On August 11, 2019, Feast of St. Clare, Sr. Francis Therese Woznicki, SSJ-TOSF died. Her death came as a surprise but clearly her passing was a quiet “escape” from this world. She quietly slipped over life’s horizon into the realm where St. Clare—and so many countless women who had gone before in Franciscan faith—were awaiting her arrival.
At the very dawn of the Franciscan Federation’s existence, Sr. Francis Therese played a crucial role. She accompanied the superior of her own congregation (Mother Benjamin, SSJ-TOSF) to the first organizational meeting in Millvale, Pa. in 1965. Soon a conference of sixty Franciscan sisters met with friar-scholars to learn the latest research on Franciscan life. Federation leaders wanted to commission a Spiritual Document that would contain needed wisdom and guidance for Franciscan initial and on-going formation in the wake of Pope Paul VI’s invitation to become immersed in the charism of our founders. When the commission was formed, Sr. Francis Therese was freed to do full time work with Sr. Ronald Walter, OSF of Millvale.
The actual writing was preceded by a national survey. The new Franciscan scholarship that was just making an appearance in the USA would play a role as would recent theological studies being pursued by North American religious women. (Sr. Francis Therese was a recent graduate of Regina Mundi in Rome.) Working with a committee of seven Federation member congregations. In the end, it was the writing gift of Francis Therese that wove the various stands into a coherent and inspiring declaration.
The work that created Go To My Brethren was a first step among American Franciscans toward finding and appropriating an authentic Third Order Regular identity. While reading that document today reveals many word choices and concepts that have since been replaced with more nuanced understandings or contemporary consciousness, the fact is that the depth and richness of what was created by that first generation of founding sisters is astounding. The discovery of the roots of a penitential tradition, the importance of peace-seeking and peace-making, the weaving of a renewing concept of religious life and the wisdom of centuries of Franciscan spirituality—all are to be found in its pages. For several years, this document fed the hunger of Franciscan women to know and to claim their rightful place in the Franciscan order/s. In time, new initiatives succeeded this one. The “Madrid Document” whose advocates were Sr. Rose Margaret Delaney, FSP and Thaddeus Horgan, SA, was to bring both male and female members of the Third Order Regular into a shared venture of deepening our foundations. Finally, the Rule of 1982 drew from these preceding works to become the international basis for a deeper unity of spirit and mission for all. It was in commitment to the authentic transmission needed for a new rule, that the Federation recognized the urgent need to become what it is now—a unique organization of women and men following the same Rule and Life together.
As we say farewell to Sr. Francis Therese, we pause to consider the blessed history that has carried us forward to this moment in the life and work of the Federation. As she herself said of her experience: May God be praised in, and through it all.
Margaret Carney OSF
September 4, 2019/ Feast of St. Rose of Viterbo