2016 marks the 150th Anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton, Iowa. Join us in celebrating this momentous milestone throughout the year. Click HERE for more information about our year-long festivities.
Vail , IA
Mt. Alverno - Clinton, IA
The Alverno - Clinton, IA
Mount St. Clare College
Sister Edward Smith at MSC
Mary, Star of the Sea School, Bahamas
Sister Phyllis Morris in Peru
1955 MSC Convent Addition
Ashford University Durgin Center
Franciscan Peace Center staff
Had history not been written the way it was, the Sisters might have remained in Kentucky, where they began. It was only through several twists of fate that the Sisters of St. Francis settled in the Clinton area.
The story of the Sisters of St. Francis dates back to 1866 in Gethsemani, Kentucky. After the Civil War, the Trappist monks there had begun a school for boys and needed women who could teach the girls. Caroline Warren, Sally Walker and Lizzie Lillis answered a call to conduct a school. They took vows and were declared the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis by Bishop Lavialle on January 21, 1866.
The Mount Olivet School struggled for several years amidst internal division and lack of external support, especially financial help.
By 1881 conditions were desperate. The Sisters persevered in trying to maintain the school. Their energy was drained, however, over a controversy regarding a debt on the building in which the school was housed. They didnt have enough funds for even the bare essentials of life.
According to the history, "It was impossible to purchase enough food, fuel and clothing, let alone try to liquidate debt.
The head of the congregation, Mother Agnes Mooney, wrote to the Bishop of Louisville advising him that they were existing on a diet of corn bread.
After several more years of trying to convince the Kentucky hierarchy of the value of their endeavor, the Sisters decided to request acceptance into the Diocese of Dubuque, Iowa.
In 1890, some of the sisters left for the Dubuque Diocese, which included most of the state of Iowa at the time. The Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque gave the Sisters a portion of their convent in which to stay. Some sisters left to open schools in Vail and Mason City, Iowa. By December of that year the entire congregation had moved to Iowa and the bishop found them a motherhouse in Anamosa, where some Sisters lived and staffed a school.
While the Sisters were living in cramped quarters in Anamosa in 1891, Rev. James A. Murray, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Clinton, Iowa sought them out as he needed teachers for St. Patrick School. In 1893, Rev. Murray helped them acquire the Chase property and the new motherhouse of Mount St. Clare was established.
In 1893, the Sisters opened Mount St. Clare Academy, and the ministry of secondary education began.
By 1899, they were overcrowded with both students and women seeking to enter the congregation. They purchased the Corbin property and built a new Mount St. Clare, a five-story building. The Chase property was renamed Mount Alverno and became the first home for the aged in Clinton County.
The Sisters chartered their college in 1918 to meet the need for well-trained teachers in the county and in the parish schools they staffed throughout the Midwest.
Between 1902 and 1922, the congregation assumed the operation of three hospitals and schools of nursing in Grinnell and Burlington, Iowa and Macomb, Illinois.
The Sisters began operating the Mount St. Clare Speech and Hearing Center, the first such clinic in Eastern Iowa, in 1943, to meet the needs of stroke victims and children with disabilities. The speech and hearing center, which closed its doors in 2012, was housed on the college campus.
By the 1950s Clinton Franciscans were teaching as far away as California, in Reedley, Riverside, and Chino. In 1960, the Sisters opened Mary Star of the Sea Primary School and nursing Sisters staffed the Rand Hospital in Freeport in Grand Bahamas.
The Ritter Home in Burlington, Iowa was deeded to the Clinton Franciscans in 1957 for the purpose of providing a residence for elderly women. The home was operated by the Sisters until 1990.
In 1965, four Sisters were assigned to education ministry in Chulucanas, Peru. Sister Phyllis Morris is still living and working there today.
The Sisters opened Mount St. Clare Preschool, in Clinton, in 1967. The school served 3- to 5-year-old children and was later expanded to include a child care center and also served as a lab school for education students.
Following the direction of Vatican II, the renewal chapter convoked and the congregation began the movement into new ministries. Sisters not only continued serving in education and healthcare, but they gradually assumed new roles in parishes and in a variety of ministries to aid those most marginalized in our society.
In 1971, the Alverno was built on 13th Avenue North and the Chase property was no longer owned by the order. The Alverno was sold to Trinity Senior Living Centers in 2013.
Sister Marjorie Wisor met the founder of LArche International, Jean Vanier, while studying in Paris. This led to the beginnings of the first LArche home in Clinton in 1974. LArche communities in the United States provide homes and workplaces where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers, create inclusive communities of faith and friendship, and transform society through relationships that cross social boundaries.
In 1986, the Associate program began. The first Associates to make a commitment to pray with, support and work alongside the Sisters were thirteen lay men and women in Clinton. The Sojourner program began in 2003.
In 2004, the Clinton Franciscans adopted active nonviolence and peacemaking as a way of life and the Center for Active Nonviolence and Peacemaking was created. It became the central focus of the Sisters mission.
In 1997, 45 Sisters moved into The Canticle, the seventh motherhouse of the congregation. The Canticle is located on the prairie, at the heart of the congregation's property in Clinton. The 50 acres surrounding The Canticle have been restored to native communities of prairie grass and flowers.
In March of 2009, the Sisters administrative offices were moved from the college to a new building located near The Canticle. The building was designed and constructed to reflect the congregations commitment to care of the earth.
In the 150 years since Caroline, Sally, and Lizzie answered the call to serve, the congregation has experienced many changes. Today the Sisters have members not only in Iowa, but in Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Oregon, and in Peru.
Of all the peaks and valleys of the past 150 years, Father Murray needing Sisters to staff St. Patrick School all those years ago is considered the highlight. If not for that turn of events and the support of the City of Clinton, the congregation may not have survived to experience the celebration of 150 years. We are grateful to for the support, the opportunities and the many fond memories!