St. Francis of Assisi
The Sisters of St. Francis working in South Carolina are from a number of different congregations with different individual constitutions. However, all of the sisters follow the rule of St. Francis of Assisi, for whom their order is named.
His rule, in its simplest form, calls for followers to observe the Gospels by living in obedience, poverty and chastity.
St. Francis was born Giovanni Bernardone circa 1181 in Umbria, Italy, to a wealthy family and enjoyed a lavish youth. His father altered his name to Francesco. Sometime in his 20s, St. Francis underwent a conversion, denounced all worldly possessions and began a life of poverty.
St. Francis drew others to him as he traveled the countryside preaching penance, brotherly love and peace. He received approval from Pope Innocent III and established the Friars Minor. This became the first order, followed by the Second Order of Poor Ladies, known as the Poor Clares, and Third Order Franciscans around 1221.
Originally called the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the Third Order is not cloistered, and is credited in large part with re-Christianizing medieval society.
As the followers of St. Francis spread across the globe, congregations were formed under many foundresses.
The Diocese of Charleston has Franciscan sisters from Philadelphia and Millvale, Pa.; Rochester, Minn.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Dubuque, Iowa.
The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia were founded in 1855 by Mother Francis Bachman. She emigrated from Bavaria, which was incorporated into the German empire in 1871.
In the 1800s, Philadelphia was home to many immigrants of German and Irish descent, and the sisters opened their doors to care for them, said Sister Noreen Buttimer, who serves at Neighborhood House in Charleston.
Franciscans from her community first came to Charleston in 1898, but were forced to leave in 1903, she said.
They returned in 1942 to serve at St. Paul the Apostle School in Spartanburg and have continued to work across the state since then. Sister Noreen said her congregation has about 600 sisters across the United States, with five in South Carolina.
They are Sisters Buttimer, Deanna Bartolomei at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, Stella Mary Breen and Sheila Mary Byrne at the Franciscan Center on St. Helena Island, and Patricia Przybylski at St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach.
Mother Xavier Termehr established her community of Franciscan sisters in Germany in 1864, but in 1875 all religious were exiled from that country and she was forced to immigrate to the United States. She brought her community members and a group of orphans with her, and they established an orphanage in Iowa City before moving to Dubuque at the request of Bishop John Hennessy.
The Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque have about 375 religious serving across the globe, said Sister Margie Hosch, who has been in South Carolina for 19 years.
“We go where the poor are,” she said. “We address peace and justice issues.”
Sister Margie is the only Dubuque Franciscan in the diocese. She is based in Greenville but travels across the state and to the Diocese of Charlotte to fulfill her duties, which are many.
She gives Wholeness Holiness Retreats one week a month, holds day retreats, and provides talks and counseling on spiritual and psychological issues. The Poor Clare Sisters provide her with space in the parlor of their convent for one-on-one counseling.
The Franciscans from Rochester are known as the Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes and they have two sisters in the diocese: Sisters Helen Chatterton and Colleen Waterman.
Their community was founded by Mother Mary Alfred Moes, who was a native of Luxembourg, which borders Belgium, Germany and France. She came to Minnesota in 1877 with 24 other sisters from Joliet, Ill., to build Catholic academies.
They started in education, branched to health care, and now serve a broad spectrum of social needs based on individual gifts. With about 380 sisters, the Rochester community helps the poor in America and Bogotá, Colombia.
The sisters have served the diocese since 1967. Sister Colleen has been here 42 years and is the director of Echo House in North Charleston, and Sister Helen is the assistant administrator at St. Peter Church in Columbia.
Millvale, Pa., and Buffalo, N.Y.
The Sisters of St. Francis from Millvale joined in 2007 with the community in Buffalo, along with two other Franciscan communities which had all merged in 2004. All four shared common roots and a common history for over 140 years.
Each one traces back to the original foundation of the Neumann-Bachmann Heritage Congregations founded in Philadelphia in 1855 by St. John Neumann, Mother Mary Francis Bachmann, and Sisters Margaret Boll and Bernardina Dorn. They are now the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities and their main headquarters are in Syracuse, N.Y.
“Where there’s unity, there’s force to spread the word,” said Sister Bernadette Pauline Battaglia, who works at St. Peter School in Beaufort.
The combined communities have about 550 sisters serving 33 dioceses, including Kenya and Peru.
Along with Sister Bernadette, the diocese is graced with Sisters Catherine Noecker, principal of St. Anthony of Padua School in Greenville, Mary Jane Reisdorf at St. Anthony of Padua Convent, and Mary Schifferle, also at St. Anthony School.
Regardless of which community they join, the Sisters of St. Francis all work toward the same goal. They weigh the needs of the world and respond with a variety of social outreach programs, all in an effort to further the cause of peace and justice.
“We need to spread the word of the Lord and how much he loves us in order to have peace in the world,” Sister Bernadette said.