Who are the Franciscan Sisters?
The order Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception was founded in the mid-nineteenth century in the United States by Englishwoman Elizabeth Hayes, the daughter of an Anglican pastor and teacher.
Born in the Guernsey Islands, Elizabeth came from a family of Anglican clerics, teachers, and musicians. She spent some years herself as an Anglican religious sister, before converting to Catholicism under the influence of the Oxford movement and Elizabeth Lockhart. After her conversion, she joined a Franciscan community in Scotland, taking the name Sister Mary Ignatius of Jesus. But her dream was to be a missionary. In addition to vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, she made a fourth vow: to dedicate her life to the foreign missions.
For fifteen years she sought a mission in various part of the world before finally founding the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in 1873 in Minnesota, where she turned her attention to the black population of the South. At the time, they were the most underprivileged inhabitants of the United States. By the summer of 1879, a small community of nine sisters were ministering on the Isle of Hope, Diocese of Savannah, Georgia.
As well as being a teacher, Elizabeth Hayes was a successful journalist. She established a printing press and founded a popular Catholic magazine called Annals of Our Lady of the Angels, which she used to promote Franciscan spirituality wherever she went. According to her biographer, Pauline Shaw, Elizabeth saw journalism as central to her vocation.
Franciscan Sisters in Australia
The Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception came to Australia in 1930 during the Great Depression. A small group of sisters made the journey from the United States at the urging of Franciscan priest Fr Fidelis Griffin, who wanted them to staff a school in the Brisbane suburb of Kedron. The sisters opened St Anthony’s School within weeks of arrival, and opened Mount Alvernia College in 1956.
Education was the sisters’ initial focus, but in the 1970s they also began reaching out to Indigenous communities in Queensland and the Northern Territory. Today the sisters work in parishes, education offices and seminaries, and in various diocesan roles.