Sisters of St. Francis celebrate 150 years …

Since its beginnings in 1869 caring for displaced orphans and elderly people after the Civil War to the multi-dimensional campus and community it is today, the Sisters of St. Francis are celebrating 150 years of caring for people, the earth and one another.

“Over these past 150 years, our charism, our Franciscan values of concern for the poor, care of creation, contemplation, action and peacemaking have kept us responding to the needs of the times, shaping ourselves and shaping our ministries,” the sisters said as a group. “These values drive our ministries – elder care, child care, environmental education and community-supported agriculture, retreats and spiritual direction.”

Since 1869, there have been 544 sisters documented in the convent records, but not all remained in the order. Currently, there are 80 sisters and 80 associates with an average age of 77. In addition to those in Tiffin, there are sisters in 32 missions serving more than 20,000 people each year in the United States and Mexico.

The Sisters of St. Francis was founded in 1869 by the Rev. Joseph Bihn, a parish priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, and Elizabeth Schaefer, a local parishioner and widow, to meet the needs of orphans and the elderly who had no one to care for them after the Civil War.

From those beginnings, the sisters said thousands of donors and volunteers through the years have supported the St. Francis mission and continue the generous spirit created by Father Bihn and Mother Schaefer by creating and enhancing programs and services.

“Our partners create the margin of excellence that makes the work of the Sisters of St. Francis possible,” the sisters said. “We are proud to steward our partners’ gifts and their dreams for a better future.”

Beginning in a farm house on the original 58-acre farm purchased in 1869, the campus has grown to 400 acres of buildings, farmland, woods and wetlands.

In the section of the campus populated by humans, St. Francis Senior Ministries — including Friedman Village at St. Francis — provides housing and healthcare choices for seniors, offering 65 independent-living villa units at two locations and 31 efficiency apartments at Elizabeth Schaefer Apartments. In addition, there are 36 assisted living units at two locations and a 132-bed skilled nursing facility with long-term and short-term care for inpatients and outpatients.

Residents at St. Francis Senior Ministries are not asked to leave if faced with financial hardship. Beginning in January and moving forward, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, through its senior care ministry, CSJ Initiatives, has taken over the care and ownership of St. Francis Senior Ministries so the ministries can be continued into the future, the sisters said.

Another aspect of the campus is St. Francis Spirituality Center, “a harbor for prayer, rest and relaxation.” The renewal center is open to people of all faiths, serving more than 2,000 people each year. The center sponsors retreat programs and hosts groups that want to meet for activities such as staff retreats and people deepening their spiritual lives.

“The Franciscan retreat center provides a space of peace, where body, mind and spirit can be nourished with prayer, quiet and beauty,” the sisters said.

Among the programs are collaborative efforts with Mercy Health and Hospice to provide support for those living with cancer, and with regional police and fire departments and military veterans to provide counseling and support for those suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Also on campus is the Franciscan Earth Literacy Center, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year as an environmental education center and demonstration facility designed to promote the appreciation of nature and encourage sustainable living practices.

Designed for people of all ages – preschool through adulthood – the center and St. Francis farm and woods host many nature-related programs filled with hands-on activities. FELC serves more than 4,500 people each year with environmental education classes and camps – on campus and in regional public, private and home schools.

The sisters are dedicating the entire year to celebrate 150 years, but an anniversary Mass took place June 28 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, led by Bishop Daniel Thomas, and a cemetery devotion Aug. 17 commemorated everyone involved in St. Francis who have died in the last 150 years.

As the legacy of Father Bihn and Mother Schaefer lives on, the Tiffin Franciscans invite everyone to join the sisters in sharing the St. Francis values with the world.

“We have been focused on personal and communal transformation that is so urgently needed in our world,” the sisters said. “We invite you to partner with us in walking the way of St. Francis and St. Clare, spreading the joy of the Gospel.

“Know that our campus is open to the public and you are always welcome,” they said.

For more on the 150th anniversary celebration, visit the special section of the website, by scrolling down to find history, to watch an anniversary video, to watch the anniversary Mass and to find other information.

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The Advertiser-Tribune

Staff Writer: Vicki Johnson