This article first appeared in the Morrison County Record and is republished with permission.
People who come to the Franciscan Sisters’ campus for yoga class or massage are directed to Hurrle Hall, the original building where just about every Franciscan ministry and program began — 20 in all. This stately, brick building constructed in 1891 was the first convent, housing the sisters and “some 15 old folks, 35 orphans and a hospital wing that cared for an average of 35 patients.”
The public knows it as Hurrle Hall, but it wasn’t called that until July 12, 1978, when it was renamed after Sister Teresa Hurrle, who came to the convent as a young girl in the summer of 1894 and became a nurse.
She was the first mother superior of the new St. Gabriel’s Hospital when it opened in 1916 and served as mother general for 15 years. She was famous for saying, “Do the best you can and leave the rest to God.”
Her vision led to the construction of a separate building for St. Francis High School which was finished in 1931, complete with a swimming pool.
Bishop Otto Zardetti of the newly-formed St. Cloud Diocese helped the sisters establish themselves as a religious community. When they first moved from Belle Prairie, they stayed briefly with two Little Falls families. But it was the kindness of Major Ashley C. Morrill and his donation of a five-acre plot of land that really gave the Franciscans their start. The townspeople welcomed and supported the sisters.
Feeling the need to be close to the construction site, the sisters moved into a slab shanty built with materials donated by the local lumber company. This rough building served as a shelter for the sisters and a number of orphan children while the three-story brick structure was underway. Bishop Zardetti was not above visiting the sisters while they lived in the “shanty.” On at least one occasion he had a meal with the sisters, and the little butter they had on hand was served to him.
The sisters began responding to the needs of the people immediately, accepting an elderly man into the unfinished building as early as December 1891. Their ministries grew quickly, most notable their care of orphans.
In August 1893, a train arrived in Little Falls bringing 33 orphan children. In 1895, arrangements were made to build a separate orphanage. The new St. Otto’s Orphanage sheltered up to 135 children under the care of 12 sisters. The girls occupied the north side of the building and the boys the south side, but all met in the four school rooms.
The people of Little Falls were disappointed when the bishop moved the orphans to St. Cloud in 1924. While the ministry ended in Little Falls, many sisters would continue caring for orphans at the St. Cloud Children’s Home.
By the mid-1930s, the major ministries — orphanage, hospital, nursing home, high school — all had separate buildings and Hurrle Hall was primarily used for the novitiate and living quarters for sisters and nursing students. Later it was home to Wholistic Growth Resources, the Spiritual Center and the original Morrison County Food Shelf.
Today, Hurrle Hall still serves as a residence for sisters and holds the distinction of being the birthplace of the Franciscan Sisters, their mission and the many ministries they started.
Julene Ley is the archivist for the Franciscan Sisters.