Our History

St. Gabriel's HospitalThe Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minnesota, is a Roman Catholic congregation of religious women of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi. Our community was founded in central Minnesota in 1891 by sixteen women who had previously been members of another Franciscan congregation. In God’s providential plan, these women, having lost contact with their original foundress who had become ill in Rome, received permission from the Bishop of the St. Cloud Diocese to become a congregation under his jurisdiction. Having been granted a piece of land on the south side of Little Falls, the sisters, with the help of generous benefactors, constructed a building that immediately served as a residence for orphan children, a hospital, a home for the aged, and a convent for the sisters. From these simple beginnings, the sisterhood flourished and continued to develop ministries in health care, education, and social services throughout Minnesota and into Wisconsin. Eventually the sisters’ desire to serve others and to promote the Gospel carried them to places throughout the United States and to other continents, notably South and Central America and Africa.   



Our HistoryCharacter of Life

The life of a Franciscan is characterized by simplicity and a profound reverence for all created things. Acknowledging God the Creator as the source of everything that is, Franciscans accept life and everything God created as gift. Franciscans recognize in other human beings and in all created things the reality of common unity. Thus they walk joyfully and gently on the earth with deep respect for all people and all things. Like Francis and Clare and the early Franciscans, they approach others in a spirit of peace and reconciliation, manifesting in word and example their commitment to following in the footprints of Jesus Christ. 



Our Community Today

Today we number 129 vowed members. We live and serve throughout the United States as well as in Mexico and Ecuador. Our mission is extended in a manifold way through Franciscan Associates. The Associates are people who commit to live in the spirit and energy of the Franciscan Values that are at the heart of our sisterhood while remaining in their own committed lifestyles. Franciscan Associates are women, men and even families from many walks of life and various religious traditions who share with us a desire to live the Gospel with joy and zeal and to be witness in society to the peace and reconciliation that Francis and Clare envisioned. Following in the footprints of Jesus Christ and moved by the same Spirit that moved Francis and Clare, members and associates of our community witness to the unconditional love that God has for all creatures, celebrate this love in worship, service, and make available to all they meet the presence of the Risen Christ who lives among us.


Our History




Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan First Order

FrancisSaint Francis of Assisi is one of the best known and most loved saints, not only in the Catholic Church, but among admired historical figures throughout the world and across many cultures. As a young man in early 13th century Italy, he experienced a profound personal conversion. It changed him from an immature and careless adolescent to a man who saw the whole world around him as a gift and all persons, especially the poor and suffering, as brothers and sisters. He himself identified his conversion moment with meeting a leper near Assisi. On that day of grace, he suddenly realized that the leper was a human being like himself, created by God out of love and loved by God without limit. This sudden sense of communion with the other transformed Francis's way of viewing the world and filled him with a sense of awe and profound compassion. He determined then to live in an entirely different way, abandoning his comfortable middle-class life style. He saw himself as a poor man before God, from whom all good comes. He realized that he himself could make no claims to goodness—all was gift. With this new awareness, the entire creation appeared amazing and wonderful—something to be treated with the greatest reverence and respect.

Francis began to live an austere life of poverty and manual labor, seeing the gospel as his guide and Jesus Christ as his model of the perfect human life. Eventually, other men gathered around him to share this life. They focused their attention on prayer and proclaimed God's goodness joyfully wherever they went. They invited others to conversion of life. They saw that many lives needed to be turned around, away from selfishness and towards generous and forgiving relationships.

Pope Innocent III gave conditional approval to Francis and his brothers in 1209, allowing them to preach "penance" to the people. By 1223, Pope Honorius III gave unconditional approval to the Order, and its Rule became official. By the time of Francis's death in 1226 at the age of 44, there were over 5000 Franciscan brothers in Europe and England.



