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History of the Community

 

The Early Days

The Community of St. Francis was founded in 1905 by Sr. Rosina Rice, a Sister of Bethany, who was working in a parish in a London slum. Sr. Rosina was inspired by the example of St. Francis in his life of service and solidarity with the poor. The CSF Sisters' first work was in Hull, in the midlands of England, where they ministered to dock workers, seamen and their families. They visited the sick and looked after children while their mothers worked.

In 1908 they moved to St. Philip's, Dalston, East London, a lower middle class and poor parish where they worked for 32 years. They lived a life of poverty, prayer and service. They sat with the sick at night, often leading the Office for the Departed. The Sisters earned their living by taking in laundry. Mother Rosina and several other sisters left the community in 1910 to join the Roman Catholic church, but under the leadership of Sr. Helen Elizabeth the community continued to grow.

The economic difficulties after World War I and the Great Depression in the 1930s found many men without jobs. The Sisters responded by turning part of their house into a guest house for "wayfarers." They collected food, clothing and money and they set up a candy-making business to support the ministry with the homeless men. This era of ministry ended with the increase of employment that accompanied World War II.

In 1920 the community inherited the house next door to the convent and opened a home for "incurable and bedridden" women. The years of parish ministry with the sick and dying made this an obvious choice of ministry. In 1962 urban renewal plans in London called for the demolition of the area of the convent so the community moved to the country. Their new home was the Old Manor House at the small Somerset village of Compton Durville. There they rebuilt the Home for Elderly Women, converted an old barn into a guest house and began a ministry of hospitality for retreats and conferences.

In the late 1960s CSF began branching out. Sisters went to Zambia to work at a leprosarium, others opened a retreat house in central England (Newcastle-under-Lyme), others took over the management of a hostel for young girls living on the streets of Birmingham, and yet others returned to various works in London.

CSF In America

In 1974 four Sisters came to San Francisco to found the American Province of CSF. From time to time the Sisters in the US have lived and worked elsewhere (notably running a small ministry for migrant farmworkers in Brentwood, CA, and a small urban house in Bethlehem, PA); however, the main work has been in San Francisco. The American Province Sisters decided against affiliation with a particular parish or institutional ministry, favoring the option of allowing each Sister to find a caring ministry suitable to her skills, interests and the needs which present themselves.

The initial ministries of the Sisters in San Francisco were Meals-on-Wheels, Church World Service (Southeast Asian refugee resettlement), an after-school tutoring program for disadvantaged children, hospital ministry, chaplaincy to the Port of San Francisco, and volunteer work with the local church. True to our roots, from time to time the American Sisters have resorted to house cleaning to support ourselves.

At various times the original CSF ministry with the sick has been manifested in the form of hospital chaplaincy, home health care, and The Family Link, a hospitality ministry for the loved ones of people with AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. The old ministry with "wayfarers" finds its new incarnation as work with the homeless in San Francisco, especially through involvement with a local soup kitchen and food pantries. In addition to these caring ministries with the poor and needy, the Sisters offer retreats, spiritual direction and a small guest ministry.