Mary Alfred Moes

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Mother Mary Alfred Moes, O.S.F., (October 28, 1828 — December 18, 1899)[1] was instrumental in establishing first, the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate in Joliet, Illinois, as well as the Sisters of Saint Francis of Rochester, Minnesota. She was also the founder of St. Mary's Hospital, Rochester, Minnesota, which became part of the famed Mayo Clinic.

Early life[edit]

Born as Maria Catherine Moes in Remich, Luxembourg, she was the daughter of a prosperous ironsmith. She emigrated to America with her sister, Catherine, due to the preaching of Bishop John Henni of Milwaukee. Bishop Henni spoke of the need for teachers in the United States, especially among the Native Americans.[2] There were also large immigrant communities, mostly German-speaking, establishing themselves there. Both were highly educated in music and arts. Besides their own Luxembourg language, they spoke and studied in French, German and English. They had also studied mathematics and architecture. The Moes sisters left a life of comfort and set sail from Le Havre, France on September 27, 1851, destined for New York City. From 1852-1863 they lived first in Wisconsin, with the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Milwaukee, then with the Marianites of Holy Cross in South Bend, Indiana. While there, the sisters took religious vows and assumed the names of Sister Alfred and Sister Barbara. When the option arose of leaving the Holy Cross Sisters, the Moes sisters, with two companions, were received into the Third Order of St. Francis, on June 1, 1863.


At the invitation of the parish priest in Joliet, Illinois, the small group of four Sisters moved to that town the following November to begin teaching the local children.[2] Lightning struck the Church of St. John the Baptist there on July 31, 1864, killing one parishioner, a young woman who left behind a family. The distraught widower asked the Sisters to care for his children. This unexpected work soon expanded, and the Sisters began to take in orphans, as well as boarding school students, and candidates to the community. The Sisters soon bought a larger house and established St. Francis Academy.

During the summer of 1865, the Guardian of the Franciscan friars in the United States, Father Pamfilo da Magliano, O.S.F., summoned Sister Alfred to St. Bonaventure Friary, in Allegany County, New York, along with the first postulant to the community, Mary Ann Rosenberger. There he named Sister Alfred as the Superior General of the new congregation of the "Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate". At that time he bestowed the Franciscan habit on Rothenberger, who took the name Sister Angela.[2] Until 1880, the order used the Constitution drafted for the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, a congregation da Magliano had previously established.

By 1869, the Sisters had built a new St. Francis Academy, teaching girls aged 3–20 and drawing students from across the nation. Pastors around the whole country sought the Sisters to come to their parishes to teach their children, especially in non-English-speaking populations. By 1874, the Sisters were teaching throughout five states, as far away as Tennessee.


Mother Alfred came to plan an even larger expansion of the academy. The local bishop opposed this idea and ordered the Sisters to replace her with a new Superior General. One of her first companions, Sister Alberta, accepted the post temporarily. She then assigned Mother Alfred to go to Rochester to build Our Lady of Lourdes School, at the request of the bishop there. Shortly after that school was opened, Bishop Foley of Joliet expelled Mother Alfred from the congregation. Bishop Grace of Minnesota chose to accept her vows. Mother Alfred's permanent successor as Superior General then informed the Congregation of her expulsion, and offered the Sisters ten days to decide if they wished to join Mother Alfred in Minnesota. Of the whole Congregation, 92 chose to remain in Joliet, while 25 chose to join Mother Alfred. This small group became the nucleus of a new congregation, the Sisters of St. Francis of O.L. of Lourdes.[3]

The Sisters began to open a series of successful schools. Following a tornado, which devastated the young city of Rochester in 1883, Mother Alfred saw the need for a hospital in the town. She proposed to Dr. William Worrall Mayo that the Sisters would operate a hospital for the injured and sick if he and his sons would serve as its physicians. Thus they opened St. Mary's Hospital on September 30, 1889. Today that hospital is a part of the Mayo Clinic.[4][5]

She died in 1899, aged 71.

See also[edit]



  • Kraman, Carlan, O.S.F. Odyssey in Faith: The Story of Mother Alfred Moes. Rochester, MN: Sisters of St. Francis, 1990.

External links[edit]