The Sisters of St. Francis celebrated their 150th anniversary Friday morning with a mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Tiffin.
Appreciative of the values they learned growing up in a rural area, thankful for the teachers they themselves had, many of whom were also Sisters, and in possession of a deep faith that only seems to have grown with time – there are many things which these 19 (out of 81) current Sisters of St. Francis have in common.
Their most shared aspect, however, is the fact that they were all born in Putnam County.
The Sisters of St. Francis in Tiffin, Ohio have been recognizing the 150th Anniversary of its founding throughout the year. A significant number of their ranks have come from this area. In addition to the 19 living, representing nearly a quarter of current sisters, there are another 34 deceased. The area’s contribution is even greater when the dividing line is extended to include Delphos and Landeck, where five current Sisters trace their roots.
The Sentinel shared five questions for these sisters. Below are some of the responses which stood out, either for being shared among all or most of the Sisters, or for offering a particular insight into their lives and experiences.
Nearly all wrote that being taught by Sisters while in elementary school greatly influenced their decision. Such as Sister Edna Michel from Cuba, who wrote, “[At Miller City Elementary] I had Sister Virginia Fisher (also a native from Putnam County) as my first and second grade teacher (yes, two grades in the same room; 56 kids). She put me at ease and I felt protected and cared for. By the time I was in the second grade, I had a strong sense that when I grew up I wanted to be just like her, to be a Sister and a teacher, and to help little kids who were afraid to go to school.”
However, for at least one Sister, her recollection seems more like a literal “call” from God, “The way it happened was,” wrote Sister Gemma Fenbert from Columbus Grove, “I was driving the tractor in the summertime and the ‘call’ came to me that maybe I should be a sister. I didn’t want to, because I really liked boys, but the scripture that came to me was, ‘She who leaves father and mother for my sake will gain everlasting life and happiness here.’ So I decided to give it a try, and I have never regretted this decision.”
For others though, the certainty of the decision came after it was made. “As a family we always prayed together for a boy and a girl in our family to give themselves to God,” wrote Sister Paulette Schroeder from New Cleveland. “I was so unsure of myself in going after the eighth grade, and I admit that my ‘reasons’ for going to the convent were quite different from why I stayed. God has strange ways.”
All universally believe that being raised in Putnam County, or, more specifically for many, being raised on a farm, contributed to their lives in ways that are difficult to measure. “We grew up on a family farm, and that was our way of life,” wrote Sister Joanne Lammers from Miller City. “My parents were faith-filled people who instilled wonderful family values. My mother used to say that the 3 F’s were the glue in our lives: faith, friends, and food. We’ve had the best times together as family.”
This perspective seems shared by Sister Edna Ricker from Fort Jennings, “They were good people with a deep faith, prosperous people, efficient farmers and knew what they were doing,” she wrote. “It was our job to help with the animals, work in the garden and help with the canning, carry supper or water out to the men working in the fields, mowing the lawn, driving the car. We led a simple life and had no electricity until I was in the seventh grade.”
Some continue to use their experiences growing up in Putnam County to ground them to this very day. “I go back to Fort Jennings as often as I can,” wrote Associate Judy Washbush, who was born and raised in the village. “I walk on sidewalks that I remember from when I was a kid. It’s good to have rural roots…And I love city life, especially its diversity. City life can be exciting and fast-paced. But sometimes I need to slow down. Driving into Putnam County, driving through fields and small towns, slows me down and takes me back to a quieter time in my life.”
Recognizing the benefits of growing up in a rural area also seems to have informed some Sisters in their ministry. “Being raised in Putnam County had its advantages,” wrote Sister Linda Scheckelhoff from New Cleveland, “but did not expose me to the rich diversity of peoples, cultures and experiences that I might have had being raised somewhere else.”
“I’ve met so many wonderful people in service to God’s people,” wrote Sister Paulette Schroeder, also from New Cleveland, echoing Sister Scheckelhoff’s thoughts. “I was introduced to very poor people, to people of different cultures, to the prison system, and to people of other lands.”
Even with differing experiences, the main throughline of all recollections remains a dedication to the service of others as an expression of faith and a love of God. As Sister Rosann Morman from Leipsic succinctly put it, “The most satisfying aspect of my life is being able to serve others.”
Seventeen of the 19 Sisters shared answers to the questions provided by the Sentinel. Most Sisters responded to each question. A few opted to respond to some, but not all questions. And, a small number gave a single short statement on their life’s experience, prompted by the questions.
Readers may view each submission in full, only lightly edited for grammar and clarity, here: http://bit.ly/StFrancisSisters