Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Novice Sister Regina Rose Pearson presented “Legacy of Faith’, celebrating the 143rd Anniversary of our Congregation in 3 showings in 3 different locations on November 9 and 10, 2012. Find here a snippet of the script and a few photos that were woven in the powerpoint presentation. It is certainly evident that the theme takes up the challenge of Pope Benedict XVI to make this Year of Faith a new evangelization moment of Spirited-service of living our Gospel call.
This year’s Founder’s Day will revisit some of the communities’ greatest moments of faith, those moments when our sisters committed entirely to the will of God and inserted themselves into the heart of the culture and the life of the Church, thus becoming an example of what it means to evangelize in the way of the Gospel. In our Constitutions, it is said that “our foundresses surrendered themselves in faith to meet the needs of their time, and so we continue to evidence this same dedication, adaptability, and response to the needs of the Church, always remaining faithful to our charisms.” We often revisit and retell other peoples’ experiences of fidelity in the hopes that it will give spark to our own. As we relive the experiences of our sisters in the past, may their dedication, commitment, trust and faith be a model to us today and an inspiration for us to continue moving forward in our mission of evangelization.
On June 5th, 1866, the faith of one woman to embark on an unknown path laid the foundation stone of this religious community. On that day, Theresa Gramlich eventually to be our Mother Gabriel, gave her ‘yes’ to a request by Father Joseph Fessler that she leave her home and go to Clarks Mills, Wisconsin, 10 miles away, to teach. She then took the first steps towards becoming a living witness of faith (ch 5).
The foundation of the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity on November 9, 1869 was one event in the long history of the Church, the world, and the short history of the State of Wisconsin. Need for the ministry of a Community of apostolic women religious grew as the bedrock of faith in the territory of Wisconsin and was being formed by a guiding Hand over many years. On that Tuesday, the church in Manitowoc County in the Diocese of Milwaukee gave birth to a Franciscan religious community, the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.
The enthusiasm of new beginnings generates living faith, untiring dedication and hope-filled moments of reaching cherished expectations. This was true of the new Community. On that day, Mother Gabriel revealed her awareness of a sense of responsibility for the Gospel way of life saying, “As we were now members of a community, we had to take the yoke of Christ on our shoulders.” She was joined by four other women in her reception, three of whom would remain.
One year after their reception, Sisters Gabriel, Colletta, Seraphica, and Odelia professed their Vows. A day later, Sisters Gabriel and Seraphica were assigned to the very first mission of the Community in Potosi, Wisconsin. Aside from the sadness of being torn away from their newly professed companions, the work they found in Potosi was heavy and the number of pupils was great. Despite the difficulty, these Sisters carried on, ever mindful and eager to fulfill their work for the glory of God. (ch 6)
As the years went on and the community continued to grow, it became increasingly important that the Sisters had accommodations for all. On Sunday, July 20, 1873, the cornerstone of the convent was laid, a joyous occasion indeed. For Mother Gabriel, it was a very special year. A dream of the foundresses was being realized brick by brick. However, more than the walls of orderly laid bricks to shelter them, they looked forward to growing together within those walls as a Franciscan Community of Sisters “being built into a house where God lives in Spirit.” (Ch. 6)
In August, 1875, the Franciscan Community at Silver Lake, only once the dream of a young woman, Theresa Gramlich, was nearing its seventh anniversary. Another dream, which she shared with her companions, “a real convent, a motherhouse,” had also been realized. Mother Gabriel, the first pioneer member of our community, now thirty-two years old, was the new Mother Superior. She could never have realized the burden she would soon have to bear as, surprisingly, Germany became the setting for events which would deeply affect the life of the Sisters at Silver Lake within two months of her election. In 1871, the Imperial Chancellor of the new German Empire, Otto van Bismarck, sought to weaken the Roman Catholic influence and initiated the Kulterkampf. Aside from many schools being taken over by the State, many religious were expelled from Germany, a small community, the School Sisters of St. Francis of Gieboldehausen, included. Through much correspondence and collaboration with Father Fessler it was decided that these German Sisters would find a new home in America with the Franciscan Sisters at Silver Lake. Despite many difficulties, the two communities decided to amalgamate during the summer of 1876. It was not simply a matter of “joining” the American Community but of uniting, fusing, and becoming one with them. Though the amalgamation seemed a logical conclusion, it was a very difficult process and the transition, surely an act of faith, was not easy for either group…
The call for a “new evangelization” is about transforming ourselves so that we can be Christ to the world, so that when we speak doctrine to the world, we do it with the heart of Christ. We are to make present the person of Christ by what we say, but even more critically, by what we do. Today, we as Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity are called to continue this journey and mission towards becoming living witnesses. As Sr. Louise reminds in her Oct. 9 letter, “this year of faith calls us to renew our own sense of faith through study and reflection, to deepen the knowledge and understanding of our faith, and to be able to better witness and verbalize it when the occasion arises. But more than anything, this Year of faith calls us to deepen our relationship with Jesus, the center of our faith, to grow in love.” The apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, states that the Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. She is the People of God immersed in the world. She has a constant need of being evangelized, if she wishes to retain freshness, vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel. Evangelization is not simply an isolated, personal event, then. It is inherent to being a part of the Church.