by Sister Jan Kilian
"My Life as a Franciscan Sister?" In a page or so? You’ve got to be kidding! I’ve been at this for 53 years now. Where do I start?
I’ll start with the "Sister" part, beginning on November 27, 1957. That was the day my 57 year old father died. Dad, George Kilian, a farmer in St. Augusta, Minnesota, came home from his creamery route mid day on the day after Thanksgiving, having just collected the large milk cans of fresh milk from neighboring farmers and delivered the milk to the creamery. Mom said Dad came into the house with chest pain, collapsed and died while she was on the phone for the doctor. Just like that. Dad was gone and Mom was alone on the farm.
I had last seen my father on a visit home after my first profession of vows that August. I can still see him running from the farmhouse, arms scooping me up and saying, "Who’s this nun!?" I had just completed several months as a candidate and two more or less cloistered years as a Franciscan novice. We didn’t leave the convent grounds during my formation years. So this was my first time home in almost three years. I was no longer the school girl my family bid farewell in 1955, but rather a young woman who had just made vows to "live poverty, chastity and obedience according to the Constitutions of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls." Dad couldn’t have been more proud. He walked me around the farm pointing out his beautiful grain fields and making sure I was really happy in the convent. He and Mom invited relatives and neighbors for an afternoon to celebrate my homecoming. My brothers and sisters couldn’t talk fast enough for me to catch up on their lives.
Our lives are different now. Today our Novices take time out from fully active lives to study and reflect, but they are not isolated from family as we were. We were so separated that I had not been to a funeral in three years. I was not prepared for how my Franciscan Sisters would respond to the death of my father.
My father’s wake was held in St. Cloud, a town which is only 30 miles from our Motherhouse in Little Falls, and back then was well populated with Sisters who taught in schools and worked at the St. Cloud Childrens’ Home. There are no words to describe the bonding that took place between me and these women at the time of my father’s death. I was held in the arms of dozens of Sisters at the wake and of many more before, during and after the funeral. I knew our Sisters to be women of compassion, but I did not know they made such efforts to be there for each other at the time of a family member’s death. I could not have dreamed how significant it would be for me to have them comfort me and my family. This experience sealed my awareness that I was definitely one of their own and that they would be there for me whenever I needed them.
The depth of this support has continued to grow all during my Franciscan life. When I am ill, or when I have something to celebrate; when it’s just an ordinary day, I am supported and strengthened by women who are sister, mother, friend for life. I was reminded of this last night when Sister Paula and I drove two hours to attend the wake for Sister Cordy’s brother, Jerry Korkowski. Sister Clara traveled further to lead the wake service and Sister Jean even further to lead the music. Dozens of Sisters showed up to sing a blessing over Cordy and her family. Today Sister Carol made the same trip for the funeral. Be there for each other. This is what Sisters do.
Written by Sister Jan Kilian, this blog will give an understanding of what it’s like to be Franciscan. Living out the spirit of Saint Francis, we see all God’s creation as brother and sister. We, Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, are committed to building relationships and community, ministering wherever there is greatest need, promoting justice and healing Mother Earth’s wounds. My writings will give a glimpse of the compassion, spirituality, interconnectedness and goodness of living Franciscan.