||OUR AMERICAN PROVINCE - Sisters of St.
Francis of Savannah, Missouri
In 1922, our community in
Austria, selected 12 sisters to establish missions in America. By making the
long trip across the ocean, they were accepting a challenge far greater than they
Sisters had been requested by Father Lucas Etlin, OSB, of Conception Abbey in Northwest
Missouri to replace the Benedictine Sisters who were teaching in the school and doing
domestic work at the abbey. Nine of the twelve pioneers took immediate responsibility for
the cooking, baking, and sewing for the Conception Benedictines and their seminarians. The
sisters knew no English, and the two classes a week in English gave little help for
working and communicating in the American culture.
The three other members of the group who had been teachers in Austria went to a
Franciscan community in Milwaukee to learn English. They were placed in freshman high
school classes as students. Completing assignments and tests were difficult ways to learn
the language. Within the second year, they interrupted their studies to accept a
Motherhouse for the new group and a school. With trust in God's providence, they initiated
the community to the humble beginnings that would later flower into an American province.
Under the leadership of Mother Pia Feichtenschlager, the first Motherhouse, a former
orphanage operated by the Clyde Benedictines and located across the road from the monastery at Conception, Missouri, was established. It was a
poor habitation with a minimum of conveniences, and the sisters supported themselves by
means of a small farm selling eggs and vegetables. The setting was isolated from the
businesses and social institutions of that time, which might have helped with the sisters'
adjustment to America. They were, however, surrounded by the spiritual environment of the
Abbey. The beautiful liturgies and the encouragement of the monks strengthened them and
nurtured the spirituality of the beginning community.
The sisters served at Holy Family School at Conception Junction, their first school.
The people of the area knew the sisters had been teachers in Austria and that they were
still adapting to the language and customs of their new home. Difficulties gave them a
healthy humility and an openness to the needs of others.
Sisters went to serve in the kitchen of Quincy College in Quincy, Illinois, run by the
Franciscan Friars. Sisters were also asked to do domestic work for the Servite Fathers in
Father Flanagan, needing more sisters to serve as teachers, nurses, seamstresses, and
in the laundry and kitchen, requested our sisters to assist him in the operation of Boys
Town in Nebraska. From 12 to 15 sisters served from 1930 until 1940.
Since the education of children was
important to our founders and as the community grew, the Sisters were asked to staff
various schools. In 1935, the Sisters began to staff St. Joseph Academy and St. Columban
Elementary School, later known as Bishop Hogan Memorial, in Chillicothe, Missouri. With the
staffing of the schools in Chillicothe, the Sisters established their motherhouse there.
The community's openness to God's bidding took them to meeting the needs of other
children at St. Boniface School in Brunswick, Missouri; St. Joseph School in Prairieburg,
Iowa; Aholt Public School in Aholt, Missouri; St. Bonaventure School, later McCartan
Memorial School, in Marceline, Missouri; St. Patrick School in North Kansas City,
Missouri; St. Therese School in Parkville, Missouri; and Immaculate Conception School in
Kirksville, Missouri. During these years, the sisters taught and continue to teach in
Parish Schools of Religion and summer Bible school classes.
In 1946, the sisters purchased a 16-bed hospital in Marceline,
Missouri, which they called St. Francis Hospital. In 1952, a new addition was
added, bringing the capacity to 30 beds.
To accommodate the need to expand and adapt to changes in technology, a new hospital
was built in 1964, and the older facility became St. Joseph's Home for the Elderly. As the
sisters had discontinued the home for the elderly in 1969, they saw a need to add an
extended care unit to the new St. Francis Hospital in 1973. In 1977, the Sisters of St.
Mary in St. Louis, Missouri, took over the management and later assumed sponsorship of St.
Francis Hospital. Eventually, Pershing Regional Hospital in Brookfield included it as an
arm of Pershing. Our sisters continued to work in the facility until 1997.
By the late 1950's, plans were being made to build a new Motherhouse outside of
Chillicothe, Missouri, when, at the request of Bishop John Cody, who wanted to establish a
retirement home for women in the diocese, the community purchased the Dr. Nichols' Cancer
Sanitorium in Savannah, Missouri. In 1957, the Motherhouse once again relocated.
Here, the Sisters, through LaVerna Heights Retirement Center and LaVerna Village Nursing Home, continued the ministry to
the aged and infirm begun in Conception.
To meet the needs of the times, the Sisters sponsored several large Vietnamese families
and 10 Cuban refugees until they could gain independence. The Sisters also provided
housing, emotional, and social support to unwed mothers. The women were provided a
protective, supportive environment in which to make the decision to keep their babies or
relinquish them for adoption.
Today, the sisters are still accepting the challenge Mother Pia and her mission group
crossed the ocean to meet. They act as leaven in the lives of many suffering people in
Northwest Missouri and continue to respond to God's call to live the Gospel as did Francis
and Clare and the founders of the American Province.