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September 1: Franciscan Sisterhood

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The grandeur of the plains is more subtle than most landscapes. It appeases the need for simplicity, filled with absences. Quiet, modest, and if one is not accustomed, lonely. However, for a faithful lover of the prairies, it holds not loneliness, but peace. This peace appealed to a group of Franciscan Sisters who made their home in Hankinson, North Dakota, in 1928.

On this date in 1926 the location for the Sister’s intended community was selected. The “motherhouse” would be a foundation in the United States where the community of Sisters could receive and train women for future service as educators, seminary leaders, and aides in hospitals and homes across the country.

The Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, although humbly nestled into the rural landscape of southeastern North Dakota, have a story that reaches across centuries and continents. The convent was the first and only North American Province of the Franciscan Sisters of Dillingen, whose story began in 1241 in Bavaria.

On one lot of land, with a cabbage patch and a meadow along the banks of the Danube, the sisters began their long history of service. Over the centuries, the Sisters combated fires, disease and military sieges, and emerged into the twentieth century facing a new challenge: coming to America.

In 1913, the Sisters were invited to Collegeville, Minnesota, by Abbot Peter Engel. The community of Benedictine monks needed help with food preparation and laundry services for St. John’s Abbey, as well as the 400 young men who attended university there. The sisters in Dillengen willingly accepted the call, sending 24 sisters across the Atlantic. The promptness was not driven so much by the needs at St. John’s as it was by the escalating tensions in Europe. The first rumblings of World War I were making travel dangerous.

By 1924, the Sisters had outgrown their home in Collegeville and felt the need for a place exclusively their own. It was decided that a centrally-located area in the Midwest would be ideal. The Reverend Joseph Studnicka of St. John’s Abbey proposed his home town of Hankinson, and the suggestion was accepted.

The Franciscan Sisterhood in Hankinson is still active today. They’re even on Facebook.

Dakota Datebook by Maria Witham

“Hankinson ND Centennial”, Hankinson Centennial Committee, 1985
Stutsman County Democrat, September 2nd, 1926
Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Obituaries of Sisiter 1916-1996, North Dakota State Archives

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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