Franciscan Sisters of Mary
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The Franciscan Sisters of Mary is a Roman Catholic religious congregation of religious sisters based in St. Louis, Missouri, which was formed in 1987 from the merger of two related congregations. The congregations founded hospitals throughout the Midwestern United States, which the current congregation still operates.
The congregation has its origins in St. Louis in the work of Mother Mary Odilia Berger who had emigrated from Germany in 1872 with four companions. The original congregation was the Sisters of St. Mary (S.S.M.). They received their name because their residence shared a door with St. Mary of Victories Church in downtown St. Louis.
Anna Katherine (later Mother Odilia) Berger was born in Regen in the Kingdom of Bavaria. In 1858 she joined the Poor Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family of Pirmasens, Germany, founded by the Blessed Paul Joseph Nardini and was sent to beg in Paris.
In Paris she co-founded the Sisters Servants of the Sacred Heart in 1866 with the Abbé Peter-Victor Braun, but had to flee Paris when the city was besieged during the Franco-Prussian War. Berger spent several years in Elberfeld in the Rhineland, where she tried to start a new community with the same goals. Frustrated in this goal by the government of the Kulturkampf, she and four of her companions emigrated to St. Louis in 1872. In 1874 they founded the Sisters of St. Mary under the Rule of the Franciscan Third Order Regular.
In 1877 the congregation borrowed what was then the enormous sum of $16,000 in order to open St. Mary's Infirmary in St. Louis. In 1878 Berger sent a third of the members of the congregation to Canton, Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee, during a Yellow fever outbreak in those cities. Five young sisters were to die as a result.
In 1894 Mother Mary Augustine Giesen led six other Sisters to Maryville, Missouri, from St. Louis. After settling there, they eventually chose to separate from the founding congregation and they formed the Sisters of St. Francis of Maryville.
The new congregation focused on health care in the more rural areas of Missouri. They established the first full-fledged hospital in the town. They later expanded to the Oklahoma Territory, where they established the first hospital.
The two congregations continued to grow in their numbers and work. With the reduced numbers of both congregations by the late 20th century, however, in May 1985 the members of both congregations voted to merge into a new one. In August 1987 the sisters came together to form the Franciscan Sisters of Mary.
Twenty hospitals and two nursing homes founded by the congregation are now operated as SSM Health Care (SSMHC) in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.