JUNE 2006: SISTERS FRANCIS, ALDONZA, AND BONOSA (Rest In Peace)
On July 15, the Hospital Sisters will celebrate their 130th anniversary in America with an event at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, IL. On this occasion they will also commemorate the essence of their healthcare ministry - caring for someone in need.
This month’s story introduces the three Sisters who cared for Mary Todd Lincoln, the widow of President Abraham Lincoln. It is a story of how Jesus’ healing ministry was demonstrated by these three Sisters despite cultural and religious differences, age, and status in society with Mrs. Lincoln.
Throughout her life, Mrs. Lincoln was controversial; as First Lady she was criticized by many Americans for the way she spent money and Southerners felt she was a traitor while Northerners felt she was a spy. Sadly, she suffered great losses in life: the assassination of her husband and the death of three young sons. Furthermore, her surviving son, Robert, led an insanity hearing in regard to his mother's behavior. She was declared insane and confined in a sanitarium for about four months. In 1876, a jury reversed the verdict.
Mrs. Lincoln traveled several times to Europe during her life. After a trip in 1880, she returned to America in October to live in Springfield, IL with her sister’s family - Mrs. Ninian W. Edwards. She lived with them for about one year and then went to New York to seek medical attention for some health problems. She returned to Springfield and her sister’s home shortly after March 2, 1882. Suffering was familiar to Mrs. Lincoln and she faced a number of illnesses during the last years of her life - at times requiring round-the clock care. To assist with her care, the Sisters at St. John’s Hospital including Sisters Aldonza Eltrich, Bonosa Kloenne, and Francis Dreisvogt (pictured above), were called upon to care for Mrs. Lincoln.
The Sisters took turns caring for Mrs. Lincoln during the day; but because she was especially fond of Sister Francis, it was she whom Mrs. Lincoln requested to stay with her during the night. Sister Francis would work during the day nursing the sick and the poor in Springfield and in the evening would go to the Edwards’ home. When she arrived, she would bathe Mrs. Lincoln, assist her into bed, and remain at her bedside throughout the night.
It was in this home that Mrs. Lincoln died on July 16, 1882 at the age of 63.
Sister Francis Dreisvogt, OSF
Sister Francis was born in 1849 in Rheda, Germany and was one of the 20 Sisters who traveled from Germany in 1875 to bring their healthcare services to America. Of this group of Sisters, her photo is the only one that exists.
After the Sisters' arrival in Alton, IL on November 6, 1875, Sister Francis was first assigned to Effingham, IL and the establishment of St. Anthony’s Hospital. She returned to Springfield in 1877 and along with four other Sisters, founded St. John’s Hospital. An archival document stated that “The willingness of these Sisters, their travels to every part of the city to assist not only the sick and ailing but the needy as well, soon began to wear down the prejudice of Springfield residents against the hospital. Because of this prejudice against entering a hospital for treatment, the five Sisters were required to visit the homes of the afflicted, traveling through the muddy streets of the city throughout all seasons of the year, regardless of weather conditions.”
Sister Francis did not speak fluent English nor was she familiar with American culture. However, this 33-year-old woman held the hand of Mrs. Lincoln and did not need to speak any words to this former first lady who once said “One by one I have consigned to their resting place my idolized ones, and now, in this world there is nothing left for me but the deepest anguish and desolation.”
Sister Francis ministered at St. John’s Hospital for 53 years and died on July 31, 1933 at the age of 86.
Sister Bonosa Kloenne, OSF
Sister Bonosa was born on March 14, 1860 in Damme, Germany and arrived in America in 1878 - three years after the first group of Sisters. Upon her arrival, she entered the Congregation on September 11, 1879. Her sister, Sister Gottharda, followed her to the United States and entered the Congregation in 1881.
While no detailed information is available on Sister Bonosa’s assignments, we do know that she was 22 years old when she cared for the 63-year-old Mrs. Lincoln. Like Sister Francis, Sister Bonosa did not speak fluent English and knew very little of American culture. Sister Bonosa died on January 6, 1899.
Sister Aldonza Eltrich, OSF
Sister Aldonza Eltrich was born on April 29, 1860 in Belleville, IL and entered the Congregation on September 2, 1878. During her early years in the Congregation, she worked at St. John’s Hospital and also was 22 years old when she cared for Mrs. Lincoln.
Sister Aldonza was the first Anesthetist in the American Province and worked at the Sisters’ hospitals in Sheboygan, WI, Eau Claire, WI, Litchfield, IL, Green Bay, WI (St. Vincent), Springfield, IL, East St. Louis, IL, Decatur, IL, and Streator, IL. She died on April 7, 1920.
The Sisters' healthcare ministry continues
Today, employees in the Sisters' 13 sponsored hospitals, the Corporate Office, the Corporate Computer Center, the Motherhouse, and other ministries of the American Province recognize the opportunity to continue the healing ministry of Jesus. Like Sisters Francis, Aldonza, and Bonosa, each person finds value and meaning by reaching out to someone in need. The inspiration of the early Sisters continues to be an inspiration to all.