Our History

Once there was a woman who had the call to wilderness in her. She saw the forests in her universe, but distantly.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

By Sisters Michele Mangan and Susan Blomstad

We are the joyous Franciscan Sisters and Associates of St. Francis Province living and working mostly in the western states of the U.S. We belong to a worldwide community which began in a little town in the Netherlands in the eighteen hundreds. Yes, there were windmills and Dutch shoes at that time, but more importantly, there was a woman named Magdalen Damen, eager to help the poor, the sick, and needy children. We began with her and now have spread to many nations around the world and are known in a more formal way as The Franciscan Sisters of Penance and Christian Charity.

Informally, we have been known by many names in various nations, such as: that motorcycle sister delivering food and medicine (East Timor); that 3 am hospital sister comforting the dying (Montana); that sister, constant in the daily lives of poor children (Los Angeles); that sister nurse helping birth a baby when the Doctor fainted (Santa Maria).

St. Francis understood the brotherhood and sisterhood of all creation and has been an inspiration for his followers to continue to address the climate crisis of today.  Witness: that sister who advocated for recycling waste at our hospital and for a co-generation plant that makes electricity energy-efficient (Santa Maria). Francis’ early call came through an encounter with a leper.  In that encounter he heard a call for a relationship of service and presence with those who are marginalized and in need.  Witness: that sister who mainstreamed the works of young Hispanic artists, generating a Hispanic Art Movement (Los Angeles); that sister who fed the “tramps” and homeless from the back door of the convent, even when reprimanded by the police (Sacramento); that sister who, with unending energy, answered the need for food, clothing, documents and jobs for immigrants newly arrived from other countries in their new home (Las Vegas).

Many of you have heard of the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis.  He was a peacemaker in his time, even brokering peace during the warring days of the Crusades. Witness in our time that sister who promoted peace and non-violence by her “disarming” ways while protesting the use and development of nuclear weapons (Las Vegas). Many of you are familiar with the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis. He was a peacemaker in his time, even brokering peace during the warring days of the Crusades. Witness in our time that sister who promoted peace and non-violence by her “disarming” ways while protesting the use and development of nuclear weapons (Las Vegas).

Magdalen Damen was a “relationships” person. With Magdalen Damen it all began with women of various personalities and ages wishing to join her in openness to the sick, poor and children. Like Franciscans before her she related to all who came to share her life dedicated to Christ. What was she really like? She was ever prayerful, resourceful, and kind. In that time there was too much cold, too much hunger, too much wonder about what would come tomorrow. Reliance on God, “God will provide” was Magdalen’s ever-present thought. She and her few companions built their own little house from the ground up. No mean accomplishment for a few poor women wishing to live the gospel life together. From that one poor little house came many other houses and many other women wishing to live the gospel life as she did. The first house in the U.S. was in Ohio, and then Buffalo, New York and houses spread across the land, from east to west. In the west, in 1901, our first community house was across the street from Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, California.

Magdalen Damen was a faith filled person. Her deep conviction, “God will provide”, has been evident throughout the lives of the followers of Magdalen Damen.

Witness: the question of how to secure land for a hospital was answered with a generous gift of several acres of strawberry fields. GOD WILL PROVIDE! (Santa Maria) Witness: having lived through many changes and challenges in both church and society, our reliance on God’s providence continues to sustain and enliven us to answer to the mission of Francis and Magdalen in our time.

This map illustrates the places we have served over the last 80 years:

READ MORE

Related Articles