On December 8th, we celebrate the 128th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago. It was on this day on December 8th, 1894, that Josephine Dudzik established the congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Blessed Kunegunda (the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago's original name) at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Chicago. A generous, compassionate, and devout woman, Josephine was moved by the condition of the aged, poor, and orphaned whom she encountered. She came to their aid spiritually, physically, and emotionally, even sheltering some in her own family home. After establishing the congregation, Josephine would go on to take the name of Sister Mary Theresa Dudzik and later was given the honorary title of 'Mother' in 1948, 22 years after her death in 1918.
Today we offer something special for everyone. Below is text taken from the writings of Venerable Mary Theresa Dudzik from her journal, The Chronicle (which is also available to purchase - click here for more information). We learn how Josephine decided to become a religious, how much she helped others, and the path she took to establish the congregation. We would like to wish the Sisters a happy 128th anniversary as today they will celebrate with a Mass and luncheon. Please read the words of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik below as she aspires to be a religious and start a new congregation.
First Thoughts and Plans, Aims and Objectives of Its Foundation - Year 1893
The stirring of religious vocation
For a number of years I had already been contemplating in what way better comfort and lodging could be given to poor girls, widows, and to the sick who were unable to do hard work. I had frequently sheltered too many of them in the limited quarters of my home. As a result, my mother often hindered me in my work of mercy because she was exposed to various inconveniences, for which I was reproached. She also remarked that not only I suffered but that this action of mine compelled her to suffer, too.
Josephine suggests the founding of a charitable organization
I would then make promises that I would not accept any more of the poor. Nevertheless, as soon as Father Vincent had any trouble with such an unfortunate one, he would either escort her or send her to me to be taken care of. I could not refuse to comply with his wishes since I felt the misery and sufferings of others; and it seemed to me that I could not love Jesus, or even expect heaven, if I were concerned only about myself and my mother, not to suffer any inconvenience, but simply to live in comfort.
Very often I felt a persistent urge to make greater sacrifices for others. Consequently, I was especially guided with a continuous thought of how I could be of service to the needy and the poor. In my mind, I was already arranging the beds and preparing all things necessary for this purpose. This thought haunted me day and night, even though I was unaware of the means by which this could be accomplished. While at prayer, a thought suddenly occurred to me to rent or purchase a house in the vicinity of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church and assemble all the tertiaries from this parish, who would desire to lead a life in common and to pray and work to support this project. I also thought of some pious young ladies whom I knew, especially those who were formerly in a convent, such as the one who was a Felician Sister for twelve years; and I felt that they could teach me much that I did not know, including the art of prayer and union with God.
Consoled somewhat by this thought, I decided to confide in my sodalist friend, Rose Wisinski, who usually advised me concerning the problems and difficulties in the Rosary Society. She praised this plan and expressed her willingness to join us; but her parents and an invalid sister were an immediate impediment. I tried to console Rose and suggested that she might be able to take her parents along with her. We made plans to discuss this issue at the next meeting with the young ladies of the Third Order of St. Francis.
Year of impatient waiting
The regular monthly meeting of the Third Order of St. Francis was held on Sunday, October 1, 1893. After transacting the business of the meeting, I presented our plans to the assembled tertiaries. The members accepted the proposition joyfully and some, including myself, requested its immediate fulfillment. Rose Wisinski, nevertheless, advised the group that she considered it more appropriate to pray for one year for the intention of recognizing God's Will; I readily consented, although a year seemed to be so very long.
After the year elapsed, the meeting was again held on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, that is, on October 7, 1894. I reminded the tertiaries about the resolutions made a year ago and inquired about the promised prayers. I discovered that some had completely forgotten the issue, while others, overjoyed by this reminder, wanted to join the group. Consequently, I made the following decision: all those who wished to join were asked to submit their names - only Rose Wisinski was unable to enlist presently because of her parents and mute sister. Therefore, seven members, who had no parents or permanent lodging, applied for admission; I was the eighth one.
The names of the eight volunteers were as follows: Josephine Dudzik, Mary B., Mary S. Catherine M., Susanne C., Clare S, Victoria M., and Rose Wisinski. I then informed the volunteers that this whole matter would be presented to our spiritual Father, the Reverend Vincent Barzynski, and would seek his advice on how to proceed in this regard.
Lacking both straightforwardness and the necessary courage to approach Father Barzynski immediately, I waited with this proposition until November 2; I then took advantage of the opportunity to inform him about our plans. They were received very favorably. Father said that we were not allowed to oppose a good cause, but we should promote it and help in bringing it to a successful fruition. In turn he promised to aid us with his counsel.
