Companions in Franciscan Solidarity: Global Sisterhood in Action
Sisters Provide Support, Foster Friendship with Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis
In 1999, the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi celebrated 150 years of foundation in collaboration with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) and the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist (FSE). Our three congregations share the same roots of foundation.
In planning for the celebration, the leadership of the three congregations sought to include a way of being in mission together to effect systemic change. What came to be was the "Franciscan Common Venture." It developed out of the goal of the 1997 meeting of the International Franciscan Conference-Third Order Regular (IFC-TOR) which was "to companion a Franciscan congregation in a developing country."
Franciscan Common Venture is Born
Sister Marla Lang, FSPA, and Sister Anna Nyuydini of the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis (TSSF) were at this conference at the same table. Based on the small group discussions, Sister Anna approached Sister Marla to see what their two congregations could do to be companions. This provided an impetus and framework for the development of the Franciscan Common Venture in 1998.
Two Tertiary Sisters, Sisters Anna and Alphonsa Kiven, came from TSSF Province in Cameroon, West Africa, to the 150th celebration in Milwaukee in 1999 to learn more about our three U.S. congregations, and gave us all the chance to meet the visiting Sisters personally. During the years of the Franciscan Common Venture, 1998 – 2018, many wonderful experiences took place. The Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis identified areas of need and concern with which they would welcome some assistance. Many of our Sisters participated in responding. Some went to Cameroon to offer short courses, retreats or workshops, to provide leadership opportunities and renewal experiences of various kinds.
In 2005, Sister Alphonsa invited the leadership of the three USA congregations to hold one of the regular Franciscan Common Venture meetings in Cameroon. Sisters Marcia Lunz, Kathleen Hurley, and Linda Tan of our congregation attended that meeting. Several years later, Sister Florence Deacon attended a Franciscan Common Venture meeting of leadership in Cameroon. A number of Tertiary Sisters came to live with us as they pursued specialized education: Sisters Nicole Nchanji, Appolonia Budzee, Martha Yahnkar, Solange Maidayang, ̕and †Marie Therese Diang, Grants helped finance the cost involved in these experiences.
The FSPAs and FSEs were also involved in exchanges with the Tertiary Sisters. In 2018, a twentieth anniversary of the Franciscan Common Venture was scheduled to be held in Cameroon, but the political situation there was unsafe, so the evaluation meeting of the 20 years was held in Assisi in February. Sisters Diana De Bruin, Marcia Lunz, and Sylvia Anne Sheldon went from our congregation.
In Cameroon, the Sisters’ ministries almost came to a halt. There was disruption and trauma inflicted upon the English-speaking region, where the Sisters’ provincial headquarters is located.
Difficult Times Create More Need
All schools were closed and, while medical facilities remained open, some experienced violence and damage.
Learning of this, and the need for prayer, moral support and some financial help, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi anguished as to how we might work together again with the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis? The answer was that in 2019, Companions in Franciscan Solidarity came into being. Relationship-building is foremost, along with financial help as possible.
We pray daily for the Sisters in Cameroon; we send financial aid; and we listen to their stories, which touch our hearts deeply. Some Tertiary Sisters have gone to Nigeria to minister with those displaced by the war in Cameroon: persons whose homes were destroyed and whose sources of work disappeared. Schools were closed and the Tertiary Sisters experienced many difficulties in their hospitals and health care centers.
During these years, the "Companions" met via technology, to grow in relationship, hear one another’s stories, and offer support. Many other events have also taken place. Marcia Lunz, OSF, and Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA, facilitated Chapters and meetings for the Tertiary Sisters. In that capacity, they met the wider congregation of Tertiary Sisters and the seeds were planted for all the provinces of the Tertiary Sisters to be in vital relationship with the two USA congregations.
Now, the Companions in Franciscan Solidarity include TSSF Sisters from the Generalate in Rome and their four Provinces in Bolivia; Brixen, Italy; Hall, Austria; and Cameroon; OSFs in Milwaukee, and FSPAs in La Crosse. The heads of the three congregations meet periodically between the combined meetings through Zoom to strengthen the global Sisterhood and deepen the congregations' commitment.
In this process of expansion, even more than before, the thrust has been relationship, helping one another in any way possible. Because of this for the last several years, there have been connections among Justice and Peace personnel, communications staff, and fundraising representatives from each of the three congregations.
The screen shot shown here is of the Companions in Franciscan Solidarity online meeting held January 14, 2023, and includes participants from four continents. It is an incredible online experience of global connection, but even more so, an incredible participation in emerging global Sisterhood.