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Inscribed in the ring that Sr. Marilyn Fischer wore for nearly forty-five years following her Perpetual Profession to serve God as a Franciscan Sister of the Poor are the words of St. Francis of Assisi, My God and My All.  As the angel of death arrived unexpectedly on Monday, May 9, 2011 to claim another beloved for God alone, it is easy to project that these words may have been the last Sr. Marilyn would utter.  Sr. Marilyn was still in the beginning stages of reclaiming her independence after a long and serious illness as God called her to the place that had been prepared for her alone.  While Sr. Marilyn was progressing through the stages of recovery, she agreed to keep in close contact with Sr. Joanne Schuster by calling daily about 5PM.  When that didn’t happen on the day of Sister’s death, Sr. Joanne called a Cabrini Sister to check on Sr. Marilyn.  When she entered the apartment, she discovered that God had already called Sister home.

Born on May 23, 1936, Marilyn Carol was the third of seven children born to Marie Mennel and Frank Fischer.  The loving parents made their home in Quincy IL, attended St. Mary Catholic Church and sent their children to the parish school.  Marilyn graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1954 and continued her education by attending St. Mary Hospital School of Nursing.  On September 17, 1958, after working at St. Mary Hospital for a year, Marilyn followed in the footsteps of her aunt, Sr. Blondina Fischer and made her way to St. Clare Convent in Cincinnati Ohio, where she joined the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor.  As a new member, Marilyn experienced a major transition that was in process within the Congregation.  On May 3, 1960, Sr. Marilyn professed her First Vows. 

As a Sister in temporary vows, Sr. Marilyn was first assigned to St. Mary Hospital in Cincinnati and later to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton, Ohio where she taught nursing in the school connected with the Hospital.  At the same time, she attended the University of Dayton and earned a Bachelor Degree in Nursing in 1964.  She continued to teach nursing until 1967 when she was assigned to serve as the assistant Director of Formation for a year before assuming the position of Director.

Again, Sr. Marilyn found herself in a time of transition, not only in her own life but in the life of the Congregation.  The full impact of the directives of the Second Vatican Council were just beginning to be implemented.  Questions about what it meant to return to the spirit of the foundress were being explored.  Agreements and disagreements abounded as all the Sisters struggled to reach consensus addressing the many issues that came forward.  As part of her preparation for work in Formation, Sr. Marilyn studied theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati and earned a Masters Degree in Education.

Transition and transformation seem to define Sr. Marilyn’s life.  Sr. Marilyn was elected as a General Councilor at the 1976 General Chapter.  Her major focus was Our Apostolic Life.  Prior to her election, efforts were made to study the effectiveness of the Health Care Institutions sponsored by the Congregation.   Building on this study, administrators and employees from all the Institutions were brought together for education and dialogue. 

In 1980 Sr. Marilyn was elected the General Minister of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor.   During the eight years that Sr. Marilyn held that position, the Congregation continued to look at the relationship with the Health Care Institutions and our ability to provide the viable leadership needed for the continued effectiveness of the ministry.  These were difficult times, but Sr. Marilyn persevered with gentleness and determination.

Sr. Marilyn was instrumental in the development of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor Foundation to help fund the ministries of the Sisters in Brazil, Italy, Senegal and the United States.  She developed a staff that would understand and promote the values and visions of the Congregation.  The charism of Mother Frances was very important to her.  She was also asked to assist in developing the Associates of the Congregation.  In this role, she sought to strengthen the bond that existed between the Sisters and the Associates and encouraged the Associates to develop leadership within the group as well as collaborating with the Sisters.

Sr. Marilyn looked forward to visiting her family in Quincy and tried to be present with them at all major events, weddings, anniversaries, and any other reason that presented itself.   Paraphrasing a popular saying – ‘You can take the girl out of Quincy but you can’t take Quincy out of the girl.’  Sr. Marilyn was a hometown person.

During a recent interview, Sr. Marilyn described her call to religious life, specifically as a Franciscan Sister of the Poor in the following manner:

I became a Sister because I yearned to ‘more closely follow Jesus’ in living the Gospel.  In doing so, I learned and followed the Franciscan way of life. The charism of Mother Frances called me, and in it I found a way to live out the Gospel -- and to do so in company with a loving community of Sisters.  I am deeply grateful to have been a Franciscan Sister of the Poor.  I have personally learned the truth of the Gospel message: “. . . everyone who has left brothers or sisters or father or mother for my sake will receive a hundred fold and inherit eternal life. . . .” 

Sr. Marilyn, over the past fifty two years, you have gifted the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor with your life, your talents and your commitment to truth as you knew it.  May God now bless you with the hundred fold promised in the Scriptures.  You are missed.  Rest in peace, dear Sister!

Sr. Arleen Bourquin