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USF honors founding Franciscans

Joliet congregation receives ‘Sister Clare Award’

JOLIET, Ill. – The University of St. Francis community gathered recently to present the university’s founders, the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, with an award for their work and vision.

During the Sister Clare Award ceremony, the congregation’s president, Sr. Dolores Zemont, O.S.F., announced that white smoke had begun billowing from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. By the end of the gathering, Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been elected as the newest Roman Catholic pope.

The providential twist? Bergoglio chose the papal name of “Francis” in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who along with St. Clare, is patron to the university.

According to CNN’s “This Just In” blog, a Vatican spokesman said Bergoglio, a Jesuit, selected the name of the Franciscan saint because he also sees himself as a “lover of the poor.”

Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi lived in the 13th Century. Clare was one of the first followers of Francis, who founded the Franciscan order, and their dedication was to help the poor.

“Clare and Francis showed us how to live as ‘brother and sister’ in Christ,” said Sr. Mary Elizabeth Imler, O.S.F., USF’s vice president of mission integration, during the invocation.

“They looked at the same God, but from the different angles of and with the gifts and sensitivities of a woman and a man.”

There could not have been a better day to honor the members of the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, who founded the university in 1920. Like the new Pope Francis, the sisters have made it their work to love the poor. Their long history in the Joliet area dates back to 1865.

Over the years, they have helped those less fortunate by founding hospitals, orphanages and schools. They have played an integral part in parish life at many area churches. They worked and established missions in five states, and in 1963, heeded a call that led them to Brazil. There, they have established several outreach missions and a novitiate that continues to welcome Brazilian women who are interested in Franciscan life and work.

The congregation’s tie to South America is another fitting coincidence since Bergoglio, from Argentina, is the first pope to come from that continent.

The Sisters of St. Francis are proud to have connections with other prominent church leaders.

Mentioned Sr. Juanita Ujcik, O.S.F., after the award ceremony, “Did you know that Cardinal George was taught by our sisters from Joliet, who were educated on this campus? He attended grade school at St. Pascal’s in Chicago and our sisters staffed that school.”

The congregation was honored by the University of St. Francis during Women’s History Month for transforming the world in their time. The award, which will be presented annually to “women of light” who walk in the ways of St. Clare, was accepted by Zemont.

The University of St. Francis in Joliet serves 3,400 students nationwide, offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs in arts and science, business, education, nursing and health care and social work. For information, call (800) 735-7500 or visit


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