Teachers and health care workers

The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, more commonly known as the Franciscan Sisters, are a consecrated community of religious women of the Catholic Church. The Franciscan Sisters are forever linked with their teaching apostolate at St. Jude School/Bishop Baumgartner Junior High School in Sinajana, and their health care work at the Catholic Medical Center in Hagåtña and Guam Memorial Hospital in Tamuning.

Soon after World War II and well into the 1960s, Sinajana was one of the most populated villages on Guam. In the early 1950s, Fr. Raymond Demers, OFM Cap, pastor of St. Jude Church, along with his parishioners, wanted to open a parochial school staffed by religious sisters. In 1954, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from La Crosse, Wisconsin, answered the call.

In February 1954, the first two Franciscan Sisters arrived on Guam – Sisters Optata Fries and Genedine Melder. In April of that year Sisters Rosa Liu and Marda Tsai joined them on Guam. The last group in 1954 arrived that August and included Sisters Wilhelmine Brenner, Maxine Frank and Angela Marie Wiedemeyer. They lived in a private home until a convent was built in Sinajana in 1962.

In 1955 land was acquired for the parish school. A candle light procession and Living Rosary celebrated the clearing of the land for the construction project. While the classrooms for the new school in Sinajana were being built with the “happy labor” of many parish volunteers, some of the sisters busied themselves with catechetical work in the parish. Meanwhile other sisters, such as Sisters Genedine, Maxine, and Angela Marie, worked at the Catholic Medical Center in Hagåtña. Later, Sisters Dora Barcinas and Clarella Laverdiere also worked at the Catholic Medical Center.

Four classrooms, an office, and lavatories were built in time for the beginning of the new school year in the fall of 1955. St. Jude School officially opened that year with Sister Wilhelmine Brenner as its first principal. Sisters Optata, Rosa, and Marda made up the faculty. The school was able to take in students for the seventh and eighth grades. The following year, a ninth grade was added, and in 1957 a tenth grade was opened.

The sisters did not confine their health care ministry to the Catholic Medical Center. Some sisters also worked at the Guam Memorial Hospital. Sister Jean Marie Menke was Administrator of the Hospital from 1968 until 1973. Sisters Dora Barcinas, Leclare Beres, Josara Bielefeld, Dominica Chen, and Angela Marie Wiedemeyer also worked at Guam Memorial Hospital.

In 1971 St. Jude School underwent a major transformation. The seventh and eighth grades from Cathedral Grade School in Hagåtña were transferred to St. Jude School. The school was placed under direct diocesan supervision and was no longer a parish school. The name of the school was changed to Bishop Baumgartner Junior High School.

The Franciscan Sisters worked at St. Jude School/Bishop Baumgartner Junior High School for thirty years. Over those three decades, twenty-nine sisters taught in the school. Sister Wilhelmine, first principal, was succeeded in 1963 by Sister Mildred Tigges, and she was succeeded in 1969 by Sister Alice McMullin who was principal for sixteen years until 1985. In 1985, the Franciscan Sisters were succeeded by the Religious Sisters of Mercy as administrators of the school.

A few Franciscan Sisters remained on Guam for a few years living in a rented home. When Sister Optata Fries, one of the two pioneer Franciscan Sisters on Guam, returned to La Crosse in 1990, Sister Gloria Aguon, a Chamorro sister, remained on island.

Long list of legacies

The legacy of the Franciscan Sisters can be found not only in their educating thousands of students and in their work in health care but also in their many other activities in the archdiocese and in the community. Sister Jeanne Keating was director of the Guam Symphony Chorale and she directed the All Island Choir for the Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II on Guam in 1982. Sister Bernadette Prochaska was Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the diocese. Sisters Alice McMullin and Gloria Aguon served on accreditation teams for both public and private schools. The sisters were active in several ministries of St. Jude Parish, such as working with the Sodality of Our Lady, supervising the altar servers, and coordinating as well as teaching catechism classes. In 1975, in the evenings and on weekends, some sisters assisted the Vietnamese refugees on Guam after the fall of Saigon.

By Eric Forbes, OFM, Cap.

For further reading

Capuchin Franciscan Friars of the Pacific “Our Legacy: Bishop Baumgartner.” (accessed August 9, 2010).

Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration “About us.” (accessed August 9, 2010).