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.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


by Sister Michelle L’Allier

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m especially mindful of the precious gift of life. Earlier this month I was in Ecuador and Nicaragua as the liaison to our South and Central American region. We had our fall regional meeting in Duran, Ecuador, and received new Associates there as well as in Managua, Nicaragua.

In addition to enjoying the beauty of Sisters and Associates gathered together, we shared our individual and collective journeys of faith. I was inspired by the diverse expressions of a common heart that I saw reflected through the witness of each person’s life. Though it was eleven years ago that Sister Carmen Barsody and I returned to the U.S. from our community’s mission in Nicaragua, it felt like I had never left. In our visits to Ecuador and Nicaragua we could see the fruit of many seeds sown over the years as we celebrated and cried with the joys and sorrows of dear friends and companions drawn to live in the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare.

Among those we visited were Juan and his wife Norma who have worked with us over the years in receiving delegations from the States, serving with hospitality, translation and transportation. Juan was very ill with cancer when we arrived, and we spent time with him and Norma often during our week there. On our last evening in Managua we went with a group of neighbors and Associates to visit Juan and his family in their home. We blessed him with a Tau cross,
with song and with our goodbyes. By the time we arrived home in the United States, Juan had died. Upon hearing the news, I wept with gratitude and grief.

Life is indeed precious, and I am grateful that our long-planned visit back to Nicaragua gave us an opportunity to be with Juan and his family during this difficult time. As I re-enter life in Minnesota, I have a renewed awareness of the blessing of relationships with community, family, friends, and coworkers. As Saints Francis and Clare did in their time, so today I celebrate connections that span time and space, giving thanks for the gift of kinship in our broader human and creation family.

Let us give thanks!

Friday, November 21, 2008


by Sister Carmen Barsody

At Faithful Fools we make an annual 7-day retreat on the streets of the Tenderloin. From October 18th to 25th, we retreated in the streets with 9 other people, while others kept vigil through meditation at Faithful Fools in San Francisco. As part of our preparation we write a letter to family and friends, a circle of people whose encouragement, solidarity, prayers and generosity walk with us through the week.

This past July I was given the unimaginable gift of participating in a study pilgrimage in Assisi, Italy, the birthplace of Saints Francis and Clare. As I walked through the streets, churches and shrines, as lectures were given and time for prayer and reflection were integrated into each place, I would pay attention to what most resonated with my own heart. Where did I feel the life within me leap at the meeting of the spirits of Francis and Clare and their intentional ways of being in the world? Their commitments and lives were in response to what they were witnessing around them. It too is my commitment.

I am challenged and encouraged by the lives of Francis and Clare, and many others through the ages who knew as Ghandi did that, “we must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Each of them paid attention to what was going on in their city or town, and in the world, seeing wars based in religious beliefs; growing economic disparity for the majority of citizens; abuse of power by government, civic and religious leaders; lepers of the community considered dead and sent outside the city to live; etc.

It appears that times aren’t so different. The retreat in the streets is a time to look into the mirror of the world where I live and polish the mirror of my own heart, as well as strengthen and clarify our work as Faithful Fools and Franciscan Sisters. It is a focused time of allowing knowledge and sight to enter us from the ground (literally), up through our heart and into our conscious mind so as to be transformed into action. It is a form of fasting, fasting from that which fills us, confuses and distracts us other days of the year. I used the journal I used while on pilgrimage in Assisi, as it is one continuous pilgrimage of the heart.

