Non-profit

Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque

Location:

Dubuque, IA, United States

Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque is a Catholic ministry based in Dubuque, Iowa. The group is involved in assisting the re-entry to society of women released from prison and in anti-immigration-enforcement, environmentalist, and other left-of-center activism.

The organization sponsors Briar Cliff University, a Catholic university in Sioux City, Iowa. [1]

Charitable Services

The Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque founded the Clare Guest House in Sioux City to be a transition house for more than 100 women released from prison. Franciscan Sr. Gwen Hennessey, who served six months in jail after being arrested at a demonstration at a military installation, is the director of the house. Residents of the Clare Guest House have ranged from ages 19 to 64 and many have a history of substance abuse. [2]

The house originally began as an initiative of Sioux City Multicultural Neighborhood Project. The multicultural project is a ministry established by the Franciscan sisters of Dubuque in 1998. They named the house for St. Clare of Assisi. The Clare Guest House operates in a two-story, five-bedroom home. In 2006, it was incorporated as an independent project from the sisters. Most of the women who lived there for a time were released from the Iowa Women’s Correctional Institution in Mitchellville, Iowa. [3]

The Sisters have various missions outside of Iowa in high poverty states, including one in Mississippi, where it provides English as a Second Language courses for students and teachers in underfunded schools with large Spanish-speaking student bodies. [4]

The orders sponsors Briar Cliff University, a Catholic university in Sioux City, Iowa. In 2019, Hamid Shirvani, a former president of Briar Cliff University, sued for breach of contract, in Woodbury County District Court. The lawsuit also names university trustee Katoski and other trustees, and the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque, which sponsor the university. Details of the allegations were confidential as of mid-2019. [5]

Leadership

Sister Cathy (Kate) Katoski is the president. Katoski has worked as the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque director of development since 1996 and was the treasurer for the congregation since 2010. She previously worked for the order-affiliated Briar Cliff University. She was also formerly a co-director of RENEW for the Archdiocese of Dubuque. She further worked for the National Pastoral Life Center in New York. [6]

The organization has three vice presidents: Sisters Kathy Knipper, Marie Cigrand, and Mary Lechtenberg. [7]

Knipper was an associate professor of education at Briar Cliff University from 2000-2014. She was also the director of curriculum for the Diocese of Sioux City and taught at Catholic elementary schools around Iowa. [8]

Cigrand served as the Sisters of St. Francis Congregational Secretary from 2002-2014.  She also taught in Catholic elementary schools around Iowa. She further has experience as a media specialist. [9]

Lechtenberg taught in Catholic schools and worked for the RENEW office in the Sioux City Diocese. She is a former director of religious education in Chicago, and a director of evangelization for the Des Moines Diocese. [10]

Political Activism

The congregation opposed past enforcement of federal immigration laws, including protesting an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in 2008 in Postville, Iowa. Mary Lee Cox of Sisters of St. Francis, who taught English as a second language to immigrants in Sioux City, was an outspoken critic of the raid that led to 300 arrests at a meatpacking plant. [11]

St. Francis of Dubuque is among eight organizations that helped form the environmentalist coalition Catholic Sisters for a Healthy Earth. This coalition released a short book called Earth as Our Home that offered tips for living an environmentalist-aligned lifestyle. Meg Gemar of the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque is one of the eight authors of the book. She studied earth literacy at St. Mary of the Woods College, in Indiana. The book includes quotes from longtime left-wing activist Ralph Nader alongside quotes from quotes from Pope Benedict XVI and gospel writers St. Luke and St. Matthew. [12]

Dispute with the Vatican

In 2012, Vatican doctrinal authorities initiated an investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a theologically and politically liberal umbrella group of nuns for which Kate Katowski, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque, serves as treasurer. [13] The Vatican alleged that U.S. nuns were suborning various pervasive errors contrary to Roman Catholic doctrine, including making statements suggesting American religious were “moving beyond” the Church or faith in Jesus, expressing hostility to Church teaching on the role of women in ministry, and adopting what the Vatican characterized as “radical feminism.” [14]

Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque criticized the Vatican’s investigation: Pat Farrell of the Dubuque Franciscans was the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious at the time and stated: “Even large sectors of the church itself have legitimate concern and want to continue to talk about the place of women in the church, and rightful equality between men and women. So, if that is called radical feminism, then a lot of men and women in the church, far beyond us, are guilty of that.” [15]

References

  1. Hytrek, Nick. “Ex-Briar Cliff President Hamid Shirvani Sues University for Breach of Contract.” Sioux City Journal. August 1, 2019. Accessed December 21, 2019. https://siouxcityjournal.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/ex-briar-cliff-president-hamid-shirvani-sues-university-for-breach/article_4a179116-1b68-5e6e-8013-f3367884d0ea.html ^
  2. Morris-Young, Dan. “Parish Roundup: Hawaiian Parish Spared in Hurricane Fires; Clare Guest House in Iowa Helped 100 Women.” National Catholic Reporter. September 12, 2018. https://www.ncronline.org/news/parish/parish-roundup-hawaiian-parish-spared-hurricane-fires-clare-guest-house-iowa-helped-100 ^
  3. Fox, Joanne. “For a Decade, Minister Helps Women Transition From Prison.” Catholic News Service. January 17, 2017. December 21, 2019. https://catholicphilly.com/2017/01/news/national-news/iowa-ministry-celebrates-decade-of-helping-women-transition-from-prison/ ^
  4. Stocking, Ben. “How One Mississippi Community Copes with Influx of Hispanic Students.” The Hechinger Report. July 6, 2016. Accessed December 22, 2019. https://hechingerreport.org/one-mississippi-community-copes-influx-hispanic-students/ ^
  5. Hytrek, Nick. “Ex-Briar Cliff President Hamid Shirvani Sues University for Breach of Contract.” Sioux City Journal. August 1, 2019. Accessed December 21, 2019. https://siouxcityjournal.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/ex-briar-cliff-president-hamid-shirvani-sues-university-for-breach/article_4a179116-1b68-5e6e-8013-f3367884d0ea.html ^
  6. Leadership Team. Accessed December 21, 2019. https://www.osfdbq.org/who-we-are/leadership-team/ ^
  7. Leadership Team. Accessed December 21, 2019. https://www.osfdbq.org/who-we-are/leadership-team/ ^
  8. Leadership Team. Accessed December 21, 2019. https://www.osfdbq.org/who-we-are/leadership-team/ ^
  9. Leadership Team. Accessed December 21, 2019. https://www.osfdbq.org/who-we-are/leadership-team/ ^
  10. Leadership Team. Accessed December 21, 2019. https://www.osfdbq.org/who-we-are/leadership-team/ ^
  11. Stockman, Dan. “Postville Faith Leaders, Immigrants Look Back on 10 Years Since Raid.” Global Sisters Report. May 11, 2018. Accessed December 21, 2019. https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/migration/postville-faith-leaders-immigrants-look-back-10-years-raid-53761 ^
  12. Abercrombie, Sharon. “Sisters Place Focus on the Planetary Household.” Eco Beat. May 5, 2014. Accessed December 21, 2019. https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/earthbeat/eco-catholic/sisters-place-focus-planetary-household ^
  13. “LCWR Officers.” LCWR. Accessed January 2, 2020. https://lcwr.org/about/officers. ^
  14. Dreher, Rod. “Radical Nun Pity Party.” The American Conservative, April 27, 2012. https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/radical-nun-pity-party/. ^
  15. Goodstein, Laurie. “American Nuns Vow to Fight Vatican Criticism.” The New York Times. June 1, 2012. Accessed December 21, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/02/us/nuns-speak-about-vatican-criticism.html ^
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Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque

390 Windsor Avenue
Dubuque, IA 52001-1311
United States