WILMINGTON — Visitors to St. Ann School in Wilmington have a new face greeting them this year, one that is a physical reminder of a significant part of the school’s history.
A small statue of St. Francis of Assisi sits on a table just inside the front door. It was a gift from Sister Mary Smith, a Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia who started working this year at St. Ann’s. It was given to her several years ago by her religious community, but she was happy to pass it along.
“When I knew that I was coming to St. Ann’s, and when I realized that our sisters back in 1899 were invited to open St. Ann School — and recognizing, too, that the Franciscan spirit still pervaded these halls — I thought it might be nice to donate this to the school as a reminder of the Franciscan charism, the Franciscan spirit,” Sister Mary said.
The statue shows St. Francis seated on a bench, reading Scripture. Sister Mary said she felt it was important to have a physical presence of St. Francis, although the Franciscan spirit is still felt there.
“Whenever I look at this statue, I think of a well-known saying of St. Francis among Franciscans, and that is, ‘Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words,’” she said.
The Franciscans served at St. Ann’s for nearly a century; the last ones left in 1995.
“There’s been a 25-year hiatus since we’ve had any Franciscans here, and I’m just delighted to be here,” she said.
Sister Mary worked in internal ministry for the Franciscan sisters in Aston, Pa., until last January. She got together with St. Ann’s pastor Father John Mink – whom she worked with at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in New Castle – and principal Pat Grant and was invited to be part of a new wellness team at St. Ann’s. The team includes the school counselor, Lisa Lopez; physical education teacher Katie Johnson; and nurse Diane Kerr.
“We’re working together to support our families and our students,” Sister Mary said. “Our emphasis this year is promoting a resilient spirit among our students. I’ve only been here about two weeks now. The students have a great enthusiasm, a great energy for life and learning.”
While her statue of St. Francis might be new to the Diocese of Wilmington, Sister Mary is not. She taught at St. John the Beloved School, Padua Academy and Saint Mark’s High School before moving into social work. She also spent almost 20 years in family counseling at Catholic Charities in the diocese.