Today marks the founding of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia in 1855. It started with Maria Anna Boll Bachmann (seen here), a German immigrant whose husband was killed during an anti-Catholic riot in Philadelphia. To support her family, she ran a shop and a hostel for immigrant women, while her sister Barbara worked as a seamstress. Both Anna and one of her boarders, Anna Dorn, a Third Order Franciscan, agreed with Barbara’s wish to found a religious congregation. They sought the advice of Father John Hespelein, a Redemptorist who wrote to the local Bishop, St. John Neumann, who instructed the women, gave spiritual guidance, and accepted them into religious life. On Easter Monday, April 9, 1855, he invested the three founding members in the habit of St. Francis. Anna Maria became Sister Mary Francis, Barbara became Sister Margaret, and Anna became Sister Bernardine. Sister Mary Francis was elected leader of the new congregation, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.
Mother Mary Francis once wrote: “As long as God does not stop giving to us, we shall not stop giving to the poor.” They ran hostels and orphanages, nursed the sick, and taught school. In December 1860, they opened St. Mary’s Hospital in Philadelphia. By the turn of the century, there were nearly 800 sisters serving in 88 missions in 19 dioceses from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Their ministries included 12 hospitals, nine missions to Native American peoples, six academies, seven orphanages, two homes for the aged, four African-American missions, and many elementary and secondary schools. Throughout their history the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia have been dedicated to serve directly and indirectly those who are poor. In the Mission Statement of 1986, they reaffirmed their commitment to minister to those who are poor, marginal, and oppressed. In 1996, they recommitted themselves to be “willing to take the necessary risks to be a healing, compassionate presence in our violent world, especially with women, children, and those who have no voice.”