Clare of Assisi and the Franciscan Second Order

771Francis's new Order also drew women. In 1208, when she was around 15 years old, Clare, the eldest daughter of the noble Offreduccio family of Assisi, heard Francis's preaching. His message held great spiritual attraction for her, and she determined to follow the gospel way according to his vision. In 1212, she secretly left her home with a companion and was received by Francis and the brothers into their way of life. However, it was necessary for her to be sheltered in a convent. After a time of enjoying the hospitality of some local women religious, she established herself and some of her own companions just outside the walls of Assisi in a little church dedicated to St. Damian. Here Clare lived an enclosed contemplative life of radical poverty for over 40 years. She died at the age of 60 having received from the Pope her heart's desire—approval of the Rule she had written for her sisterhood. This was a faithful application of the vision she had shared with Francis and his brothers for so many years. Today, the followers of Clare's way of living Franciscan life are called Poor Clares. Clare is considered to be a co-founder, with Francis, of the Franciscan Order.



The Franciscan Third Order

(Secular and Religious)
Wherever the Friars Minor ministered in churches, a very robust and active Third Order of laypersons grew up around them. These tertiaries, over time, developed into two branches—the Secular Franciscan Order (men and women, clergy and lay, who follow a Franciscan rule, but live their own secular or clerical lifestyles) and the Third Order Regular (men [clerical and lay] and women, who are vowed religious and are members of religious communities). The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls are part of the Third Order Regular portion of the Franciscan family.



The "Tau" Cross in the Franciscan Tradition

TauCrossThe Hebrew people, like many other ancient cultures, progressively elaborated a theology, or a complementary spiritual interpretation proper to each letter of their alphabet.

Because the Hebrew scriptures, and therefore the Hebrew alphabet, was not formally codified until almost two hundred years after the birth of Christ, many letters were sometimes shaped in a variety of forms depending on the regions where Jews were living, either in Israel or in the “diaspora,” somewhere outside of Israel, usually in the Greek-speaking world.

The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet represented the fulfillment of the entire revealed word of God. This letter was called the tau. It could be written as: x, +, T. When the Prophet Ezekiel (9:4) uses the imagery of the last letter of the alphabet, he is commending Israel to remain faithful to God until the last; to be recognized as symbolically “sealed” with the mark of the tau on their foreheads as God’s chosen people until the end of their lives. Those who remained faithful were called the remnant of Israel.

Although the last letter of modern Hebrew is no longer cross-shaped as described in the variations above, the early Christian writers commenting on the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament) used its Greek translation (the Septuagint) in which the tau was transcribed as a T.

For Christians, the T came to represent the cross of Christ and the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. The cross, as prefigured in the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, represented the means by which Christ reversed the disobedience of the old Adam and became our Savior as the “New Adam.”

During the Middle Ages, the religious community of Anthony the Hermit, of which Saint Francis was familiar, was very involved in the care of lepers. These men used Christ’s cross shaped like the Greek T as an amulet for warding off the plague and other skin diseases. After his conversion, Francis worked with these religious in the Assisi area. He eventually accepted and adapted the T as his own crest and signature. For Francis, the T represented life-long fidelity to the crucified Christ; it was his pledge to serve the least, the leper and the outcast of his day.

The tau imagery was intensified when Pope Innocent III opened the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, using the same exhortation as the Old Testament Prophet Ezekiel, “We are called to reform our lives, to stand in the presence of God as righteous people. God will know us by the sign of the tau marked on our foreheads.” This symbolic imagery, used by the same pope who commissioned Francis’ new community a brief five years earlier, was immediately taken to heart as the friars’ call to reform. With arms outstretched, Francis often told his brother friars that their religious habit was in the shape of the tau, meaning that they were to become “walking crucifixes,” models of a compassionate God and examples of faithfulness until their dying day.

Today, followers of Francis, as laity or religious, wear the tau cross as an exterior sign, a “seal” of their won commitment, a remembrance of the victory of Christ over evil through daily self-sacrificing love. The sign of contradiction has become the sign of hope.

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116 8th Avenue SE
Little Falls, Minnesota



(320) 632-2981

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The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minnesota, is a community of Catholic women religious who follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ, walking in the footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi. We believe that the living of a poor, simple and prayerful community life is a ministry of presence and witness. Our doors are open to the public to celebrate Mass in Sacred Heart Chapel and to benefit from the St. Francis Music Center and St. Francis Health & Recreation Center. We welcome those who wish to join us as sisters, associates, volunteers, transfer sisters, friends and donors.


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