A common heart

Sisters of St. Francis reunite with Millvale, Pa. sisters
By connie cissell / sun editor

After more than a century apart, the Sisters of St. Francis have found each other again. Forged under the guidance of St. John Neumann, who was then bishop of Philadelphia, in 1855, the Sisters of St. Francis had broken off into small groups of sisters serving different regions of New York State and Pennsylvania. In 2004, the Sisters of St. Francis in Hastings-on-Hudson, Buffalo and Syracuse merged forming the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. Now, the Sisters of St. Francis of Millvale, Pa., have merged with the new group as well. They will all be known as Sisters of St. Francis. All four of the communities grew out of the original Philadelphia community of sisters.
The sisters held a liturgy with the ritual of merger at Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville on Aug. 26 and they will repeat the ceremony in Millvale, Pa. on Sept. 30. The merger brings the community’s total to 564 vowed members, including three temporary professed, three novices and one candidate. They serve in 28 U.S. cities, Canada, Peru and Africa. The sisters sponsor 19 special ministries throughout those locations, not including the collaborative ministries they are engaged in.

The mergers have been a significant undertaking requiring the cooperation of the leadership and the individual sisters. Meetings, conference calls and even some fun social gatherings where the sisters introduced each other to their hometown highlights were held in advance of the official merger.
The Sisters of St. Francis of Millvale are based at Mount Alvernia in Pittsburgh. They will continue to serve that region through their ministries which include a day care center, Montessori preschool, a high school, a Franciscan lay volunteer program and the Tabor House of Prayer.
The leadership of all four groups had met through previous gatherings. The sisters in Pennsylvania discussed merging with other Franciscan sisters in 2001 during their general chapter when they decided to look at reconfiguration. They spent years determining what reconfiguration might look like and who they might combine with through a process that included a strong educational component.
Sister Lorraine Wesolowski, OSF, is a member of the general council of the Millvale sisters. “We decided that the most logical thing to do was to go back to where we started from,” Sister Lorraine said. The sisters first approached the sisters in Buffalo but they were beginning the process of merging with the Syracuse and Hastings-on-Hudson sisters at the time. So the Millvale sisters waited and then contacted the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities after it was first formed in 2004. That merger had marked the first of the Franciscan congregations in the U.S.
Today the opportunities for the sisters have expanded through the development of the larger, broader religious community.
“The main reason why the merger is significant is so that our mission and our ministries can continue to grow,” Sister Lorraine said. “It gives us a better pool of human resources. The driving force is the continuation of the mission and ministries for the people of God. The opportunities are broader for our sisters. If you stay in your area you can become parochial. Now we’re exposed to all these other areas like Peru, Africa, New York and Hawaii.”
The merger event featured elements of the different locations of sisters. Hawaiian lyrics and Peruvian textiles were incorporated into the ritual. The sisters each gave the other group a gift. The Syracuse-based sisters gave their new sisters a picture of a woven heart with the words of the direction statement included and the Millvale sisters presented the Syracuse sisters with a large Tau cross. Both were symbols of the joined communities and will be housed at the main offices in Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
The women religious renewed their vows professing their commitment as Sisters of St. Francis. The constitution of the Sisters of St. Francis was signed by the new sisters and then they received new pendants symbolizing the new community. The associates also received newly-designed pins which will later be presented to members.
The merger process is ongoing. The five-member Millvale Franciscan Servant Leadership Council will serve until January with Sister Marian Rose Mansius, OSF, general councilor of the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, serving as a liaison to the Millvale community through June 2008. A general chapter meeting will then follow in July when delegates representing the entire community will begin to chart the direction of the newly-formed congregation.
For now the Sisters of St. Francis directional statement reads: “Rooted in the Gospel and energized by the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare, we seek to be women of vision living in right relationship with God, one another and with all creation.”

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