In 1846, when Johanna Hofer was four years old, she and her parents immigrated to St. Peter’s Parish, Philadelphia, from Baden, Germany. Eight years later, Johanna was confirmed in St. Peter’s Church by Bishop John Neumann. Less than six years after that, on November 19, 1859, Johanna Hofer joined the Reed Street community of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia as Sister Mary Aloysia.
For her first several years as a sister of St. Francis, Sister Mary Aloysia taught in her diocese at St. Alphonsus School. Then when Mother Agnes was named superior general, Sister Aloysia took over for her as novice mistress. She continued to hold that responsibility until the fall of 1864. Her next assignment was to open All Saints School in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia. Assignments to open St. Mary School in nearby Manayunk and then Holy Trinity School in Columbia, Lancaster County, came next.
Becoming Mother Aloysia, she served as superior in Columbia and then, in 1891, came to the motherhouse, now in Aston, as novice mistress. In 1900, Mother Aloysia was elected the first provincial of the Eastern Province. For the closing months of that year and throughout the following year, Mother Aloysia lived in the Manayunk Convent, moving from there to St. Joseph Hospital, Lancaster, where she lived until being named superior general.
Mother Aloysia became superior general in 1906, following Mother Agnes’ retirement, and continued in that role until 1918. Sister M. Jeanette Clare, OSF, explains the focus of Mother Aloysia’s leadership:
- Mother Aloysia’s generalate . . . indicates her purpose to deepen the foundations of the Community rather than expand, for the moment, its scope. Her efforts to build resulted in strong bonds of inner unity. . . . During her tenure of office, emphasis was placed upon the professional preparation of the Sisters —Franciscan Glen Riddle [Aston] Sisters being among the first students of the Sisters College at the Catholic University. (47)
Mother Aloysia was, however, also responsible for eight school missions. Among these were her first mission, Nativity School, in Media, Pa. And under her leadership, in 1912, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia began their presence as teachers in the first parochial school opened in the West, St. Leo School in Takoma, Washington. The Jesuit Fathers had been the original teachers at St. Leo School. On the East Coast, in 1913, the Sisters of St. Francis began their mission at Holy Trinity School in Boston, which Sr. M. Jeanette Clare describes as “probably the oldest permanent parochial school in Boston” (48).
But throughout her tenure, prayer and observance of the Franciscan way of life remained the soul and essence of Mother Aloysia’s leadership:
- Community records . . . reveal that her generalate was characterized by strict observance of the Constitutions and the promotion of the spirit of prayer. . . . [Even as] the oldest member of the Order, Mother prayed daily with extended arms for long periods of time before the Blessed Sacrament. (Clare 47)
In 1918, Mother Aloysia was named vicar general, and Mother Stanislaus Bittenbender took over from her as superior general. After suffering a disabling injury in 1922, Mother Aloysia retired from formal leadership but, for more than a decade, continued to fulfill “the role of elder statesman” (Clare 47). Mother Aloysia Hofer died on February 10, 1933, and is buried in Our Lady of Angels Cemetery.
Learn more about our history and see a short timeline of events here. Stay tuned for more spotlights on other founding members and superiors.