JOLIET – One by one, 120 members of the century-and-a-half-year-old Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate filled the Cathedral of St. Raymond’s last remaining empty pews Sunday.
Sunday afternoon’s Mass was celebrated to commemorate the Joliet-based order’s 150th anniversary – and its lasting legacy within the city of Joliet, the church and the rest of the world.
“[These are women] who get up every day and recognize that their life is for Christ, that they live for the kingdom of God,” Joliet Bishop Daniel Conlon’s voice echoed through the expansive cathedral. “They faithfully responded to God’s calling.”
The order was founded Aug. 2, 1865 – when the city of Joliet was only 11 years old.
Over the last century-and-a-half, the Joliet-based order held influence over the creation of much of Joliet’s institutions, having founded the University of St. Francis, the Guardian Angel Home, Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home, the Franciscan Learning Center and St. Francis Academy, which later merged to become Joliet Catholic Academy.
Sister Mary Frances Seeley was among those in attendance Sunday.
“Celebrating Mass in particular on this day, celebrates those who went before us, the present sisters, and the future sisters,” Seeley said. “We are all joined together.”
Seeley said the Joliet-based order epitomizes the meaning of “Ite, Missa est,” the often-heard farewell words for Mass services, which means “Go forth, the Mass is ended.”
“It carries the sense of mission,” Seeley said. “It’s the faithfulness of the sisters. Go where you are sent, go where there is a need.”
The Sisters certainly went where they were needed in the last 150 years in Joliet, said Dolores Zemont, president of the Joliet order. Zemont spoke extensively during the Mass of the group’s history and accomplishments.
In addition to the educational facilities the order started, the order created The Upper Room Crisis Hotline, the Groundwork Domestic Violence Program and the Center for Correctional Concerns, which provides education to Will County Jail inmates, she said.
There are nearly 160 sisters in the order today, many of whom are in Joliet or the U.S. More than half of the 17 who work in Brazil were in attendance Sunday.
Sister Margaret Guider, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate since 1980, said she now teaches at Boston University. Sunday’s celebration was an “opportunity for jubilee” for all that the Joliet order has done for the community.
“It’s all about mission and keeping that mission at the center of one’s life,” Guider said.
Zemont said the Joliet Franciscans are “alive with well.”
“Our spirit is strong,” she said. “We get up each morning trying to live our vocation with hope, hope in the Lord, hope for the future of religious life, and hope for the people of God, trying to faithfully answer the call of Jesus.”