Following in the Footsteps
In August 2015, six Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother from Italy, Tanzania, Grenada and St. Lucia gathered with other Sisters from the US at Franciscan Courts in Oshkosh to begin a 14-day journey through Wisconsin and Minnesota, retracing the footsteps of Mother Frances and others who established the first Ministry Health Care hospitals more than 125 years ago.
Over the course of the next two weeks the group had an opportunity to visit a number of sites where the Sisters began their healthcare ministry in Wisconsin to learn more about the founding and history of the congregation in Wisconsin.
The first days focused on meeting together to celebrate and learn together and featured presentations that focused on moving from the center to the margins of grace. By the middle of the first week the group was on the road making stops at Agape Community Center in Milwaukee, Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital in Weston, Ministry Sacred Heart Hospital in Tomahawk and Ministry Saint Mary’s Hospital in Rhinelander. The Sisters took part in the dedication of a healing garden in Tomahawk and also had an opportunity to learn more about the history of the Northwoods with stops at the historical society museum in Tomahawk and the Rhinelander Logging Museum. The group also participated in a morning Mass and a special luncheon at Ministry Saint Mary’s Hospital before returning to Oshkosh for the weekend.
During the weekend, the group had an opportunity to experience a true Wisconsin "fish fry" and visit the Oshkosh Farmers Market before heading over to Trinity Episcopal Church to serve lunch at their Loaves and Fishes program. On Saturday afternoon, the Sisters visited Mercy Medical Center, one of the earliest hospitals founded by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother.
On Monday, the group was on the road again heading west to Marshfield and Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital, the first hospital founded by the Sisters, in 1890. That morning, they celebrated a special Mass at Saint John’s Parish to commemorate the founding of the hospital 125 years ago. The Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan, Bishop of the LaCrosse Diocese, led the celebration, which was followed by a special luncheon at the hospital. In the afternoon, the Sisters and Bishop Callahan toured the hospital with a special stop in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Later in the afternoon, there was a special memorial service in Holy Angels Cemetery to remember all of the Sisters who had served at the hospital in years past. Following the service, the group was joined by members of the hospital leadership team to serve dinner to a group of about 75 at St. Vincent de Paul in Marshfield.
The group was up early the following morning to head further west to Wabasha, Minnesota, to visit Saint Elizabeth’s Medical Center. Along the way, the group first toured the National Eagle Center and had an opportunity to cruise along the Mississippi River and hear stories about river life from Kenny Solway, who is known as the Last River Rat. Mr. Solway delighted the group with stories about life along the Mississippi and days gone by. That evening, the group was feted at a carry-in picnic dinner at the hospital.
The next morning, the group met for Mass in the hospital chapel and then toured Saint Elizabeth’s before being treated to another special luncheon. By early afternoon, the group was back on the bus and headed to Oshkosh.
The final days were marked by moments of discussion and reflection at Franciscan Courts in Oshkosh before all said farewell and headed back to their respective communities around the world. These six young women will continue to carry on the ministry of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother and all have a better understanding of what Mother Frances accomplished when she responded to God’s call to come to the United States so many years ago to establish a healthcare ministry.
Published November 2015