How Franciscan Voices Were Heard in the Desert of Yuma

Paul Keggington

December 04, 2010

The Second Sunday of Advent Gospel (Matthew 3:3 to be exact) is a perfect scripture to celebrate the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity’s arrival 80 years ago in the wilderness of Yuma, AZ to teach at Immaculate Conception School.

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

Franciscan Sisters commemorate 80 years in Yuma, AZ

Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity were honored at Eucharist and an Immaculate Conception Parish dinner for being present for 80 years in Yuma, AZ.

On Sept. 3, 1930 our pioneer Sisters, Sister Justin — Superior, Sister DeLilles, Sister Prisca and Sister Edgar, arrived in Yuma from Holy Family Convent in Manitowoc, WI. 

Imagine them peering out train observation windows watching changing wild natural landscapes. They didn’t want to miss anything! Then stepping off the train and walking out into the high desert heat. Talk about ultimate amazing adventure!

A manuscript of Sister Edgar, one of our first Yuma missionaries, entitled, “This is How Our Yuma Mission Started” reads:

“Father Felician Payas, the Claretian pastor of the parish, had written to a good number of different orders of Sisters, asking if they would come to Yuma and take over the school. But to no avail. They all answered: ‘Too hot.'”

Franciscan Sisters serving Native Americans

After answering the call from Yuma, the Franciscan women religious reached out to Native American Schools in Arizona.

Father Payas wrote a letter to our Community in May 1929. Sister Edgar continues:

“Father Payas took the big statue of St. Joseph from the sanctuary and put it at the communion railing and made a solemn novena with the people of the parish for Sisters. Following that novena, Mother Inez arrived to see things first-hand before accepting the school. The people firmly believed that St. Joseph sent our Community to them.”

There was no air-conditioning on the train.

“We had to change wimples at least twice before we got to Yuma.”

There was no refrigeration except one little electric fan which over-heated in the Sisters’ Convent on the third floor of the three story school building.

And our Sisters are still here! This is a story of true love for a warm-hearted people.

To remember these four Sisters and our many years of service, Bishop Gerald Kicanas, Diocese of Tucson, celebrated a special December 3, 2010 Eucharist at Immaculate Conception Parish. Beginning in 1932 with kindergarten to third grades with 130 students, today Immaculate Conception School continues the commitment of Catholic education to 235 students in K-8 grades. Our Sisters are present at Immaculate Conception School,  Yuma Catholic High School and serve in the parish.

Sister Elizabeth Benvie, OSF,  sent pictures and the Yuma Sun wrote a front page article on the event.  Click here for that article.

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