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 | By Jenny Cromie

Prayer knows no distance

After 33 Years as “Companions in Prayer,” Saginaw sisters will continue their diocesan mission

Sister Dianne clearly remembers the message the Franciscan priest gave during his homily one day in the 1980s—it took root and forever changed the course of her spiritual journey as a contemplative Poor Clare nun. The message was this: leave the protection of the cloistered monastery in Bloomington, Minnesota, and go live in community as contemplative sisters out in the world.

After discerning the call, Sister Dianne Doughty, Sister Laura Hammel, the late Sister Bernardone Reining and the late Sister Laurene Burns asked for permission to leave the monastery to “do an experiment” as a small community of sisters living out in the world in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“We wanted to live a little closer to people and share our prayer that way,” Sister Dianne said.

And so began a larger call and a life journey that eventually landed them nearly 550 miles away, where they would serve for 33 years as the Sisters of St. Clare of Saginaw, Michigan.

During a three-hour layover at the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport in March 1991, Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, of the Adrian Dominicans asked whether they would be willing to move from St. Paul. There were a lot of bishops, she told them, who would be interested in having a contemplative order in their diocese. One such bishop was her friend Bishop Ken Untener of the Diocese of Saginaw.

The following Thursday, the phone rang, and Bishop Ken Untener was on the other line.

“Are you in a jet set mood?” Bishop Ken asked Sister Dianne.

In keeping with the words of Isaiah 6:8— “Here I am Lord, I am ready! Send me!”— the sisters said ‘yes.’

By the following weekend, Sister Dianne and Sister Laura were visiting the Diocese of Saginaw at the bishop’s invitation. During Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish on Saginaw’s East Side, they were moved to tears and knew that they were destined to be in Saginaw. Just as St. Clare received her call to join St. Francis when a bishop handed her a palm during a Palm Sunday Mass, Sisters Dianne and Laura found themselves suddenly holding palms during the Palm Sunday Mass.

Sister Dianne gets choked up now even thinking about it.

“It was very moving,” she said.

Needless to say, the sisters said ‘yes’ to Bishop Ken. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Their answer to the phone call and their ‘yes’ to the invitation from the late Bishop Ken of the Diocese of Saginaw in 1991 led to more than three decades spent as the Sisters of St. Clare in Saginaw. With their lives, the sisters demonstrated to the faithful how to live as contemplatives out in the world, opening their home and chapel to small groups interested in learning more about silence and centering prayer, selling fragrant oil to support themselves and donating articles on behalf of people in the Diocese to charities like the Emmaus House of Saginaw.

But most of all, they lived in Saginaw as “Companions in Prayer,” praying for all the deceased and their families in parishes throughout the diocese for the past 33 years.

When they first arrived in Saginaw, Sister Laura recalled Bishop Ken gave them some helpful guidance. He suggested they find ways to support themselves, attend Mass at different parishes around the diocese and offer something different to people than other monastic communities he had experienced.

“While some communities gave retreatants the outer experience of a retreat, they offered little guidance on their relationship with Jesus … He wanted us to do something different,” Sister Laura recalled, adding that the bishop often would refer to “kitchen table” experiences— helping people discover their relationship with Jesus in everyday life.

The diocesan Office of Catholic Cemeteries also sent the sisters a monthly list of the names of people who had passed away and were buried in Catholic cemeteries, along with names of the families of the deceased. The sisters prayed for them and sent bereavement cards to the families, letting them know that the sisters are holding them in prayer.

“Saginaw is where we learned to become disciples of Jesus, and for this we are grateful,” Sister Laura told an emotional group of more than 200 laypeople, religious and priests who arrived at a taizé prayer service on April 23 at St. John Vianney Parish, their last such service in the diocese.

Now only two in number (Sister Laurene died in 2021 and Sister Bernardone died in 2018), Sisters Dianne and Laura made the difficult decision to move geographically out of the diocese. They are living in community as Poor Clare contemplative sisters with another religious institute, the Franciscan Sisters in Wheaton, Illinois, known as the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

“We need to be in a bigger community than just the two of us,” Sister Dianne said.

