By Trish Linner
MISHAWAKA — The Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration hosted a celebration on Sept. 17 to commemorate their 150th anniversary with a special Mass celebrated at the St. Francis Convent in Mishawaka followed by a reception at the Gillespie Conference Center. Over 400 friends and family joined the sisters to celebrate the founding of their order.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades served as the celebrant of the Mass and was joined by over 60 priests. Also in attendance were Bishop Timothy L. Doherty from Lafayette, Bishop Emeritus William L. Higi from Lafayette and Bishop Dale J. Melczek from Gary.
“To see so many bishops, priests and deacons together was so moving,” said Sister of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration Sister Cecelina Clare.
Bishop Rhoades spoke to the faithful about the history of the order and their founder.
“It is wonderful to celebrate this 150th anniversary Mass of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration on Mother Maria Theresia’s birthday. It is also the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis. This fact that had deep significance for Mother Maria Theresia. She referred to her birth on the feast of the stigmata in terms of her life proceeding or coming forth from the wounds of St. Francis. … She embraced much suffering in her own life, and like St. Francis, with great faith she shared in the suffering of Jesus for the salvation of the world.”
Mother Maria Theresia felt a deep calling to live the Franciscan rule, rather than the Augustinian rule that was begun three years earlier. The saintly bishop of Paderborn, Conrad Martin, saw God’s hand in Mother Maria Theresia’s vision and thus proclaimed the Sisters of St. Francis of Olpe, Germany, an independent community and appointed Mother Maria Theresia the superior.
Mother Maria Theresia wrote in the original Constitution of the Congregation, “After the example of Holy Father Francis, the sisters shall endeavor to combine the contemplative with the active,” Bishop Rhoades related.
The community life of the sisters is organized so that they can pray before the Holy Eucharist at Mass or in hourly rotations day and night.
“We cannot count or calculate the many graces bestowed upon this congregation and upon the world through the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament by so many sisters these past 150 years,” Bishop Rhoades said. “We thank the Lord today for the many blessings bestowed upon the Church these past 150 years through the witness and work of Christian charity of the Sisters of St. Francis.”
Bishop Rhoades recalled the history of the sisters in the United States. At the invitation of Bishop Joseph Dwenger, five sisters were sent from Germany to the Diocese of Fort Wayne in 1875. Their mission began with the care of the sick in Lafayette, at that time part of the Diocese of Fort Wayne.
“Though poor and with little knowledge of English, those first missionary sisters trusted deeply in Divine Providence and began immediately their active apostolate of charity: educating children and caring for the sick,” Bishop Rhoades explained. “With a great pioneer spirit, the sisters, anchored always in prayer and Eucharistic Adoration, engaged in the active apostolate, beginning in Lafayette teaching in the German St. Boniface School and opening their first hospital, named in honor of the Franciscan saint, Elizabeth of Hungary.”
Bishop Rhoades acknowledged the support the sisters have given to the priestly vocation. “I have personally experienced this community’s beautiful support, love and prayers for priests. On behalf of all our priests, I thank you for your outstanding support of our priestly vocation. This celebration is all about you. This is your day.”
The celebration was attended by almost 100 of the 123 Sisters in the Mishawaka Province. A camera in the chapel allowed the sisters in the skilled nursing facility to participate in the Mass from their rooms.
After Mass, the celebration continued at the Gillespie Center. Sister Angela Mellady, mother superior of the province, spoke to the almost 400 people in attendance. She thanked Bishop Rhoades for celebrating the Mass for the sisters.
“Bishop Rhoades has been a faithful supporter of our mission,” Sister Angela said. “I thank him for coming today to celebrate this special occasion with us.” She also thanked the bishops from Lafayette and Gary for attending.
Many sisters were touched by the bishop’s homily.
“The bishop’s homily was a highlight for me. Recovering from a recent surgery we were so grateful he could be here. He always gives beautiful homilies, but this was exceptional. He has spent time reading about the life and spirituality of Mother Maria Theresia and he helped us to gain a deeper appreciation for the legacy she left to us,” Sister Angela said.
Sister Maria Faustina, who took her first vows on Aug. 10, also commented on the words of Bishop Rhoades. “What a beautiful history of the congregation,” she said. “I was so impressed that the bishop knew so much about Mother Maria Theresia and her connection with St. Francis. We are truly blessed to have such a wonderful bishop to support us.”
The celebration was a joyous event for all of the sisters. “Everyone was involved in the planning of the celebration. Some had particular tasks to do, while others doubled up with coverage of hours of Eucharistic Adoration or other house duties and responsibilities and supporting those directly involved with their prayers,” said Sister Angela.
“It was a beautiful celebration today,” said Sister Mary Joseph. “It is so nice to gather together all of us to celebrate.”
Many sisters from other areas joined the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration for the anniversary Mass. Mother Ann Marie, a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia from Nashville, Tenn., came to support the sisters. “What a wonderful Mass — so festive and jubilant. It is a great celebration for our Church,” she said. “These sisters are blessed by God.”
Other sisters shared Mother Ann Marie’s sentiments, including Sister Felicity Dorsett, who said, “What a blessing these sisters are to the community of God. Today is a beautiful celebration of their dedication.”
Sister Angela reflected on the jubilee of their community. “During this year of jubilee, we have reflected on the many ways God overwhelms us with His love. Mother Maria Theresia wanted us to remember that we are God’s instruments. All we do is for the greater honor and glory of God, and He will provide the grace for us to follow Him. Therefore, our motto for this jubilee year is: ‘With gratitude and in faith: He leads; I follow.’”
The jubilee year is especially rewarding for the sisters because their founder Mother Maria Theresia is scheduled to be beatified in Germany in November. Forty-eight of the sisters plan to attend the ceremony.
“What a special grace to have our beloved foundress, Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel, beatified during this jubilee year. We have tried to imbue ourselves more with her spirit and charism during this special year, grateful for our vocation to the community which she founded,” said Sister Angela.
The Sisters of Perpetual Adoration hosted a community celebration and reception in Mishawaka on Sept. 29 and will have their Fort Wayne celebration on Sunday, Oct. 13, at the University of Saint Francis. In Fort Wayne, there will be a Mass at 2 p.m. at the North Campus followed by a reception.
For more information about the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration visit www.ssfpa.org.
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