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The “concept” of Co-Membership was accepted at our 1980 General Chapter. I was elected to Congregational Leadership as a Councilor for the first time at that same Chapter. We grew together. As the concept developed and took shape it was moving to experience how the first Co-Members were already imbued with the charism, as family members and/or employees. They were already gifted by God with this charism; it is what enabled them to say “yes” to being bonded with us by Covenant! This realization, insight, was a powerful, life-giving, healing experience for me.

jac 07One of my experiences in serving as Director of Associates in the United States was in meeting “Mother Gert.” She became acquainted with the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor through her hospitalization at Providence Hospital in 1974. She heard about Mother Frances and soon fell in love with her. She prayed daily to her and would talk to her as if she were physically present in the room. In 1976 when she was 84 years of age, she embroidered a large burlap tapestry with our Congregational emblem, name and mission. She mentioned that she felt the Lord was so present to her when she was embroidering the red cross and the crown of thorns that she would sometimes cry. Sister Bonnie introduced me to Mother Gert when she wanted to become a Co-Member at 89 years of age! She was almost entirely home-bound and I wasn’t sure how she would be able to make and live a Covenant relationship. I visited her at her home. Her living room was her “prayer room.” Next to her chair she had a list of intentions for which she was praying, including our prayer page. The whole atmosphere was one of prayer. I was opened to the possibility of “prayer for the needs of the Congregation” as well as to spread her love for Mother Frances as her Covenant, and later, as that for other Associates as they grew older and more infirm with us.

jac 01My relationship with Mary Peniston began through my ministry at the Franciscan Health System. Mary was the security guard at Providence Hospital. She was a single woman who cared for her mother at home. Mary grieved deeply when her mother died. Sister Judy prayed with her during that time, and invited her to be an Associate with us. Again, as Director of Associates in the U.S., I became more acquainted with Mary. After making her first Covenant and participating in programs, Mary began exploring the possibility of joining the Catholic Church. I referred her to an RCIA program near her home in Kentucky. Several of us went to the Holy Saturday Vigil Service when she made her act of faith in the Catholic Church. No one in her family was Catholic. Her brother, who was a Baptist, traveled the long distance from Florida to be with her. Since she had no plans for Easter I invited her and her brother along with a couple of Sisters for dinner at my house to continue the celebration. She became friends with another of our Associates who was a Secular Franciscan. Mary then pursued life as a Third Order Secular Member also, in her quest for God in the spirit of Mother Frances.

One day Mary had heard me say that there was a two day program in Kentucky that I really wanted to attend but had no way to get there. She offered to take me but I hesitated, because it would mean her coming from Kentucky to pick me up, taking me to Kentucky, and then at the end of the day, picking me up again and taking me home, and then doing the same for the second day. She challenged me: “You do so much for me, why can’t you let me do something for you?” So I did! I experienced healing in growing to accept from others as well as to serve. Mary was a frequent participant at the days of Prayer at Pinecroft House of Peace. She worked with us and prayed with us. Then Mary was diagnosed with cancer. She had a sister in Texas who lived with and was cared for by her daughter. They came to visit Mary to take her back with them to Texas for surgery and recuperation. Mary had them bring her to my house so that I could meet them and say good-bye to her before she left. Mary, her sister and niece kept me informed about her condition. She seemed to be doing better, and then I heard that she was dying. Mary’s niece left the hospital to go home so she could get my phone number to call me. She asked me to call Mary and said Mary’s sister was there with her and would answer the phone. I called and spoke with Mary about God’s Love for her and that God was calling her. She responded with “Yes.” Mary died a few hours later.

