The first Felician Sisters arrived in North America in 1874 who, in the face of daunting obstacles and often harsh conditions, pioneered a Felician legacy of compassionate service and care that has not only endured but has flourished here in North America.
We have never left the frontiers of need.”
Our community, formally known as the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Felix of Cantalice, was founded 159 years ago in Poland by Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska. The Felician mission and charism, first forged at our founding in 1855, were carried to the North American frontier with our arrival here in the late nineteenth century, and embraced and fostered in a twenty-first century world with a Felician presence that continues to be both vibrant and far-reaching.
Just as Felician Foundress Blessed Mary Angela had ministered to the impoverished, the abandoned, and the marginalized on the streets of nineteenth century Warsaw, Poland, so, too, the first Sisters in North America mirrored her call to service, “giving aid to all without exception,” serving all “with a joyful heart.”
The First Felician Sisters in North America
Five Felician Sisters answered the call to serve in North America. They were truly pioneers, in every sense of the word.
They came to the then small farming village of Polonia, Wisconsin—a frontier town of sorts that sat ten miles from the nearest railway station. It was certainly a new frontier for the five Polish Sisters, knowing little more about their new venture other than they had come to serve.
But it was their singular mission—to serve God’s people wherever they were called to serve, and their dedication to the Felician mission to help bring about the spiritual renewal of the world—that propelled them.
They traveled from their Polish homeland in a 28-day odyssey that included travel aboard the steamer SS Ethiopia, crossing stormy seas and battling intense seasickness.
With the blessing of Blessed Mary Angela, the Sisters came to this frontier town on the American frontier at the request of Father Joseph Dabrowski, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Polonia, who saw the urgent needs facing the immigrant children and families who had settled in this town. He knew he needed help in ministering to this new population—a population with vast social and educational needs.
The influx of European immigrants into Wisconsin was emblematic of the massive waves of immigrants arriving on American shores by the late 1800’s. Father Dabrowski’s request was echoed by scores of priests and bishops in North America as they looked to the sisters to help minister to a burgeoning population.
At the schoolhouse in Wisconsin, the Felician Sisters educated the children of Polish immigrants, and soon thereafter began publishing Polish textbooks not only for their use in the classroom, but for any educator who was teaching Polish immigrant children.
The number of Felician Sisters began to rise as the influence of and need for the Sisters also began to rise. By the early twentieth century, Felician Sisters were a significant presence across much of the U.S. in areas such as Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. By the mid-twentieth century, Felician Sisters had established a presence in Canada as well.
Establishment of a New North American Province
November 21, 2009 marked the 154th anniversary of the Congregation’s founding by Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska. On this symbolic date in our Congregational history, a momentous new chapter had just begun as we established a new North American province—Our Lady of Hope Province—and witnessed the historic installation of a new leadership team.
The eight former provinces in North America (namely Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; Enfield, Connecticut; Chicago, Illinois; Livonia, Michigan; Lodi, New Jersey; Rio Rancho, New Mexico; Buffalo, New York; and Coraopolis, Pennsylvania) united into one. It was the culmination of a 13-year planning and reconfiguration process that brought about a new North American province, providing centralized administrative and canonical functions for the Felician Sisters throughout the U.S. and Canada.
In many ways, we have never left the frontiers of need.
Today, we minister to those in need and serve in an array of ministries as diverse as the regions in which we serve—bringing God’s compassionate mercy and love to all we serve and to all we meet—across this continent, and around the world.
In addition to our North American province, Our Lady of Hope, Felician provinces in Europe and South America, together with Felician ministries across four continents, comprise our international community of nearly 1,800 vowed women religious. To learn more about our Sisters worldwide, please visit www.feliciansisters.org.
We are now embarking upon a new journey—filled with the same pioneering zeal, vision, and anticipation as that of our foundress and as that of the first Felician Sisters in North America. Together, we continue on our collective journeys in the same way as we began the very journeys themselves—filled with the courage and conviction of our mission, and filled with hope.