I set out on the 7-day street retreat with my heart filled with the prayer intentions people had given me to walk with through the week. I prayed for… sisters who were not speaking to each other; for a man in serious condition after an accident; for someone’s sister with a serious heart condition; for vocations to our community; for a cousin who is battling cancer; for a husband, friend and cousin; for well being through eye surgery; for the unemployed who are feeling discouraged and desperate; for a young woman and her son who are in a difficult living situation; for a sale of a house; for good health; for a sister in-law who was dying of cancer; for people who suffer from mental illness; for a young man who had a court date for parole; for a whole family whose picture I carried with me. One friend sent a song she had written, “Be thou my feet and guide my walking. Be thou my eyes that I might see. Open my heart. Give me compassion. Hear my cry and answer me.” This song became the song we sang daily as we gathered for reflection.
It is a retreat. As the week goes the subtle inner shifting of our bodies and minds feels glacier-like. The heart enlarges with gratitude for all the generosity we experience. A Cambodian woman offered us each a sandwich and wanted us to know that Jesus loves us. On Tuesday nights a restaurant owner serves “Curry Without Worry” for “all hungry souls” in the plaza. He fasts through the day and cooks the meal. As volunteers serve the food, he moves through the plaza with an instrument, lifting hearts with music. After all are served he then serves the volunteers. After everyone has been fed, he eats. Housed and un-housed form the line, for in reality we are all hungry souls.

We were grateful once again for the institutions whose mission is to feed hot meals to thousands of people each day in their dining rooms and soup kitchens. The heart gets an extra jab when we see children eating their breakfast in a soup kitchen before school, or people in wheelchairs moving through the line, as well as youth and elders and all of us in-between. At the same time we experience once again what it is to be at the bottom where what reaches us are the old and dry pastries, bruised and spoiling fruit, processed foods and innumerable carbohydrates and sugar that fill up but don’t actually nourish.

As we sought a place to sleep we’d join the many others who would sign up for a shelter and then be told to sit in a chair and wait, forced to sit in front of a 6 foot blaring television. After four or five hours of sitting hopeful that a bed would be available someplace, we’d be told at 11:30 p.m. that there were no beds to be had and thus sent out into the street to begin looking for cardboard and search for a place to sleep on a concrete sidewalk or in a doorway. What surprised me the most was that no one seemed to make a special effort to find shelter for 75 or 80 year old women or people in wheelchairs who were missing limbs. One woman with a walker did get a bed in a shelter 2 miles away, but the van that takes people to shelters was not going to come that night. If she wanted it she had to get there on her own. She didn’t. She fell asleep in the chair and stayed there til they closed.

As the week went on our daily reflections deepened. The song, “Be Thou My Feet”, as well as our Mantra, “What holds me separate? What keeps me separated? As I walk the streets, what still connects me?” grew stronger. We all grew stronger in our commitment to bear witness to the joys and suffering in the universe and to bear what we witness, even though we might feel tired at times. The elders, children, physically challenged and just plain human beings living inhumane realities increased our longing to be the change we wish to see in the world.

We closed the retreat with the commitment to keep walking in ways that will keep us awake to human suffering and social injustice. It is an every day commitment. Some of us closed the retreat knowing that we will set out once again during Holy Week. I close this reflection with an invitation…Come walk the streets with us, or walk the streets wherever you are. Let your heart be opened to all there is for us to notice, within ourselves and around us. Together we will “discover on the street our common humanity.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

HEALING Mother Earth's wounds

by Sister Carolyn Law

One of our concerns as Franciscan Sisters is the state of the earth. Our commitment statement says that we work toward healing Mother Earth’s wounds. Practically ever day carries some news about global warming and efforts to reverse green house gasses.

Lately, I have begun taking a plastic bag with me on my almost daily walks. I then pick up what recyclable cans and bottles are on my path. Plastic bottles seem most abundant, beer cans are second and pop and juice cans come in third. I wonder about those who so carelessly discard so much garbage. We all need to live more consciously in relationship to dear Mother Earth.

Did you know that you can reduce your carbon footprint by recycling? Recycling one soda or beer can saves enough electricity to power your computer for four hours. I wonder how many bags I would need to collect to balance my carbon output to zero? I am sure I have a long ways to go. I try to keep extra lights off and power down my computer when I am not using them. Fortunately, since I live in a big city I can often use public transportation or walk for many errands. I live 3 blocks from the grocery store and 10 blocks from the parish.

Still, I know that I burn plenty of fossil fuels when I do drive, albeit in a hybrid car, and when I travel by air. Living near Lake Michigan I can get by without an air conditioner but my comfortably sized apartment also puts me in the hole for the heat it takes.

