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From a miracle, more missions grew

LEWISTON -- Stella Niagara means Star of Niagara.

There's at least one reported starring miracle linked to Stella Niagara, the Sisters of St. Francis' majestic motherhouse, which also serves as an educational institute, elderly-nun retirement home, "peace" site and hospitality center.

When the sisters moved more than a century ago from their small St. Joseph Convent on downtown Buffalo's Ellicott Street to the banks of the Niagara River, there was a little building, a partial ruin on the riverbank.

A contractor at the time, ill with diabetes, petitioned Mary, the mother of Jesus, for a cure. He decided to transform the ruin into a chapel in honor of the "Sorrowful Mother." From the day he started to build the chapel in honor of "Our Lady," his health steadily improved, and on Sept. 15, the Feast of the Sorrowful Mother, when the chapel was finally finished, he found himself cured.

The chapel remains to this day a testament to God's healing power.

"I believe the Sisters of St. Francis have powerful friends in high places," said Tim Henderson, of the Lewiston Council on the Arts.

Henderson alluded to some possible divine intervention when his documentary-drama on the Sisters of St. Francis, "Marble Orchard: Star of Niagara," recently won a national award, the Hometown Video Award, from the Alliance for Community Media in the spiritual/inspirational category.

Hometown Video Awards honor and promote community media and local cable programs that are distributed on public, educational and governmental access cable television channels.

"Marble Orchard" was co-written by Henderson and Eva Nicklas, also of the Lewiston Council, in collaboration with the following sisters of St. Francis: Karen Allen, Laura Garges, Maura Fortkort, Mary Serbacki, Paula Fox and Beth Brosmer.

"We are absolutely thrilled to win this national award," Nicklas said.

"We're grateful to our volunteer cast and crew who did such a great job," Henderson added, "and we treasure our friendship with the Sisters of Saint Francis, and all of our good friends at LCTV."

Mary Carubba, a Lockport Community Television representative, said Henderson's dramatic production, set in the peaceful, secluded cemetery on Stella Niagara grounds, takes viewers back in time to 1908 through a series of vignettes, "when a handful of energetic and tenacious Franciscan Sisters left the noise and commotion of Buffalo for the idyllic environment of the March farm on River Road, where they built a convent and school."

The program presentation coincided with Stella Niagara's yearlong 2008 centennial celebration.

"We see it as our mission to highlight positive community events, and it exceeded our expectations," said Richard Zapp, of LCTV, who co-produced "Marble Orchard," along with his colleague, editor Greg Larson. "When you're taping a show, you always hope for an appreciative audience, but this was far more than we expected."

The sisters exceeded expectations when they set off from Buffalo -- where they had lived for a quarter-century -- during the year that Ford made the first Model T car.

Stella Niagara was built in 1908 as the North American motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity. Today it serves as the administrative center for one of 10 international provinces -- with central administration in Rome, Italy -- and five missions, whose members follow the inspired path of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, and Mother Magdalen Damen. Sisters serve in Western New York -- including at the Heart, Love and Soul food pantry and soup kitchen in Niagara Falls -- as well as in Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, New Jersey, Kentucky and New Mexico; Ontario, Canada; and Tanzania.

Sponsored institutions also include Stella Niagara Educational Park, the Center of Renewal, the Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart and Francis Center in Niagara Falls, as well as a mission in Chiapas, Mexico.

These nuns are best known for serving "the people who are on the outside of society, the people who do not have a voice," said Sister Beth Brosmer, whose work on "Marble Orchard" will be seen again, as LCTV plans a future airing, date and time to be announced.

Have an idea about for Religion News? Write to Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail her at lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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