How Franciscan Voices Were Heard in the Desert of Yuma

by Sister Julie Ann on December 4, 2010

The Second Sunday of Advent Gospel (Matthew 3:3 to be exact) is a perfect scripture to celebrate the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity’s arrival 80 years ago in the wilderness of Yuma, AZ to teach at Immaculate Conception School.

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

Franciscan Sisters commemorate 80 years in Yuma, AZ

Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity were honored at Eucharist and an Immaculate Conception Parish dinner for being present for 80 years in Yuma, AZ.

On Sept. 3, 1930 our pioneer Sisters, Sister Justin — Superior, Sister DeLilles, Sister Prisca and Sister Edgar, arrived in Yuma from Holy Family Convent in Manitowoc, WI. 

Imagine them peering out train observation windows watching changing wild natural landscapes. They didn’t want to miss anything! Then stepping off the train and walking out into the high desert heat. Talk about ultimate amazing adventure!

A manuscript of Sister Edgar, one of our first Yuma missionaries, entitled, “This is How Our Yuma Mission Started” reads:

“Father Felician Payas, the Claretian pastor of the parish, had written to a good number of different orders of Sisters, asking if they would come to Yuma and take over the school. But to no avail. They all answered: ‘Too hot.'”

Franciscan Sisters serving Native Americans

After answering the call from Yuma, the Franciscan women religious reached out to Native American Schools in Arizona.

Father Payas wrote a letter to our Community in May 1929. Sister Edgar continues:

“Father Payas took the big statue of St. Joseph from the sanctuary and put it at the communion railing and made a solemn novena with the people of the parish for Sisters. Following that novena, Mother Inez arrived to see things first-hand before accepting the school. The people firmly believed that St. Joseph sent our Community to them.”

There was no air-conditioning on the train.

“We had to change wimples at least twice before we got to Yuma.”

There was no refrigeration except one little electric fan which over-heated in the Sisters’ Convent on the third floor of the three story school building.

And our Sisters are still here! This is a story of true love for a warm-hearted people.

To remember these four Sisters and our many years of service, Bishop Gerald Kicanas, Diocese of Tucson, celebrated a special December 3, 2010 Eucharist at Immaculate Conception Parish. Beginning in 1932 with kindergarten to third grades with 130 students, today Immaculate Conception School continues the commitment of Catholic education to 235 students in K-8 grades. Our Sisters are present at Immaculate Conception School,  Yuma Catholic High School and serve in the parish.

Sister Elizabeth Benvie, OSF,  sent pictures and the Yuma Sun wrote a front page article on the event.  Click here for that article.

Do you have anything you’d like to say?

6 thoughts on “How Franciscan Voices Were Heard in the Desert of Yuma”

  1. It is the next best thing to being there! My heart is with all of you in Yuma and I celebrate the generous YES of so many of our Sisters who have and continue to serve the faithfilled people of the southwest! My years in Yuma were blessed in so many ways, one thing I discovered while there is that the people are as warm as the weather! You are all close to Jesus in my prayers!

  2. Cheri Meade of Yuma, AZ says:

    I am truly blessed to call these Sisters my colleagues, friends, mentors, and daughter's teachers. They are remarkable women with so many talents and such compassionate hearts. Congratulations on your 80th anniversary!

  3. Sr.Carol Seidl says:

    I loved my 7 years in Yuma at I.C. The people are super there and a fantastic school. Sorry I couldn't make it for the celebration. Thanks for the pictures.

    Sister Carol Seidl

  4. srsharon says:

    CONGRATULATIONS to you SISTERS on celebrating 80 interesting years of serving in ARIZONA. I never served in AZ but as I turn the wheels back I remember Sr. Bernaleen coming into our classroom at St. Nicholas School in Zanesville, OH and talking about her years in AZ and she had many articles to show that the Indians had made. I also remember you, SR. HILDA, saying to me: “Sr. Sharon, when are you coming out to AZ?”(You spent many dedicated years there Sr. Hilda. THANK YOU!) Keep up your dedicated labors, Sisters!

  5. Anne Marie Lom says:

    My congratulations to the past and present sisters who served in Yuma. I've never been there but have heard many wonderful stories. Thank you for the article and pictures so we are all able to share in the joy!

  6. Sr. Elizabeth says:

    Sister Mary Ann,
    Thank you for your warm wishes and prayers! Yes, the people are as warm as the weather. They are very hospitable and appreciative of all of us.
    God bless you!
    Sr. Elizabeth Benvie

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