was established. The construction of Holy Family College in 1935 anticipated by six years the beginning of the movement in the United States to upgrade the formation of religious women by integrating four facets of their formation: the spiritual, intellectual, social and professional.
The congregation's motherhouse, a four-story building which has been the congregation's home for over one hundred years, shares the shores of Silver Lake with Silver Lake College of the Holy Family. Holy Family College's name was later changed to Silver Lake College to reflect the geographical location and expanded clientele.
Although founded to meet the need of Catholic education in a pioneer society, the Sisters have always answered the call of the Church for whatever task there is to be done. Thus, at the turn of the century, within the space of a few years, they were asked to take charge of two out-of-state medical facilities, in addition to re-establishing such an institution in Manitowoc.
In the late 1940s, the Congregation petitioned the Holy See for acceptance as a one of Papal Right, which would place them directly under the oversight of the Holy See, independent in their internal workings from the local bishop and thus more easily able to cross lines of diocesan authority. On December 20, 1948, the revised Constitutions and the recommendation of the Sacred Congregation for Religious concerning the Congregation were presented to Pope Pius XII, who gave his approval and raised the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity from the status of a diocesan Congregation to that of a Congregation with papal approbation.
Today there are about 300 Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity who bring the Word of God, the latest trends in education or the healing hand of God to countless people in need of education or health care or spiritual direction. They serve throughout the Midwestern and Western United States, as well as in Hawaii.
The Sisters also offer different types of discernment through retreats for young adult and college age Catholic women who may be considering religious life as their calling or career. Retreats are held through the year and include personal and communal prayer, group sharing, Eucharist, Sacrament of Reconciliation, meals, creativity, opportunity to interact with postulants and novices, and outreach through music.
In 2007, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity and The Franciscanized World website were featured in Time Magazine’s profile of Catholic religious orders innovatively utilizing the Internet. Each month on the site, special songs and pictures are chosen for spiritual reflection. In April, 2007, it was a Bruce Cockburn’s "God Bless The Children" song. In April, 2009, John Gorka, known for his folk-inspired acoustic music, "Love is Our Cross to Bear" was highlighted.
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