On the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1851, Mother Theresa Hackelmeier, the foundress of the Sisters of St. Francis, arrived in Oldenburg from Austria. Fr. Francis Joseph Rudolf, the parish priest, was eager to have German-speaking Sisters to teach his German immigrant parishioners. He was expecting at least two Sisters, but Mother Theresa arrived alone. Her Sister companion had never left Europe. Thus began the courageous history of the Oldenburg Franciscans. Before long, the Sisters were teaching children and educating future teachers. These were the humble beginnings of what later became Marian University.
Through the sponsorship values of the Sisters of St. Francis, Marian University has embraced the vision, which continues to grow and flourish. The good news of God’s love is being shared in countless ways and lives of faith are consistently being nurtured.
When Pope Francis called for a Year of Consecrated Life in 2015, he declared that the year would have three major aims. I believe these three aims have also been important in the 166th anniversary celebration of the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg. The first aim was to look to the past with gratitude; the second aim was to live the present with passion; and the third aim was to embrace the future with hope.
In order to embrace the future with hope, we acknowledge the aging of our Sisters. So, in the spirit of proactivity which we have always practiced, we have determined that now is the time to pursue changes in our sponsorship model for Marian University.
Therefore, we are proposing the creation of a Marian University Franciscan Society in the form of a public juridic person (a Catholic canon law term similar to the incorporation of a business). Under this model, the Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, Indiana would be represented by a small group of individuals (seven to 10), some of whom would be our Sisters. This group would take over the responsibility of ensuring Marian University’s Franciscan identity and values, as well as its Catholicity and tax exempt status.
Chosen for their knowledge and expertise, the members will serve terms of office and be eligible for successive terms (rather than a council that must completely change every six years) and participate in an extensive formation process including the history of the Sisters, Marian University, Franciscanism, Catholicism, and Catholic higher education.
This process may take several years, but when the Marian Franciscan Society is completely operational, little difference will be noticeable. Marian University will not be losing the Oldenburg Franciscans as founders, supporters, alumni, or as a powerhouse of prayer. We are confident that Marian University will continue to grow in its mission to uphold and promote our sponsorship values.
As members of the Marian University community, you can help us celebrate by living the three aims in your own lives. Live our Franciscan values in the present with energy and passion, helping to transform our world. And, embrace the future God has in store for you and for Marian University with boundless hope based on our faith in a loving God.
Let us continue to pray for one another.