Peekskill Sisters Celebrate 150 Years

Maria Hayes Franciscan World

Members of the St. Francis Province of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart at their Provincial Chapter in 2012, held at their motherhouse in Peekskill, N.Y.

The Peekskill sisters at their Provincial Chapter in 2012. (Photo courtesy of the sisters)

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. — A community of sisters that has worked alongside Holy Name Province friars for 150 years began its jubilee year celebration last month.

The St. Francis Province of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart traces its beginnings to the mid-1860s, when the pastor of St. Francis Church on West 31st Street in Manhattan asked a community of FMSC in Italy to send sisters to America to teach in areas where the immigrant population was steadily rising.

Three sisters arrived in New York City on Dec. 5, 1865. As their congregation grew, the sisters founded their motherhouse in Peekskill, N.Y., where sisters, friars and friends gathered Dec. 5 to begin the jubilee year celebrations.

Franciscan friar Kevin Cronin celebrates the jubilee Mass for the St. Francis Province of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart at their motherhouse in Peekskill, N.Y.

Kevin Cronin celebrates the jubilee Mass for the Peekskill Sisters at their motherhouse. (Photo courtesy of the sisters)

‘How Pleased God Is!’
Last month’s celebration, held at Mt. St. Francis, began with solemn vespers led by Kevin Daly, OFM, of Long Beach Island, N.J. Participating also were Fr. Charles Reinbold, the sisters’ chaplain for 20 years, and Fr. John Higgins, pastor of the Assumption Church, Peekskill. Kevin, a graduate of Our Lady of Holy Angels School in Little Falls, N.J., which was staffed by the sisters for 95 years, encouraged attendees to rejoice. “Everyone should see how pleased God is on this holy weekend!”

On Dec. 6, Kevin Cronin, OFM, celebrated the anniversary year’s opening Mass. John Pierce, OFM, Fr. Joseph de Maura, SA, Fr. John Pintabone, Fr. Charles Reinbold and Msgr. Robert Senetsky co-concelebrated. More than 160 people attended the liturgy, according to Kevin. Kevin and John are both stationed in Butler, N.J.

“On behalf of Holy Name Province, I thanked the sisters for all they have done for the people of God, and for all they have done with us,” he said. Kevin has given days of prayer at the motherhouse over the years, and knows Provincial Superior Sr. Anne Matthew Carlone, FMSC, who was principal at the Little Falls school from which she graduated for more than 15 years.

At the luncheon that followed the Mass, Sr. Anne expressed her gratitude to all who participated and offered their expressions of love and appreciation.

“We were so excited when we heard that Holy Name Province friars were coming to the celebration,” she said.


The first three sisters to arrive in the United States — Sisters Constanza, Gertrude and Pellegrina — with General Superior Sr. Margherita. (Photo courtesy of the sisters)

Partnering with Holy Name Province
St. Francis Province, based in Peekskill, currently has 33 members. Internationally, the sisters number nearly 700, ministering in 21 countries.

Throughout their 150 years of ministry, the sisters of St. Francis Province established 32 elementary schools, six high schools, four business schools, two child care institutions and one college at locations in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The sisters continue to minister in education today, and also offer pastoral care, Franciscan prayer groups, pro-life ministries, health and dental clinics, immigration support, elder care, and ministry to those with HIV/AIDS, and those who are homeless.

The sisters were also one of the first American religious communities to bring counsel and care to inmates in city prisons, a ministry they continue today.

The congregation’s first mission at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City ended after 70 years in 1934, when the school closed. The community has served alongside Holy Name Province friars at several locations for a combined total of 573 years. The locations include:

  • St. Stephen Church, Croghan, N.Y., from 1876 to 1916
  • St. Bonaventure Church, Paterson, N.J., 1879 to 1990
  • St. Anthony Church, Butler, N.J., 1880 to 2012
  • Our Lady of the Holy Angels Church, Little Falls, N.J., 1903 to 2007
  • St. Leo Church, Elmwood Park, N.J., 1912 to 1987
  • St. Francis Church, Wanaque, N.J., 1911 to 1952

Several Peekskill sisters also went to Bolivia in the 1960s to minister alongside the friars. More information about the community’s history is included in a description written by Sr. Anne.

When St. Anthony Church in Butler celebrated its 100th anniversary, Rudolf Harvey, OFM, noted: “This parish has known the ‘gray nuns,’ for whom teaching was more a passion than a profession, giving their today for the children’s tomorrow; and the parish has known priests whose company was a blessing.”

The sisters have planned several events throughout 2015 to celebrate their members and their heritage. The jubilee year will conclude with a closing Mass celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Dec. 5. More information can be found on the community’s website, which includes a Jubilee Year page with photos and historical facts, as well as on the Facebook page of the Franciscan Sisters of Peekskill.

Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.