Her funeral was in Texas at the Church of her niece, Latter Day Saints. Her body was then cremated and the cremains were brought to Kentucky for burial. Her family, knowing that she was Catholic, asked me if I would arrange for a Catholic burial at her plot next to her mother’s. It was the same day that the Day of Prayer had been arranged at Pinecroft House of Peace, and the celebrant was the spiritual advisor for Mary’s fraternity! He agreed to lead the service at the cemetery that afternoon. I told Mary’s family about the arrangements. Her whole family decided to come for the Mass at Pinecroft and brought the cremains with them! We were Jewish, Baptist, Latter Day Saints and Catholic- all God’s people – at that Liturgy! Father Pat wonderfully included all of them by explanations, etc. He also was very inclusive of all at the cemetery. One of the practices of some of the family members was placing dirt on the grave, so we blessed it with holy water and some of them put dirt on it. What a beautiful experience of all of God’s people! Our relationship with the family continues, with letters, emails and particularly on special days as Christmas. I continue to talk with Mary and ask her to ask Mother Frances’s help in the canonization.

Being involved with so many of our Associates has been a very positive experience for me of working together. We each have our unique gifts and, when put together, can accomplish so much for God’s people! That experience has also been helpful to me as I minister in my parish. Parishioners are not Associates, yet it is also a rich experience of sharing our gifts for the good of the whole.

jac 02Victoria “Tori” Moore was another Associate who inspired me greatly. She was a nurse at our St. Elizabeth Hospital Medical Center in Dayton, OH. (my “alma mater”!) when a request came from the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor Health System for nurses to give a year’s assistance to our Sisters in their mission in Senegal. Tori, and Brenda, another nurse from St. Elizabeth’s, responded quickly and arrived in Dakar in December of 1993. After a month of immediate preparation which included language and other enculturation they went to Koungheul to work in the clinics. Tori quickly endeared herself to the Sisters, her co-workers and those who were sick and needy. After her return to Dayton she continued to work in various aspects of health care and in 1997 she became an Associate.

Tori made her Permanent Covenant as an Associate on May 5, 2012 and very peacefully returned to the Lord whom she loved on June 29, 2012, ending her suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease.) In a report Tori shared of her deepening relationship with Mother Frances. She said that she had always loved and respected her, knowing her through the Sisters at St. Elizabeth Hospital and in Senegal, and then through Associates. However, it was brought to a new level since her diagnosis of ALS in 2011. She said that she was moved deeply by the Novena to Mother Frances for her, ending on Mother Frances’ feast day. She emailed the Novena to several dozen friends and relatives and asked them to pray for her, using the Novena (way outside her comfort zone to do!) She received overwhelming love, support and prayers. Then she received a different copy of the Novena with a picture of the bronze statue of Mother Frances tending a sick person on the cover. She said that she had never liked that sculpture and found it unsettling.

jac 03The person Mother Frances was tending in the sculpture looked uncomfortably familiar now that the initial symptoms of ALS were weakening her left arm, (being supported by Mother Frances in the sculpture) and weakness of her back (also seen in the person in the sculpture.) What Tori said she liked most were the words of Mother Frances: “If it pleases the Lord that we are ill, then we can serve him in sickness as well as in health. Let us strive for harmony with the Divine will.” Tori was an inspiration as well as a challenge to me in my own life in her willingness to minister in Senegal, in her acceptance of the death of her young daughter, as well as in her cheerful acceptance of her illness of ALS. jac 04I could go on and on! Jerry Altenau was a companion as an early Co-member and Associate, working with us, hosting picnics at his house each summer, volunteering in AIDS care, when that was my ministry!

Bob Reis pushed us to consider Permanent Covenant for Associates, by renewing only a year at a time when much longer periods were permitted, and requesting permanent Covenant each time, until he received a “yes.” He truly is “one of us!”

And our Co-Members/Associates from Dayton, OH! For many years they would bring jac 06buns, hot dogs and hamburgers from Dayton and do the grilling at St. Clare Convent for the annual picnic, so the older Sisters could be a part of it! This, as well as their living the charism in powerful ways in their ministries in Dayton reflected so strongly their commitment to the spirit and charism of Mother Frances.

I have been touched deeply over these 35 years by our Associates and could share many more experiences, but I think my 15 minutes is over!



Sister Mary Jacinta Doyle, SFP

Published: June 23, 2016