A Rose by any name

srrosefrancoisI was thinking this morning of Sister Rose Francois, FSPA, my great-great aunt. My friend Julia is making final profession today as an FSPA Sister.  But I’ve also just found myself thinking more and more of Sister Rose of late, even though of course she’s not a person I ever knew.

Sister Rose was born Elizabeth Francois in Weiskirchen, Germany (then Prussia) in 1842. She emigrated to the United States as a toddler with her father, my great-grandfather Peter Francois and his new wife.  The family settled in Wisconsin where they continued the family tradition of farming and the family grew. Their youngest child, my grandfather Joseph Francois, was born in 1852.

Five years later, at the ripe old age of 15, Elizabeth joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Wisconsin.  Thanks to the efforts of my father and brother to gather our family history, I have a copy of her file from the community archivist.  Sister Rose was really one of their pioneer Sisters, joining the community a mere eight years after the first Sisters arrived in Wisconsin from Bavaria.

According to her obituary, she held many positions of responsibility in the new Congregation. Shortly after professing first vows she was named superior of St. Ameliana’s Orphanage. She was Novice Mistress, and in 1865 (at the age of 23 and after just eight years after entering the community), she was elected Assistant to the Mother General, a position she held for a total of 32 and 1/2 years!

So perhaps by now it is obvious why I feel a growing connection with Sister Rose, especially given that I was recently elected to the leadership team of my religious congregation about eight years after I entered.  There’s also another twist … family lore has always held that my middle name (Rose) is after my mother’s Aunt Rose and my Dad’s great-aunt Sister Rose, so she’s always been on my radar.  In any case, I’ve found myself thinking of her from time to time, as a spiritual companion of sorts on my own journey and adventures in leadership.  According to her obituary:

“Everyone felt at home and secure with her, for she was sincerely humble and approachable.  She always regarded failures that occurred from the best side and was indulgent in reprimanding.  It is evident that the good Lord directed her on the thorny path of life, but who ever saw her discouraged or dejected? It was just such equanimity in the most difficult situations that made Archbishop [Michael] Heiss of blessed memory, founder of our community, say: ‘One never knew when anything went crosswise with Sister Rose, she looked always the same. That was the characteristic trend of her life.”

Sister Rose was also administrator of St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse for 20 years.  Her obituary in the local newspaper had this to say:

“The predominant unity and progress in this institution is due to a great extent to her indefatigable activity. She worked faithfully and zealously in the service of the sick, was outstanding for her peaceful disposition and her vivacious congeniality.With exceptional skill she directed the administration of the hospital, and it won’t be easy to replace her.”

St Francis Hospital was also the setting for perhaps the most touching episode I read in her file, when her father (my great-grandfather) died in her arms:

“Mr. Francois  who was suffering for several days happily expired at 4:30 PM. About three o’clock he began to fail rapidly. Father Rheinhardt was sent for, he said the prayers for the dying. Mr. Francois answered the prayers with great fervor, then sat up to recover breath, in a few minutes he was supported by Sister Assistant (Sister Rose) and died in her arms. Rev. Mother and several sisters were present. Funeral will be Saturday.”

I must make the trip to La Crosse some day, both to visit some younger Sister friends I have there and to visit the cemetary.  Apparently both Sister Rose and my great-grandfather are buried there, my great-grandfather in an unmarked grave and Sister Rose beneath a tall monument to her memory.

As for today, I send my prayers and support to my friend Julia, and I ask Sister Rose to pray for her and to pray for me on our journeys as women religious.

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