Logo and History
The Tau (cross) is the signature style used by St. Francis of Assisi. One source where it appears is on his letter to his friar and friend, Brother Leo. The circular Franciscan cord, part of our former habit and now on our official pin, has three knots signifying our three vows.
FOUNDRESS AND EARLY HISTORY
Demonstrating her courage to venture, on the feast of the Epiphany, 1851, 24-year-old S. Theresa Hackelmeier arrived at a log cabin in Oldenburg, Indiana. She had ignored the social conventions of her day in order to travel alone from her convent in Vienna, Austria, when her companion turned back. She came by way of ship to New York and then by the Erie Canal and Ohio River until she reached Lawrenceburg and was met by horse and buggy to be taken to Oldenburg. In response to the request of Fr. Francis Joseph Rudolf, missionary pastor of Holy Family Church in Oldenburg, she had come to found an American religious congregation at Oldenburg that would teach the German-speaking children and care for the children orphaned by the 1847 cholera epidemic of southeastern Indiana. S. Theresa, soon to be called Mother Theresa, was joined at Oldenburg by three women. One of them was later destined to become Mother Michaela. In June Theresa Dreer, later Mother Antonia, arrived.
Thus the Congregation, Sisters of St. Francis, was founded. So it came to be that the little log cabin at the foot of the hill became the cradle of the pioneer Sisterhood of the Middle West. By early the next year these five women had established a boarding school of six students and a village school for twenty.
Community-supported schools had been legislated in Indiana only five years before and Oldenburg, as a Catholic community, lent its support to its parochial village school. The Oldenburg Sisters were soon being asked to help establish and staff schools in neighboring Indiana towns. The log cabin convent at Oldenburg had been replaced by a building of stone in late 1852 and though it had few comforts over and above the log cabin, it was two stories high and contained more room. Thus it became a Motherhouse from which the Sisters traveled throughout southern Indiana to do the work of education, returning each summer for further training and spiritual retreat.
Mother Theresa Hackelmeier died in 1860, after nine short years in this country. By that time, the Oldenburg Sisters had reached beyond Indiana to establish Holy Trinity School in St. Louis. They had also met the challenges of rebuilding their facilities at Oldenburg, after a devastating fire in 1857. In the years following, the Franciscan Sisters accepted requests to establish schools in Kentucky (1861), Cincinnati (1876) and other Ohio locations, as w ell as Illinois and Kansas (1890s).
Under the leadership of Mother Olivia Brockman, from 1884 to 1920, the Sisters continued to be pioneers in the field of education. From the 1850's, the Sisters had qualified for teaching by passing the state's education examination. In 1910, their own school of teacher education, St. Francis Normal, was accredited by the Indiana State Board of Education. As early as 1911, the Oldenburg community sent its Sisters to Marquette and other Catholic colleges for academic degrees. By 1909, the community offered a two-year business course for women entering the new professional job market.
The Sisters of St. Francis have always from the beginning maintained a responsive engagement with the social conditions of the time. In 1892, the Sisters opened St. Ann's, the only school for African-American children in the then segregated city of Indianapolis, Indiana. It has since been succeeded by St. Rita's and was the first of many African-American schools our Sisters staffed. In 1898 they again accepted the care of orphans, this time from New York's overcrowded Foundling Hospital.
In the 1900s foreign and home missions were founded in New Mexico, China and Mexico. Ministry with Crow Indians was begun in 1935 and for 30 years the Sisters served with no financial remuneration. In the 1970's ministry with the northern Cheyenne Indians in Montana was begun and in the 1990's with the Navajo in New Mexico. In 1960 the Sisters accepted an invitation to begin ministry in Papua New Guinea, and in 1996 in Korea.
St. Francis Normal became a four-year, state approved institution, which became Marian College. In 1937, Mother Clarissa Dillhoff, who had led the community since 1926, took the "preposterous step" to move Marian College from Oldenburg to the site of the former Allison estate in Indianapolis. This venture was undertaken to provide college education for lay women. Accredited by the Indiana State Department of Education in 1944, Marian became the state's first Catholic co-educational college in 1954 and continues today as a university with strong professional programs and the addition of a new osteopathic medical school as of 2013.
Throughout a century and a half, in the spirit of the young Mother Theresa Hackelmeier, the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis have continued to venture courageously from Oldenburg to carry out the Catholic Church's vital mission to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.