Turning the Page

Aug. 21, 2003
Turning the Page
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Sisters of the Third Franciscan Order elect new chapter leadership

On a brisk morning at Assumption Cemetery, Sister Marion Kikukawa, OSF, general minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Third Franciscan Order, led her spiritual sisters in prayer a final time. Having served the order as general minister for the past four years, she will pass the monumental duty to a fellow sister come the end of August.

The prayer service, a joining of the past and present sisters of the order, was part of the order’s week-long Chapter 2003, which ran from June 28 through July 5, 2003. Every four years, sisters gather at the Motherhouse in Syracuse from dioceses in Columbia, California, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, and Peru to deepen their relationships with God and each other. During this time, the order also holds its general election of the new leadership team. Sister Marion has faithfully served the sisters as general minister since Aug. 15, 1999. It has been a challenging, but fulfilling job, she said. Oftentimes, she has had to find a balance between what she refers to as a “CEO” role and nurturing family leader. “There is ‘sister’ as title and ‘sister’ as relationship,” explained Sister Marion from her office on Grant Boulevard. “I have a responsibility to keep the family together and there is also an obligation to move us forward as a community.”

Her office is a tribute to the fact that she is in transition. There are piles of papers that she plans to take with her when she leaves and new materials to give her successor, Sister Grace Anne Dillenschneider, OSF. Appropriately hanging in her office, like a compass guiding the way, is a framed picture of the directional statement of the Sisters of St. Francis. According to Sister Marion, her time as spiritual leader has been a commitment to that statement, which reads, “With the same spirit that breathed through Francis and Clare, we proclaim ourselves on fire with a passion for building community wherever we live and minister.”

Sister Marion has worked hard to bring this statement to fruition, building relationships between fellow sisters. She has visited with each of the 280 sisters of the order during her time. “To know each sister by name, face and life story is both a blessing and a wonderful opportunity,” said Sister Marion. “These relationships are so important to us –– if we do not have relationships with each other, then how do we take this spirit out into the community?” A portion of Sister Marion’s work has been directed toward the Re-Membering Project, a comprehensive and integrated approach to enhancing and making known the Franciscan way of life, especially as it relates to vocation and to initial and ongoing formation ministries. “A part of the job is recognizing that as we mature there are new needs that need to be addressed. In order to move forward, we must be attentive to these needs,” said Sister Marion. “We want to bring new members into the community.” She speaks of another up-coming project with optimism. This November, the sisters from Syracuse, Hastings on Hudson and Williamsville are expected to vote on a proposal to come together as a union to form a new community. There are advantages of coming together, Sister Marion pointed out. “When you have a group of people who are all committed to the mission there can be a great revitalization of charism,” she said. “There is a greater pool of people for leadership positions and sufficient resources to do some wonderful things.”

If the reunification gets a positive vote, it may be difficult to make the transition. But God will not let the order down, said Sister Marion. “The greatest affirmation in 143 years as a religious congregation is that when there were equally difficult decisions to be made, God did not disappoint us,” observed Sister Marion. “We will embrace change and still find ways to be in this decade, in this century, as faithful sisters,” Sister Grace Anne, who was officially announced as the new general minister on Aug. 16, said that she is looking forward to carrying on the “good work” of Sister Marion and the previous leadership team. “This is an exciting time to lead the sisters,” Sister Grace Anne said. “I plan to continue looking at ways of collaboration with others in carrying on the mission of the chapter.”

According to Sister Marion, she never could have done all the work without the help of her team: Sister Agnelle Ching, OSF; Sister Colette Walter, OSF; Sister Rose Ann Renna, OSF and Sister Mediatrice Hutchinson, OSF. “Without the team, the last four years would have been impossible. They are so encouraging and bolstering. No one person could do this job alone,” said Sister Marion.

Though she is sad to leave after 12 years of service in the Syracuse Diocese, it is time for someone new, said Sister Marion. She also is excited about the possibility of returning to her birthplace in Hawaii. Of the 36 years Sister Marion has been in the community, she has spent only seven years in the state she refers to as home. Wherever she journeys to next, Sister Marion looks to the future with faith and anticipation. “I have given my best in this capacity,” Sister Marion said. “It’s time to see what God is calling me to next.”

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