Our Founding

"The adaptation and renewal of the religious life includes both the constant return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time.” Perfectae Caritatis 2

In 1981, Sister Bernadette Counihan, OSF, along with four other Sisters made the courageous decision to found a brand new religious order, the Franciscan Sisters of Christ the Divine Teacher. The decision to found a new order came after nearly 20 years of struggling to maintain an authentic renewal of religious life in the Sisters’ original communities according to the mandate given by the documents of Vatican II. When Sister Bernadette’s loyal opposition to the redefinition of vows, banishment of a religious habit, end to communal living and common apostolate went unheeded, she petitioned Rome for a dispensation from her vows. After inquiring into a handful of dioceses that might be looking for a new religious order, Sister Bernadette accepted the invitation of then Bishop Gerald O’Keefe of the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa. The new community received overwhelming support. When asked what the new community would be like, Sister Bernadette replied, “Nothing extraordinary. We merely hope to follow the directives of this marvelous Pope (John Paull II), build a Christian community and be real Franciscans.”

  • Foundation Date: July 1, 1981

Founding Members:

Sister Bernadette Counihan, OSF

  • Born: September 10, 1921 in Cicero, Illinois
  • Final Profession of Vows: June 13, 1940
  • Sr. Bernadette Counihan obtained her B.A. from Alverno College in Milwaukee, WI and her M.A. from Marquette University where she was the first nun graduate assistant. Sister did post-graduate work at Notre Dame University, Northwestern, and UWM. She taught in small and large high schools, co-educational and all-girls schools in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. She spent two and a half years teaching in Costa Rico, and prior to Founding the new order of Franciscan Sisters in Davenport, IA spent 12 years teaching English at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
  • Death: June 8, 2013

Sister Azaria Halfmann, OSF

  • Born: April 24, 1920 in Fondulac, Wisconsin
  • Final Profession of Vows: June 13, 1942
  • Sister Azaria Halfmann always considered herself as having a “late” vocation, not entering the convent until 21 years of age. Growing up as a support and caretaker of her family, Sister continued that role in the convent. Her love for her community was seen in her years of humble service and in the never ending supply of home-baked cookies.
  • Death: February 14, 2013

Sister Alice Reneau, OSF

  • Born: June 27, 1916 in Kankakee, Illinois
  • Final Profession of Vows: August 13, 1941
  • Sr. Alice received a Bachelor of Science in Education and had Master's Degrees in both English and Administration. She began a teaching career that spanned over 54 years, retiring in 1997. She had taught in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Minnesota, and locally she served as Principal of St. Alphonsus School from 1971 until 1983.
  • Death: March 18, 2005

Sister Marie Widhelm, OSF

  • Born: April 24, 1920 in Howells, Nebraska
  • Final Profession of Vows: August 12, 1945
  • Sister Marie began her teaching career in 1942 St. Bernardine School in Forest Park, Illinois until 1961. She taught at St. Ludger Elementary in Creighton, Nebraska for one year, then at St. Peter & Paul in Howells, Nebraska from 1962-67, St. Rose of Lima in Crofton, Nebraska from 1967-71 and returned to St. Peter & Paul at Howells until 1975. She then taught at St. Alphonsus Catholic School in Davenport until retiring in 1996. She taught school for a total of 54 years. After her retirement, she tutored at the convent.
  • Death: November 19, 2004

Sister Margaret Mary Lichtfuss, OSF