Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George ‘make merciful love of Christ visible to all’
By Reagan Scott
LINCOLN (SNR) - Formed by Mother Anselma Bopp in Thuine, Germany in 1869, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George truly have an international presence. Today they serve in communities across the world seeking to make the merciful love of Christ visible to all people, including people in the Diocese of Lincoln.
The Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George have provinces across the world, but the mother house for their American province is located in Alton, Ill. The sisters have 11 mission houses across the United States, two of which are located in Nebraska.
The sisters serve in Lincoln and Hastings, both carrying out different apostolates in their respective communities: care for clergy and education.
In all, there are five sisters serving in the Lincoln Diocese: Sister Andrea and Sister Paula serve at Bonacum House while Sister Immaculata Biskner, Sister Francesca Santacroce and Sister Christa Marie Halligan serve as teachers in Hastings Catholic Schools.
The Sisters of St. Francis have been in Lincoln since the opening of Bonacum House in 1987 at the behest of Bishop Glennon P. Flavin. A group of sisters formerly taught at Pius X High School in Lincoln, but they moved to Hastings in 1922 to teach there.
“This is a wonderful diocese! We are blessed to have so many priests who teach in the schools,” Sister Francesca said. “We have a bishop who is faithful to the Holy Father. The Catholic community here in Hastings is very faith-filled and supportive of one another.”
Though the two mission houses share different apostolates, the two groups work to ensure that the mission of their order is carried out and that they serve Bonacum House and Hastings Catholic Schools to the best of their ability.
Bonacum House currently houses 10 retired priests. Every day, Sister Andrea and Sister Paula cook meals for the men as well as wash and fold their laundry.
“We live a life of service to the priests and each other,” Sister Andrea said of her work with Sister Paula.
Bonacum House was named for Bishop Thomas Bonacum, the first Bishop of Lincoln. But the word “bonacum” also means “with goodness” and the sisters strive to do their work in that very way, with goodness.
Every morning, Sister Andrea and Sister Paula wake up as early as 4 a.m. They attend Mass celebrated by one of four priests who rotate the duty. At 7 a.m. the priests all get together to concelebrate Mass while the sisters prepare breakfast.
“We both take turns cooking and cleaning,” Sister Paula said.
The duo enjoy taking care of the retired priests in their advanced age, as well as the blessings that come along with their job.
Sister Paula said, “It’s nice to know we were with them at the end of their lives.”
Sister Andrea has also felt the effects of their work with the priests.
“It’s beautiful to accompany them in their last days, months, hours,” she said. “We get to assist them into eternity.”
The sisters aren’t the only ones who feel the effects of their work at Bonacum House, though. Father John Zastrow is the oldest priest there, having lived at Bonacum House for 16 years.
“They do a very good and kind job of supplying for our needs,” Father Zastrow said. “The sisters keep us well-fed and clean, and sometimes inspire us spiritually.”
Because the sisters and priests have worked together for so long, their relationship with each other is very close.
“We have fun and we’re very familial with each other,” Sister Andrea said.
Father Zastrow agreed.
“They’re not removed from us,” he said. “It’s good here and [Sisters Andrea and Paula] are a good part of it.”
Together, Sister Paula and Sister Andrea work to serve the priests to the best of their abilities, letting their love for Christ show through their work every day.
Sister Andrea said, “We go to bed dead tired but knowing that we’ve been around for them. Even in their old age they need a mother figure in their lives.”
Sister Paula agreed, acknowledging that, “it’s good to always be around the priests.”
Between the two, the pair has served at Bonacum House for over a decade and it is the hope of many that they will continue their loving service for years to come.
In Hastings, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George have a very different apostolate, currently serving as teachers in St. Cecilia Middle/High School, or, in Sister Francesca Santacroce’s case, the school librarian at St. Michael.
“Our sisters work in the schools and participate in activities in the parishes,” Sister Francesca said. “Teaching gives us an opportunity to bring God into all subjects.”
Mia Stec, a sophomore at St. Cecilia High School, had nothing but good things to say about the sisters and the impact that they have had on her life.
The first teacher she mentioned was Sister Christa Marie who, according to Stec, has had a huge impact on the school’s English department.
“I can say, at least for me, through [Sister Christa Marie’s] class I have become a better English writer than I was before,” Stec said.
Stec also mentioned Sister Immaculata Biskner who has been in Hastings for seven years.
“Sister Immaculata changed me in a big way as a person,” Stec said. “I used to be this person who would just be really mean and snobby but she got on my case about that and I have been changed greatly by it.”
Sister Francesca Santacroce has been in Hastings the longest, having served there for 23 years. She taught fourth graders at St. Michael School for four years before becoming the school librarian.
Sister Francesca said, “I love kids and books – so I have the perfect job!”
Stec said, “Sister Francesca is just the most loving woman I know. She is just always happy and has a smile on her face.”
No matter where they serve, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George do their best to serve the people in their communities to the best of their ability. The effects of their work have been felt across the diocese.
Sister Andrea said, “It’s a joy to be here, it really is.”