Sisters of St. Francis enjoy 100-year history in Sylvania

–by Sylvania AdVantage Staff

For the past 100 years, the Sisters of St. Francis have been a significant component to the Sylvania community.

In 1916, a small group of Franciscans from Rochester, Minn., moved to Toledo to teach Polish immigrants in city Catholic schools. The next year, those 23 women under the direction of Sister Mary Adelaide Sandusky managed to purchase 89 acres of farmland in Sylvania and formally established the Motherhouse for the Sisters of St. Francis, Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes of Sylvania.

Two longtime members of the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania community, Sister Marie Andree Chorzempa and Sister Ann Francis Klimkowski have fond recollections of their part of the history. They both made significant contributions to  the Sisters of St. Francis community and what is now known as Lourdes University.

Sister Marie Andree Chorzempa
Sister Marie Andree Chorzempa

Sister Marie Andree was charged with beginning the process of growing Lourdes College from a two-year institution to a four-year college during her tenure as president. Sister Ann Francis, who took over the office of president in 1983, implemented the move to four-year status.

According to Sister Marie Andree,  who joined the Franciscan community in 1939 at the age of 12, the campus was a very big place with lots of trees and only a few buildings. “Looking back at all of the changes and growth tells me so much about the pioneering spirit of the Sisters and Mother Adelaide; their vision, determination and conviction of what religious life was to be,” she reflected. “Mother Adelaide was an artist and had been a dean at St. Theresa’s College in Winona, Minn. She had great trust in God’s plan but asked what could she and the Sisters do with the 89 acres of yellow sand. She knew how to reach out to others for help and learned that evergreens would grow in yellow sand. She and the Sisters planted evergreens and established the academy for young girls entering the Sisters of St. Francis community. Mother Adelaide believed in the importance of the arts and stressed the value of a liberal arts education, which is evidenced everywhere on the campus today.

She continued, “We are so blessed that she was here. Her appreciation for the aesthetics has been incorporated into everything here. The broadness of her vision allowed Mother Adelaide to do all that she did here and still progress in other ministries. In addition to building the academy and growing it into Lourdes College, she started many hospitals and was on top of all phases. She knew what Sisters to place where.”

Sister Marie Andree completed her education graduating from St. Theresa College in Winona, Minn., received her master’s degree from St. Louis and her Ph.D. from Oregon State University. She said that Mother Adelaide required all of the Sisters to be educated at different places. Sister Marie Andree taught at the elementary, high school and university levels and served as president of Lourdes College for two years. She served on the General Council for eight years and as General Superior for eight years. She then served in parish ministry and ministered in healthcare administration for seven years. She also served as a teacher trainer for religious education at the Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico for five years. She returned to Sylvania and spent nine years working in the archives of the Motherhouse.

“I am blessed that I have gotten to know the revelatory nature of human experience,” she offered.

Sister Ann Francis was 22 years of age when she joined the Sisters of St. Francis and began her journey with the community in 1953. She continues to marvel at the relationships she has developed with all of the Sisters.

She recalls that when she first arrived, there seemed to be a mystique about the community  “People in the area were very curious about the campus and often would conjecture about all the activity there. The Sisters were open to  becoming better known and made a concerted effort to be good neighbors, a philosophy that continues today,” she said.

 PIC Sister Ann Francis Klimowski

PIC Sister Ann Francis Klimowski


However, when Lourdes was first opened in 1958, it served primarily the Sisters of St. Francis. Education of the Sisters had always been paramount. It wasn’t until 10 years later or so, that Lourdes welcomed lay women to campus.

In the early 1970s, an agreement with St. Vincent’s School of Nursing led to males attending classes on the Lourdes campus. “It was during the late 1970s that the Sisters of St. Francis leadership authorized a feasibility study to determine if there was support for a four-year Catholic college.

When Sister Ann Francis put on the mantle of president, she and her team did research on adult learners and began to develop programs to attract that student demographic. “We saw the beginning of the Lourdes Auxiliary and the birth of fundraising for scholarship programs,” she said.

Sister Ann Francis, whose academic training in education led to a 21-year teaching career as an elementary teacher and high school teacher and principal before joining the faculty at Lourdes College where she taught and was a dean before becoming president for 17 years. She then returned to teaching in the Masters of Organization Leadership program, a position she maintained for seven years. “I love being in the classroom,” she noted.

She added, “Each time I was asked to do something, I was prepared. The leadership of the Sisters has always been able to focus on the abilities of each of us and has made sure that we were well prepared for the jobs we would be doing.”

“Now, we have moved to attracting more traditional students, which has been made possible by adding the athletic program and student housing,” Sister Ann Francis said. “And throughout our history, the Sisters have always been very supportive of Lourdes.”