After reducing, reusing, and recycling the best that I can, I purchase carbon offsets to keep my part of carbon output neutral. Will you consider doing the same?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

ETERNITY in an hour

by Sister Jan Kilian

I experienced William Blake’s poem as my life flashed before my eyes when I received a ‘death sentence’ on October 1st.

"To see the world in a grain of sand
and to see heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hands,
and eternity in an hour."
The nuclear scan of my painful rib shows an area of possible bone metastases from previous breast cancer. Like Emily Dickinson:
"I felt a cleavage in my mind
As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
But could not make them fit.
The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before,
But sequence raveled out of reach
Like balls upon a floor."

A door is closing in my face. My years are shortly numbered. The thought of dying from cancer is ominous; how will I handle the pain? I remember others who have gone through that agony: my aunt Marie, some Franciscan sisters – Cyrene, Ann, Rita and Johnelle. They made the journey gracefully, so, so can I, I say to myself. One step at a time. I know I’m in good hands, etc. etc. Although I mean these words, they don’t keep the lid on my anxiety.

My largest grief is for Clare’s Well, and for my family and friends! I can hardly bear to see the pain and concern in Carol and Paula’s faces. We haven’t fully healed from Aggie’s death less than a year ago. How can they bear this? And who will share their work load? I am more concerned about this than I am about my own future, because I can count on community to care for me. My personal care is more obvious than is staffing at Clare’s Well.

Each morning, Carol, Paula and I share prayer and whatever else is on our minds. I have an x-ray report, not a final diagnosis, they remind me. An upcoming biopsy could be benign. These compassionate women help me to think positively. They pray for me.

Ten days later, on October 10th, Carol accompanied me to receive my biopsy report: no evidence of malignancy, only rib damage from some forgotten fall! I am shedding tears of gratitude both for the good news and for Carol’s companionship: someone to experience this huge relief with me.

That night I awoke too excited to sleep. I have my life back with a healthy body, a future, Clare’s Well community, and a greatly enhanced enthusiasm for all of the above. An inner door has broken open with blinders of over-familiarity and taking-life-for-granted stripped away. I see what I value, and I don’t have to leave just yet.

This was not a totally terrible experience, not that I’d ask to go through it again. Pain and facing death do teach lessons not available in any other school.

If I am allowed to know I am dying when my days end, I now believe I will be able to go forward with greater grace, trusting death as a normal part of life. These ten days were a rehearsal. I passed the preliminary exam without crashing. I feel encouraged that I will be able to pass the final test.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


by Sister Jean Schwieters

As we near the end of another year our attention begins to focus on what we have accomplished, what we have gained and where we stand at its conclusion. Much of our reflection rests on material possessions, perhaps because their tangibility bring us a sense of well being and pride. We tell ourselves that so much is due to our own hard work and commitments. As we gather with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day to acknowledge our blessings we know in our hearts that we, alone, cannot take all the credit.

For Francis of Assisi THANKSGIVING was more than an annual event. It was a way of life. No amount of material possessions could add to his deep awareness that all he had was given to him. All that he had become rested on his ability to let go. On the day he stripped himself of his elegant robes in the piazza near the front of the Bishop’s residence he gave public witness to an emerging belief that it was not riches that created or gave importance to a person. This was a radical declaration that not even Francis comprehended. Over years of observing the madness that drove his father to accumulate more and more he knew in his heart that material wealth was not the answer to what he was looking for. As of yet, his heart did not grasp what it was that would fill the void he felt inside. Over time he would grapple with the paradox that wouldn’t let go… the struggle between self-emptying and fulfillment.

It was not a practice of Francis to praise and thank God only for what many would perceive to be gifts and blessings. He readily acknowledged God’s goodness in every aspect of life - trials and sufferings included. He saw the possibility for conversion and growth in his relationship with God in every event in his life. For Francis it was God who gave him life. For Francis it was God who called him to a new way of living. For Francis it was God who taught him the values found in the Gospel and in the lives of the poor. It was God who invited him into the circle of Creation where he learned the true meaning of brotherhood and sisterhood. God truly became his ALL. And his response was a never-ending Thanksgiving and Praise, the prayer formula that shaped his entire life.