August 4, 2006

Down on the farm: Franciscan spirituality thrives at Michaela Farm in Oldenburg

By Mary Ann Wyand

OLDENBURG—Naturally curious, Bonnie, Claudia, Hagar and Sarah greet visitors from their side of the fenced-in field at Michaela Farm, hoping for a treat from the garden.

The sheep love people—and vegetable scraps—so they are wonderful ministers of hospitality, which delight the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, who own and operate the 152-year-old farm on 300 acres just east of the historic Franciscan motherhouse in Franklin County.

Near the sheep pen, a statue of St. Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners, anchors a birdbath on the center path in a beautiful flower garden not far from the hives where bees produce honey that is harvested for sale.

Farther down the farm’s gravel road, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi graces the center of a prayer labyrinth.

And in the back field, four new bull calves and a heifer—Seeker, Chase, Summer, Mate and Firecracker—graze with the sisters’ herd of beefalo that only return to the nearly century-old brick barn during the winter months.

It is a scenic, peaceful place that exemplifies the sisters’ mission statement for their ministry: “Michaela Farm, embodying the Franciscan spirit, nurtures sustainable relationships among land, plants, animals and humans, and utilizes farm resources to fulfill its goals.”

In keeping with their mission for the farm, Franciscan Sister Marie Nett, who is responsible for the animals and gardens, lovingly cares for the livestock and prays over the seeds before planting them.

The sisters respect the delicate balance of nature that enables them to grow organic produce for the motherhouse and help stock a local food pantry through their Farm Fresh Community Supported Agriculture ministry.

Franciscan Sister Ann Marie Quinn, who is responsible for farm programs

and public relations, welcomes visitors, students and volunteers that come to learn about organic food production and care of the environment, experience spiritual renewal, and help the sisters and associates with farm chores.

Adults and children are invited to participate in Volunteer Work Day from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on the third Saturday of each month.

The sisters’ Web site for the farm explains that, “Merging agriculture, education and spirituality, Michaela Farm builds on and enfleshes the Franciscan value of ‘just relationships with all Creation.’ This value is core to our attitudes toward Earth [and] is a source of inspiration and motivation for our work.”

The sisters express this value through simple living, seeing all creation as “kin,” respectfully using resources, striving for sustainability, expressing gratitude, offering hospitality and sharing with others.

The farm was founded by the sisters in 1854 and at its peak provided water, beef, pork, chicken, dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables for the motherhouse and the sisters’ Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception.

During the 1970s, the sisters cut back on farm operations then leased the land to local farmers in 1987. Four years later, the sisters began a revitalization plan that was motivated by environmental concerns then named the farm for Franciscan Sister Michaela Lindemann, who was the first farm manager.

Now, four Franciscans share farm management and programming responsibilities. Sister Ann Marie and Sister Marie work with Sister Carolyn Hoff, who coordinates volunteers, maintenance and facilities, and Sister Claire Whalen, who is responsible for the community supported agriculture program that shares locally grown organic food with low-income people.

Educational tours and programs enable students to learn about God’s creation, experience farm chores, enjoy rural life and talk with some of the sisters about their environmental ministry.

“Everything we do comes out of our spiritual beliefs and sense of kinship with the land—plants, animals, people, etc.—that sense of right relationship,” Sister Ann Marie explained. “Last year’s program theme was ‘The Plant Kingdom.’ This year’s theme is ‘The Animal Kingdom.’ We offer programs every month. We encourage Scouts, schools, home-schoolers and other groups to come and experience the farm.”

Last April, Our Lady of Lourdes seventh-grader Casiana Warfield of Indianapolis enjoyed a service field trip to Michaela Farm with her classmates.

Reflecting on her experiences in an essay, Casiana wrote about how she loved seeing the animals, helping with chores and eating lunch at the farm as well as visiting the sisters at the motherhouse.

“It was so quiet up there,” she wrote about the farm. “I could probably hear a pin drop. Once we were done enjoying the serene gardens, we drove over to the convent to meet the nuns. I met the former principal of Lourdes [school] there, Sister Inez [Schuman.] It was a fun field trip.

“On the ride back to school,” Casiana wrote, “I thought about what this experience has taught me. I learned the importance of a hard day’s work and what it felt like to get it done. I learned how good it feels to know you are helping many people with just a little effort. I realized what a spiritual place Michaela Farm is—a place where you can help the less fortunate, a place where you can feel appreciated, a place where God’s work is truly done.”

(For more information about programs and activities at Michaela Farm during the summer and fall months, log on to the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg Web site at, send an e-mail to the sisters at or call the farm at 812-933-0661.) †


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