Consecrated Life series profiles the Heading Avenue Franciscans

Photo Caption: The Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception (Heading Avenue Franciscans) gather in the chapel of their motherhouse in West Peoria for Mass.

By: By Sister Sarah Elizabeth Roy, OSF

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the eighth in a series featuring religious communities and other forms of consecrated life around the Diocese of Peoria in honor of the Year of Consecrated Life. The celebration will run through Feb. 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life.

WEST PEORIA — When visitors walk through the doors of the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception (otherwise known as the Heading Avenue Franciscans), they are struck by the joy and simplicity surrounding them. The Sisters seem to radiate the love of God.

Although the Sisters don’t have halos or levitate quite yet, they do strive to live their charism each day. This charism was given by the Holy Spirit to their foundress, Mother Mary Pacifica Forrestal. We are called to “Live the Gospel: pray, suffer and love.”

In Mother Pacifica’s own words, “We will keep on loving God, trying to increase this love from day to day, seeing God in our neighbor. Let us endeavor to make this spirit of charity the distinctive mark of our community.”

This “spirit of charity” is tangible in the community. Whether a Sister is helping little ones learn their colors, listening to a young adult make significant life decisions, comforting an ill person in the hospital, or sitting at the bedside of a dying resident, the love of God shines forth.

Sister Stephanie Dhaenens, OSF, who is now deceased, used to speak of the children she cared for in the orphanage. “In the middle of the night, when the babies cried, I knew it was Jesus calling,” she said.

Sister Paula Vasquez, OSF, who was a principal and taught for many years, hopes her students will always remember one thing: “No matter what, nothing will ever separate you from the love of God.”

Sister Mary Dolores Kirchgessner, OSF, ensured that her students learned to love science. She asked the students to guess when the last leaf of the tree, right outside the classroom window, would fall. In order to keep the suspense going, Sister Mary Dolores tied the leaf to the tree, preventing it from falling off!

For 124 years, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception have been bringing God’s compassionate love to the people of the Diocese of Peoria and the Diocese of Springfield. Our ministry in central Illinois started with an invitation from Archbishop John Lancaster Spalding to staff the diocesan orphanage in Metamora. Since then, the Sisters have staffed 14 schools and two homes for aged, worked in campus ministry, spiritual direction, retreats, massage therapy, counseling, pastoral care and much more.

If Mother Pacifica were here today, she would be astounded by the work of her Sisters. It is also likely that she would have echoed St. Francis’ words: “If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.”

The joy of living the consecrated life is a true gift from God, and we, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception, have said “yes” to God’s gift, his invitation to follow him. Pope Francis spoke to all religious saying, “Religious should be men and women able to wake the world up.” We hope that our witness to living the Gospel may wake the world up to the tremendous love of God, and we hope that our lives may inspire others to say “yes” to God’s call to consecrated life.

We continue to be spurred on by Pope Francis’ example and encouragement. “We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor,” he said.

With the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception will always strive to “wake the world up.”

SISTER SARAH Elizabeth Roy, OSF, is vocation director for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception. For more information about the community, contact her at (309) 214-0184 or

Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception
West Peoria

FOUNDED: 1891 in West Peoria
FOUNDER: Mother Mary Pacifica Forrestal
PRESIDENT: Sister Paula Vasquez, OSF
MEMBERS: 32 serving the Dioceses of Peoria and Springfield
CHARISM: To live the Gospel, pray, suffer, and love and to make God’s compassionate presence known.
APOSTOLATES: Religious education, primary school education, adult literacy, pastoral care, permanent deacon education, Marriage Tribunal, right to life advocacy, care of the elderly, massage therapy, spiritual direction, retreats, counseling, prayer.

SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
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