How the Sisters of St. Francis Community, Their Charism, History of Service, and Continual Presence Inspire Me as President of Marian University

by Daniel J. Elsener, President | Jun 02, 2017

Sister of St. Francis, Oldenburg, Indiana

Since my very beginning years of service to Marian University, the Sisters, both individually and as a community, have remained a great source of inspiration in my daily work. The source of this inspiration comes first of all in their personality of service—the selflessness in service to others that flows from our Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, Indiana. The mission of Marian University to educate leaders began as far back as the late 1800s and was inspired by the Sisters’ idea that the first commitment of the best leaders should be to the people they serve and not themselves. This sense of good stewardship and service to others is a foundation Christian notion, one that we saw in Jesus and one that is certainly enlivened in St. Francis and St. Clare. Through the Christian inspiration of these Saints, the Sisters came to this underdeveloped country in 1851 and began to offer tremendous service to humanity, which has made dramatic difference in the world.

I am also inspired with the Sisters’ service because it has been so entrepreneurial—bold and courageous. What many people believed to be impossible for a young Theresa Hackelmeier in a highly undeveloped country with many challenges, she and her community accomplished. The need for orphanages and education and basic services to humanity was great in 1851 in Indiana, especially in the areas surrounding Oldenburg. Without resources, corporate structure, or wealth, Mother Theresa Hackelmeier moved forward with what we often call “the courage to venture.” She did this through great personal sacrifice and hard work, but also a great deal of strategy. Mother Theresa Hackelmeier and the other Sisters knew that it was through education, not only of the intellect, but the skills, spirit, and character of the human person, that great things could be accomplished, whether it be in education, enterprise, church work, or healthcare. This strategic priority to develop smart, skilled, healthy, and trustworthy leaders for service to humanity is a vision that we continue today. The spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation in this service is also alive today and has certainly been inspired by the Sisters.

Finally, the greatest inspiration the Sisters provide me and the rest of the Marian University community is their loyalty. The Sisters have never been self-interested in their service to Marian University. It’s always been other-centered, courageous, innovative, and a reflection of God’s love for the people they serve through the example of Jesus, St. Francis, and St. Clare. This consistency in being prayerful about the values of dignity of the individual, peace and justice, reconciliation, and responsible stewardship continues today at Marian University.

Yes, the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, Indiana inspire me in my service to Marian University as president, but what I always find most edifying is how so many colleagues in the Marian University community strive fervently and with great creativity to keep the Sisters’ spirit alive. Enlivening the inspiration of the gospel through the work of a religious community like the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg is a profound message, which inspires all of us to not only keep it alive, but also to project it even further in new and exciting ways. This projecting forward happens with each new class, sports team, initiative, building, and invitation to others to be generous and invest, and that invitation is always met with a generous response.

It inspires me and the members of the Marian University community that the vision of the Sisters that began many years ago when they came to this country is still so very relevant to the needs of humanity today and is vigorously lived out by the Marian University community. It’s motivating to know that certain things are timeless. The Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, their charism, their service to humanity, their commitment to education, and their love of people are timeless, inspiring, and ever-present here in the Marian University community and in my service as president. Through the intercession of Saints Francis and Clare and our patroness, Mary the Mother of God, I pray that the Sisters’ example always remains and flourishes in the Marian University community and throughout the world.

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