The Beginning of the Little Sisters in the United States.
Those of us, the Little Sisters spreading the word of our mission to the people of the United States, have the good fortune every day of meeting God in the new friends we make in this country, our home away from home. Our Franciscan heritage has allowed us to spread our wings across the globe and dare to live our mission wherever the Lord sends us. This we do following in the footsteps of our mother Foundress Mother Mary Kevin Kearney, who at the tender age of 28, dared to leave the comfort of her western country in Ireland and moved to a remote and undeveloped part of Africa in Uganda. Through God’s grace she managed to survive and stand up to the rigors of missionary life.
The origins and eventual settlement of the Little Sisters in the United States can be traced back to 1994 when I was sent to the United States for my university education. I was studying Special Education at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. During the summer break I was commissioned to carry out mission cooperative appeals for the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi in the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee in southeastern Wisconsin. I was assigned three parishes, namely St. Joseph Catholic Church Wauwatosa, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph Catholic Church, Fond du Lac.
During my stay in the Fond du Lac area, I stayed at Villa Loretto in the town of Mt. Calvary, a nursing home operated by the Sister Servants of Christ the King. I spent two weeks helping the sisters in the nursing home doing housekeeping and laundry. This was a welcome break from the heavy academics at Gallaudet University.
The Sister Servants of Christ the King and I worked so well together that they asked me about the possibility of having additional Little Sisters join them at the facility. They explained that heavy and unrelenting snow storms and subsequent floods over the past three years had brought a lot of suffering to the area. According to the Sisters, there was an urgent need for assistance at Villa Loretto and its environs. Many workers and young people had fled the area and went to the city and elsewhere to look for work. The sisters therefore could not find anyone to hire at the facility and had to do everything by themselves. The sisters were overwhelmed by work, needed some relief, and hoped the Little Sisters would come to their aid.
When I returned to Washington D.C., I relayed the message to the superior general at the time, Mother Anne Nasimiyu. Mother Anne and her council agreed to send the first group of sisters in 1995: Sister Samuel Ibotet, Sr. Isabella Kanyua, and Sr. Hermangilda. The seed of the little sisters of St. Francis of Assisi was thus planted.
After I received my doctorate from Gallaudet University, I went on to open group homes and assisted living facilities for mentally challenged adults in Williamsburg, Virginia. More sisters have come to the United States as students and some, after graduating with PhDs, M.S. and baccalaureate degrees, are retained and assigned to work in various dioceses to which God calls them. Others return to Africa to continue our ministries, equipped with new knowledge and skills and a network of friends. With local and international help, these sisters have been able to accomplish a great deal.
Besides the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Little Sisters also work in the Diocese of Syracuse, New York, Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Archdiocese of Richmond, Virginia. Most of our sisters are engaged in providing pastoral, health, social, and education ministries, serving the marginalized and the poor in this part of the world.
Our presence in the United States has provided us the opportunity to help spread the word of God and witness, through our way of life, the presence of Christ in a diverse Franciscan family. Announcing the good news to all nations, we have managed to share with God’s people the message of who we are and what we do. Through this encounter many new friends of the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi have come to embrace our order and have already pledged to assist us in any way they can. The support we have had is tremendous and it is very encouraging and rewarding to know that we live amidst people who love us and who want to share in our mission. For this we are grateful!
Sr. Agnes Narocho, LSOSF
US Administrator for Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi