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Legacy of Mother Alfred Moes continues to guide Rochester Franciscan Sisters

Legacy of Mother Alfred Moes continues to guide Rochester Franciscan Sisters

The story of Mayo Clinic is deeply entwined with the story of the Rochester Franciscan Sisters. Without the determination and vision of Mother Alfred Moes, the founder of the congregation, there would be no Mayo Clinic. In the months after the devastating 1883 Rochester tornado, it was Mother Alfred who approached W. W. Mayo about her idea to build a hospital in Rochester. She invited him to head the medical staff, and eventually he agreed. Rochester Franciscan Sisters have played crucial leadership roles in the hospital’s history ever since. 

The Olmsted County Democrat wrote of Mother Alfred in 1899 at the time of her death: “a woman whose unceasing labors have given the world monuments that will forever keep her memory green.” Her legacy remains a source of inspiration for the Sisters of Saint Francis today. 

Mother Alfred Moes / Courtesy Mayo Clinic

Mother Alfred Moes / Courtesy Mayo Clinic

Sister Ramona Miller is the current congregational minister and president. She holds degrees in mathematics, ministry and Franciscan studies. Prior to stepping into her current role this summer, Sister Ramona had worked in parishes and retreat centers, as Director of Spiritual Formation at Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, California, and as an Associate Minister in Leadership for the Sisters of Saint Francis. She also helped edit the book, Keeping the Memory Green, which is a written history of the Rochester Franciscan Congregation. 

How do you describe Franciscan values?

We are guided by 1) evangelical conversion which is daily rendering the gospel into our lives, 2) prayer, 3) poverty and 4) humility. Those all have deep roots in the Franciscan legacy going back to Saint Francis.

What qualities and characteristics of Mother Alfred Moes might we learn from today? 

She had a tenacity to get something done if she thought it was right. She was an immigrant from Luxembourg. She was very interested in education as a tool to help people get established. I’m sure she would be fighting for education for immigrants today. That was her driving force before getting the hospital going. As we know her, she was indomitable. If she thought it was right, she was going to get it done … We are daughters of Mother Alfred. At times, when we have to make very strong decisions, we remember this is our legacy.

Sister Ramona Miller / Photo by Emily Carson

Sister Ramona Miller / Photo by Emily Carson

How many Franciscan Sisters are there today? 

In our congregation, there are 182 Rochester Franciscan Sisters. There are thousands in the world. In the United States, there are 58 congregations. Across the world, there are 400 congregations of Sisters of Saint Francis. They all have the same basic values. 

The mission of the Rochester Franciscan Sisters includes the words, “to be a compassionate presence for peace in our world, striving for justice and reverence for all creation.” What are some of the ways that sisters are living out that vision around the world today? 

There are sisters who continue to volunteer at St. Marys today. Some do visiting and bring the Eucharist. We also have sisters who volunteer with Saint Vincent de Paul. We have two sisters in El Paso, Texas who visit and support those awaiting deportation. Sister Joan Brown is the New Mexico Coordinator of Interfaith Power and Light. She’s our strong voice for climate justice. We all do our best to reverence creation. 

What might surprise the people of Rochester about the Franciscan sisters?

We’re not all the same as they get to know us. We’re quite different as individuals. We have diversity of thought. It may surprise people that in 2014, we willingly gave up our Catholic licensure of St. Marys. We willingly did that for the common good of Rochester and Mayo Clinic, so that there could now be one hospital with two campuses. It may also surprise people that St. Marys Hospital is spelled without an apostrophe. It was an important spelling promoted by Sister Generose Gervais who served as chief administrator of Saint Marys Hospital from 1971 to 1986. She opposed using the apostrophe because it conveyed a possessive meaning, and she said that the hospital did not belong to Saint Mary.

Lucy and Sister Walburger in 1898 at St. Marys Hospital / History Center of Olmsted County

Lucy and Sister Walburger in 1898 at St. Marys Hospital / History Center of Olmsted County

How do you describe the current relationship between the Mayo Clinic and the Franciscan sisters? 

In 2014, when we gave up the Catholic licensure of St. Marys, in order to perpetuate the values that St. Marys Hospital had operated under through the Franciscan Sisters, Mayo Clinic established the Mayo Clinic Values Council. Two Franciscan Sisters will always sit on the council. That council is responsible for the education of those values throughout the Mayo enterprise which is 65,000 employees. Mayo Clinic and the Franciscan Sisters also share space at Assisi Heights. 

In someone felt compelled by what they saw of Franciscan values and history in the new Ken Burns film, what are ways they might partner with you?  

*Give to the Poverello Fund which provides financial support for those unable to pay for their medical bills. (

*Volunteer at your local health care centers to be present with patients and families. 

*Build bridges wherever you are. It was a historic breakthrough that a Catholic nun and an Episcopalian doctor had a relationship to collaborate together all those years ago! We were built on that kind of partnership!

*Support good education which was an important value for Mother Alfred

*Consider becoming a cojourner of the Sisters of Saint Francis. (

The Franciscan spirit was present for the formation of the Mayo Clinic, and that same tenacious compassion continues to propel the Rochester Franciscan Sisters today. To visit Assisi Heights, learn more about upcoming events at their Spirituality Center, or learn more about Franciscan values, visit

Emily Carson is a curator of curiosity. She loves exploring southeastern Minnesota with her husband, Justin, and their Redbone Coonhound, Finn. In addition to her work as a local columnist and communications professional, she is also an ordained Lutheran pastor. Find Emily on Twitter and Instagram at @emilyannecarson and on her

Cover: St. Marys Hospital, circa 1900 / History Center of Olmsted County

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