St. Stanislaus Kostka Church
Rev. Vincent Michael Barzynski, CR.
Founding a new community
There was one thing which Father said, however, that struck my attention and somewhat frightened me. He would not sanction the project unless we lived under religious obedience and wore the religious garb. I decided to overcome this fear and to obey him in everything that he might command in this respect.
Father then told me to ask those who had submitted their names to assemble together on November 10. They would be interviewed by him personally and privately; and each one's possessions, which were to be transferred into the common treasury, would be recorded. At this meeting our general aim of helping poor girls, widows, and sick women was changed at a suggestion from Father to another aim. We were now to care for aged and disabled persons, but not in a home on Noble Street near St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, but in Avondale or Cragin. All agreed and accepted Father's decision, with the exception of Susanne C., who was disappointed and unhappy at the thought of leaving Chicago. She was also unwilling to part with the thousand dollars that she possessed and had to hand it in to the common fund upon joining the group.
Josephine and mother share home with a group
At the second meeting which convened on Sunday, November 24, 1894, Father Barzynski suggested that we all move into one home. The candidate who had the largest living quarters was to accept the group into her home. Here we were to pass a six-month probation period, after which we were to receive our habits. I was little astounded upon hearing this and wondered how we could walk around in a religious garb and move from one temporary residence to another. It then occurred to me that St. Francis had no permanent quarters either; and this thought brought me peace of mind. The building finally designated as our first residence, was my home on 11 Chapin Street.
At this very same meeting, held on November 24, Constance Topolinski, hearing about our plans, joined the group and was accepted by Father Barzynski. He told us to begin a novena to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the 27th of November, jointly with the parishioners in church. Since the novena was to be offered in our intention, we began it with the greatest devotion and begged the Mother of God for help in this difficult undertaking which now confronted us.
Josephine Dudzik's first home in Chicago.
Our last joint meeting took place on December 12, but I had a few more private interviews with Father Vincent. He examined and tried me a various ways, but it seemed to me that with the help of God I would be capable of accomplishing everything. He also demanded a promise from me that I would care for this Community not only in its time of prosperity but also in times of trouble, and when difficulties would beset if from all sides. Actually at this moment, I did not foresee any problems and thought that everything would go smoothly.
Reverend Barzynski was a saintly man, and he foretold the great difficulties and adversities that I would have to face. He had explained it all to me so plainly that I was fully aware of my obligations when making that promise. This knowledge was most beneficial to me against my lack of serious judgment. When the prediction was beginning to materialize within a short span of time, I reflected on it and recalled my promise; consequently, I was able to bear it more easily. The thought that I deliberately agreed on this undertaking for Jesus Christ is still an incentive till this day for me, who am so full of self-love.
December 8, 1894, founding date of new Community
At the joint meeting of the group, Father interviewed each of us separately and asked what was our desire, motive, and decision. He wrote down our answers. At this time Clara S, who intended to join another Community, left the group. Father then blessed us and said that we would already be together for Christmas. He also announced that the date for the beginning of our Community would be December 8, 1894, and that it would be dedicated under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception of the mother of God. Our Community, consequently, begins on the above-mentioned day and year.
First Profession of Vows - the Pioneer Sisters. (From left to right) Sister M. Anna Wysinski, Sister M. Angeline Topolinski, Sister M. Agnes Dzik, and Sister M. Theresa Dudzik
Permission granted by Archbishop of Chicago
The Reverend Vincent Barzynski is rightfully considered as our first main founder, we were established as a Community with the permission of the diocesan Ordinary of that time, the Most Reverend Archbishop Feehan.
In accordance with Father Vincent's wishes expressed at the last meeting, all the members of the group came to my home. The last one to arrive on December 20 was Sister Mary Angelina. When I notified Father about this, he told me that on the following Sunday, December 23, 1894, we should elect a Superior by means of drawing lots. He explained the procedure which we were to use, and I followed his instructions conscientiously. On the designated day, Rose Wisinski also came for the election. Although she was always united with us in spirit, she could not live with us because of her filial commitments to her aged and sick parents; she was eagerly waiting for the day when we would move into our own home.
Franciscanism - "We were all Franciscan tertiaries"
Besides me, the following were present at the election: Rose Wisinski, Mary B, Catherine M., Mary S., Victoria M, and Constance Topoplinski. Everyone present was a tertiary.
Other Resources on Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik
Below are are other resources on Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik including a link to purchase "The Chronicle". There is also an interview with Sister Jeanne Marie Toriskie who discusses her life and the efforts to make her a saint.