Besides, she added, the yard and the house they’ve lived in for the past 33 years—the former rectory for St. John Vianney Church—are too large for two aging sisters who have taken a vow of poverty.

But, as Sister Dianne told the emotional crowd at their farewell prayer service, their connection to the diocese will continue.

“This is a geographical move … We will remain the Sisters of St. Clare of Saginaw, Michigan,” she announced. Everyone at the prayer service applauded.

Still, for many who gathered in honor of the sisters, the farewell prayer service was a tearful benediction amid flickering candles on the altar and the soft, fading evening light coming through the stained-glass windows. At the conclusion of about an hour of chants and songs, sacred intervals of silence, and a reflection on John 15 (“I am the vine, you are the branches”), the sisters called each person by name, using the name tags issued at the door, and blessed each person on their forehead with a few words and the Sign of the Cross.

Father Randy Kelly, one of the many priests who came to bid the sisters farewell at the prayer service, commissioned them for the next leg of their journey. The sisters, he says, have long been a “spiritual spark plug” for many people and priests in the diocese.

“(Their move to Wheaton) is going to make this next— and probably the last— chapter of their community life richer and less challenging for them,” he said. “There is a sense of loss, but that geographic distancing is not going to have an impact on their relationships here.”

Father Randy likened the sisters’ mission to St. Paul’s when he had to start communicating with the early Christian communities by letter. St. Paul stayed in touch with the faithful that way, but he also encouraged early Christians to continue their good work through each of those letters. Now, the sisters even have the benefit of the internet.

“(They can) stay with us virtually,” Father Randy said.

In many ways, the sisters plan to continue their ministry as they have for years:  they will maintain their website with meditations from Sister Laura and Father Randy, monitor prayer requests and sell fragrant oil.  Sister Laura will also continue writing for the Global Sisters Report.

Much to the relief of many, the sisters also will remain connected with the diocese by continuing to check their email and website for prayer requests twice a day, Sister Dianne said. Typically, they receive about 10,000 prayer requests a year from all over the world.

As Sister Laura puts it, they are simply “mediators” for God’s hand in people’s lives. Often, the sisters receive a note of thanks sharing how God has responded to the prayers:  a stronger marriage, a return to health, a child conceived and born, employment found.

All of those prayers will continue, the sisters said. The power of prayer transcends distance.

On an afternoon before their move, both sisters sat in the home they lived in for more than three decades and reflected on their personal spiritual journeys, tied so closely to Saginaw. Their look back was bittersweet, but the look ahead to Wheaton was with joyful anticipation.

Both sisters could clearly see the hand of God moving them to the next chapter, and how they were directed to the community in Wheaton by a fellow Franciscan sister they’ve known for more than 50 years. Sister Dianne and Sister Laura were no longer able to return to their original monastery due to lack of capacity, but the Franciscan community where they were headed was ready to welcome them with open arms.

Since the beginning of this year, the building manager at the new community continued to update them with pictures of their new quarters as they painted and put new flooring in the space above the chapel where the community’s priest used to live. One afternoon before the move, Sister Dianne was excited to report that someone from the community in Wheaton had called to check on their availability for a welcome party and high tea to be held in their honor.

Mostly packed and ready to go, the two sisters seem to be at peace with everything and full of joy.

“We are really conscious of the Holy Spirit,” Sister Dianne says. “There is a bigger plan.  … It is in good will.”

Stay in touch with the Sisters of St. Clare of Saginaw

If you would like to remain prayerfully in touch with the Sisters of St. Clare, please mail letters or cards to

Sisters of St. Clare

c/o Wheaton Franciscans

1000 Community Drive

P.O. Box 667

Wheaton, Illinois 60187

Prayer requests: or webform

For reflections by Sister Laura and Father Randy Kelly, videos, the prayer request form and more information, please visit

Learn more about the community Sisters Dianne and Laura have moved to at