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Franciscan Sisters performed sacred work of farmers

This article first appeared in the Morrison County Record and is republished with permission.

By Jeff Odendahl, Guest Writer

Garden2WEBSeven miles west of Little Falls in Pike Creek Township are 160 acres of land which for years was known as the sisters’ farm. Following their founding in 1891, the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls soon had hospital patients, the elderly and orphans to feed as well as their own members. They had 80 acres on the south end of town on which they raised cows, pigs, chickens and an extensive vegetable crop. The cattle, in particular, required more forage than the 80 acres could sustainably provide. In 1896 the Kukloks, a childless couple, approached them. Joseph Kuklok was getting too old for farming, and his wife was seriously ill. In exchange for hospital and life care, the couple deeded the property to the Franciscan Sisters.

This addition allowed the cattle, and the sisters, some much needed breathing room. For many years, the cows were driven from the convent through town and down the old wagon road to the “farm” where they were kept from May through October. Leo Amyshefsky, one of the first orphans cared for by the sisters, was for many years the main “cowhand,” doing the milking and much of the work at the farm.

Postulants pictured working in the gardens in 1952.

By the fall of 1920, Sister Valeria Soenneker was assigned to handle the farm and gardens of the convent. Near the road leading to the farm house was a high hill where, shortly after they acquired the farm, the sisters erected a tall wooden cross as a reminder that this place was special—that it belonged to a group of women consecrated to the service of God and neighbor, that all labor — as long as it was done for God — was sacred. “To me,” said Sister Valeria, “this cross was very special. I used to watch for it as we approached, for it could be seen for some distance.”

The 1930s saw the addition of St. Francis High School with its boarding students and a continued increase in the number of sisters entering the community. This created a need for more and more food. Sister Boniface Maier, by this time in charge of the farm and gardens, was told to raise more chickens. She ordered and received a shipment of 400 chicks, but did not have a good brooder house for them. Instead, she stayed up nights, checking the temperature of the coal stove every hour to assure the desired warmth.

GardenWEBDuring World War II, only one hired hand was available for farm work. This left much for the sisters to do themselves. The hired man drove the truck (at that date sisters weren’t allowed to drive) and Sisters Angela Karsnia, Seraphine Stanoch and Boniface milked the cows. They rose at 3:30 a.m. to do the milking and other chores at the farm, so they could get back in time for 6:30 a.m. Mass. Because of Church Law in effect at that time, they were not allowed to eat or drink until after the Mass.

The sisters even had “pig parties” where they cut up meat and prepared it for canning, smoking and other uses. Each fall meat was butchered and sent to St. Paul to the House of Studies where there was additional freezer space. Sister Roberta Zimmer, who managed the farm operation from 1948-1959, remembered driving the old station wagon to St. Paul when it was so heavy with meat that she couldn’t see out the back window.

By the early 1960s, increased regulations related to food safety led to the sale of the cattle and the farm. For a time, the sisters continued to raise chickens, but that also soon ended. However, food from the earth continues to be important to the sisters, and they have maintained a large garden which helps to feed the sisters, and now is also a mainstay of the local high school’s Garden-to-Cafeteria program.

Jeff Odendahl is coordinator of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation for the Franciscan Sisters. He is also a Franciscan Associate.

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The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minnesota, is a community of Catholic women religious who follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ, walking in the footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi. We believe that the living of a poor, simple and prayerful community life is a ministry of presence and witness. Our doors are open to the public to celebrate Mass in Sacred Heart Chapel and to benefit from the St. Francis Music Center and St. Francis Health & Recreation Center. We welcome those who wish to join us as sisters, associates, volunteers, transfer sisters, friends and donors.

 

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