Thriving under the structure of God’s guidance
Sister Michael Francine celebrates her 25th year as a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon this July during the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon’s Jubilee celebration.
Sister Michael Francine Duncan grew up in Bridgeton, New Jersey. Bridgeton, located in southern New Jersey near the Delaware Bay, is one of the state’s most history-laden cities with more than 2,200 registered historic landmarks. In a town full of historic homes and churches, Sister Michael Francine was raised in a close-knit Catholic family with her five sisters and three brothers.
“Bridgeton was a wonderful location. I really enjoyed the wonder of experiencing the extremes of all four seasons – cold and snowy winters, flower-filled springs, hot and stormy summers and absolutely majestic falls. Our hometown literally provided it all,” said Sister Michael Francine.
Sister Michael Francine also said that it was a comforting place to grow up. The small town feel and relatives close by meant her family was able to walk almost everywhere they went. She stated, “We walked to school, walked to church, and walked to see my aunt and cousins down the street. About the only time we drove anywhere was to visit my grandparents each Sunday who lived just outside of town.”
Taught by the same Sisters who taught her father, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, Sister Michael Francine attended school at the Parish of the Immaculate Conception. She recalls early memories of seeing the Sisters in their full habits and her ability to thrive under their tutelage and structure. Later on, her father would get a job with the phone company in northern New Jersey in Basking Ridge. Sister Michael Francine had to say goodbye to the Sisters she admired to attend a public school for the first time.
“It was a shocking experience for me. I was used to the discipline and regimen of the Sisters and understood my place in their school,” Sister Michael Francine said. “After that experience, public school felt like stepping into chaos. It made me value routine and structure early on.”
After graduating, Sister Michael Francine moved to Scotland to start working for British Gas. She flourished with the organization for 25 years that offered a large organizational structure. “I learned a lot of great business and organizational skills while I was there,” she said. “When it was time to come back to the U.S. I prayed that God would send me to the biggest organization I could find.”
With a plethora of business skills and knowledge, Sister Michael Francine thought God would lead her to a government job. However, He had other plans and helped her see that the Catholic Church would be the best place for her. “The idea of working for the Church really intrigued me,” she said. “I admired Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I read several books about her and was really attracted to her complete trust in God’s providence. I wanted that but figured I was too old to enter religious life so I did not follow up right away.” That was when Sister Catherine Hertel and Sister Barbara Rose entered Francine’s life. “They assured me that when God has a plan, you are never too old,” she said.
After visiting a few Communities and attending a retreat with the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, Sister Michael Francine knew she had found where she belonged. She said, “Walking through the archways up the front steps to the convent I felt at home right away.”
During her first years with the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, Sister Michael Francine felt like she hit the jackpot. The routine and discipline coupled with the encouragement to pray and study about God was exactly what she needed. She was also assigned to the maintenance crew and found a love for manual labor. Cutting the front lawn, edging the headstones in the cemetery, painting the walls and ceilings of the Motherhouse, Sister Michael Francine loved the challenge of hard work and found it joyfully liberating after 25 years of intense office settings.
In addition to her handy labor skills, God also made sure that Sister Michael Francine put those 25 years of business experience to good use for the Sisters as well. It started in the late 1990s organizing a safety committee for the Sisters’ campus and serving as Swim Director for CYO/Camp Howard. Both programs required management training, developing legal guidelines and meeting government regulations – all of which Sister Michael Francine was able to address thanks to her previous experiences. “It was a pleasure to use my skill sets to help people set up those programs,” she said. “I may be the only Swim Director who never had to jump in a pool.”
Nowadays, Sister Michael Francine serves as Superior General for SSMO. She was elected to the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon’s head leadership role during their chapter meeting on March 28, 2020. Every five years the Sisters elect new leadership and approve a direction statement to guide their Community.
“It is an awesome responsibility to serve as Superior General and I am fortunate to have a wonderful leadership council by my side to help lead this Community,” Sister Michael Francine says. “There’s the business side, but the thrilling work is to listen to God and help us as a Community put His direction into perspective.”