HomeNewsA fond farewell to Sister Francesca

A fond farewell to Sister Francesca

Sister Francesca Onley

Sister Francesca Onley was remembered Sunday as a woman who spent 71 years as a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth, including 61 in an education ministry at Frankford and Grant avenues.

From 1953 until 1980, Sister Francesca served at Nazareth Academy Grade School and Nazareth Academy High School as a faculty member, guidance counselor, assistant principal and principal. In 1981, she was appointed president of Holy Family College and served until 2014.

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“We have lost a gem,” said homilist Monsignor John Jagodzinski, who first met Sister Francesca in 1972 when he was appointed chaplain to the Immaculate Conception Province of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. “She was such a good one. A life well lived. Sister Francesca walked in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd.”

Sister Francesca died on April 17 in hospice at Nazareth Hospital after a brief illness. She was 88.

In her hospital bed, a few days before her death, she wrote these words:

“Please extend my love to my family, Dave and Blanche (brother and sister-in-law) and their family and my love to Joan (sister-in-law) and her family and to all the Sisters whom I loved. I have had a special, privileged community life and I had a special love for all of them especially for all those with whom I lived. Thanks to all the friends I have had. I love them dearly. I don’t have special words to say with my last breath except that I loved all with an everlasting love. I am grateful for all the privileges I had and appreciate the blessings and love I enjoyed. Peace and love,” signed S. Francesca Onley.

As president, she led the transformation of Holy Family College into a university in 2002. She directed the construction of residence halls, the Campus Center and the Education and Technology Center, which was later named after her.

Sunday’s viewing and funeral Mass, celebrated by Bishop Timothy Senior, took place at St. Katherine of Siena Catholic Church. Burial followed at the Sisters’ cemetery on Holy Family’s campus.

Senior recalled serving on the board of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary with Sister Francesca. As the board listened to challenges facing the seminary, Senior remembers Sister Francesca recommending the seminary sell its property and move to a smaller location. Indeed, the property was sold in 2019, and it was announced last week that the seminary would be moving to Gwynedd Mercy University.

Sister Celine Warnilo, facilities manager for the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, spoke of how Sister Francesca was baptized at St. Joachim and attended school at St. Matthew. She became familiar with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth as a candy striper at Nazareth Hospital.

“Her heart belonged to the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth,” Sister Celine said.

Sister Celine referred to Sister Francesca as an “influencer.”

“Your presence will be missed, Sister Francesca,” she said.

Donations in her memory may be made to Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, 310 N. River Road, Des Plaines, IL 60016 or online at https://nazarethcsfn.org/donate. ••

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