By Jeff Odendahl, Guest Writer
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.
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.