Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia – 150 years of ministry, 115 of them in Spokane

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Sept. 8, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

When the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia first came to Spokane, they began caring for homeless and neglected children. (IR photo from the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia)

Saturday, Oct. 8 will be a special day in the lives of ten Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia who live and work in the Diocese of Spokane. All are invited to on that day to join the Sisters in celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of their congregation.

In May, the Sisters celebrated the 115th anniversary of their arrival in Spokane.

The theme for the Oct. 8 observance will be “Franciscan Gifts Given to Create a Future of Faithfulness and Peace.”

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia came into existence as a Religious congregation in 1855. In 1851, a young German immigrant named Anthony Bach-mann, husband and father, was killed in an accident from questionable causes in a stone quarry. Left to fend for herself and her three young children was Anna Marie Boll Bachmann, pregnant with the couple’s fourth child. Four years later, that young widow became Mother Mary Francis Bachmann, superior of a new Religious order, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.

The Bishop of Philadelphia at the time was Bishop – later Saint – John Neumann, and he personally prepared Anna Marie Bachmann and two other women to take the vows of Religious life. He gave them the habit of St. Francis of Assisi, and Anna Marie became Mother Francis.

Initially, Mother Francis and her two sisters provided housing for immigrant women and cared for the sick and the poor of Philadelphia. Then, in 1858, they began teaching as well, first at Philadelphia’s St. Alphonsus Parish. The Sisters nursed the poor through Philadelphia’s smallpox epidemic in 1858, and when their convent became too small to house all the sick people they opened their first hospital, St. Mary, specifically for the poor with contagious diseases. In 1863, Mother Francis died from tuberculosis, but by then the Religious congregation she had founded was on firm ground.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia began to receive requests from bishops in various parts of the country to send Sisters to found new missions and ministries. According to a 1930 book authored by Sister Mary Barnaba, O.S.F., the Sisters first traveled to the western missions in 1885 where they established a school in Baker City, Ore. Sister Mary Barnaba wrote: “In the spring of 1875, the Sisters of the Holy Names had opened [in Baker City] an academy for the children of the pioneer settlers. For nine years the school prospered, when the Sisters, by reason of severe and unforeseen trials, deemed it necessary to withdraw, and the academy was closed.”

In 1890, the Sisters responded positively to a request to establish a home for homeless and neglected children in Spokane. Arriving in early September, three Sisters, soon to be joined by two more, were given a place to stay in the home of a prominent Spokane citizen and Catholic, James Monaghan. When the building constructed for the “orphanage” was completed, the Sisters were immediately given six children to care for. By the end of the year the number had increased to 40, and due to a lack of funds the Sisters had no choice but to go begging for money to care for the children. The next year, however, the city and county each gave $100 per month. “The children were then better provided for,” Sister Mary Barnaba wrote.

Six years later, there were 90 children living at St. Joseph Orphanage. Clearly, a new, larger building was needed, and through generous donations the Sisters opened the new St. Joseph Orphanage in January, 1901.

St. Joseph Orphanage – later re-named St. Joseph Children’s Home – continued its mission faithfully until 1982, when the State of Washington decreed that such institutions were no longer considered in the best interests of the children they served. Instead, St. Joseph was required to provide “group homes” for small groups of children, and each group home required two adults to act as surrogate parents. St. Joseph dutifully undertook the construction of several small home-like buildings. A few years later, however, the state reconsidered and decided that placing children in foster homes was an even better idea. With that, St. Joseph Children’s Home effectively ceased to exist.

Today, St. Joseph Family Center, true to its origins and heritage, continues to struggle to meet the needs of people who are ill served by their life history. Today, six Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia – Sisters Monica Bauer, Marie Monican Borden, Celeste Crine, Patricia Kerezsi, Elaine Thaden, and Mary Jane Yassick – continue to work at St. Joseph as counselors and in other capacities.

In 1943, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Spokane began St. Anne Children’s Home, and Bishop Charles White asked the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia who were working at St. Joseph Children’s Home if any of them would be willing to work at St. Anne. World War II was raging, and the many women who worked in defense-related industries badly needed day care for their offspring, so that is what St. Anne provided, for up to 40 children at a time. After the war, however, when many women returned to being mothers and homemakers, St. Anne provided residential care for 30 to 40 homeless and neglected infants and toddlers until they could be placed in adoptive homes.

In 1954, a young woman from Phoenix, Arizona arrived in Spokane and wound up staying at St. Anne, helping with the children until her baby was born. Two weeks after the first young woman arrived, a second knocked on the door and was welcomed. Sister Rosetta, the administrator of St. Anne, decided to remodel part of the nursery to accommodate six single mothers, and the facility became St. Anne Infant and Maternity Home. St. Anne continued to provide residential maternity care until 1978.

By the late 1960s, however, the need for residential maternity care had decreased to the point that the staff began looking for another need that St. Anne could meet. This need was found when, in 1970, St. Anne Infant Home began to welcome medically fragile children under the age of five. Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia served as administrators and staff at St. Anne from 1943 until 1983.

Over the decades, one of Spokane’s parochial schools benefited from the presence and dedication of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, as well. From 1951 until the late 1980s, the Sisters served as teachers and principals for St. Charles School.

Today, in addition to the six Sisters who work at St. Joseph Family Center, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia serve in two transitional programs for women. Sister Maureen Cosgrove serves at Miryam’s House, a long-term residential program for women wishing to recover from abuse, addiction and displacement. Sister Theresa Lamkin serves at The Women’s Hearth, an outreach program of Miryam’s House, for women in transition who are at risk for physical and sexual abuse in Spokane’s downtown area.

Finally, more than 30 years ago, with the encouragement of Bishop Bernard Topel, in a house on the grounds of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, Sister Florence Leone Poch began Kairos House of Prayer. A retreat and renewal center, for many years now Kairos has been located on 27 acres of wooded hilltop north of Spokane. Today, Kairos offers 9 private rooms and 7 hermitages and welcomes anyone looking for a place (to quote a Kairos brochure) to “reconnect with themselves, reconnoiter, and explore the meaning of life.” Sister Florence Leone continues to welcome all and sundry.

Of course, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia have served – and continue to serve – in many locations other than the Diocese of Spokane, including many locations on the East Coast of the U.S., in Alaska, Western Washington. Oregon, California, the Caribbean, Central America, Ireland and Africa.

Sister Lynn Patrice Lavin, Congregational Minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, told The Dialog, the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s newspaper, that after 150 years the Sisters are “moving forward in trying to enflesh our commitment statement, in which we say we want to be advocates for women and children. We want to continue to strengthen our mission through our presence and whatever work our Sisters are doing. I truly believe the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia are where even one of our Sisters is.”

On the 150th anniversary of the foundation of their congregation, the Diocese of Spokane joins the countless children, women and families whom the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia have cared for over the decades in sending them hearty, heart-felt congratulations. Ad multos annos!

Join the Celebration!

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia are hosting a celebration of their Religious community’s 150th anniversary on Saturday, Oct. 8, from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. in Cataldo Hall on the Gonzaga University campus.

The event, including lunch, is free – a way to honor, “with deep gratitude ... all who have served with us, supported us, and enriched our lives.”

To attend, RSVP by Sept. 17 by writing to:

Barry House
1016 N. Superior
Spokane, WA 99202
or call (509) 487-3810

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