Sister Francis Joseph was the “peace pilgrim.” Grace Kelly was among her students. She entered the convent at the age of 33 and traveled the world, but is known to many St. Francis de Sales students as the nun who taught peace.
Sr. Francis died last Thursday. She was 93.
Born Rachel Scarpello in Germantown, Sr. Francis served as the first lay principal of the Catholic school Ravenhill Academy in East Falls, which Kelly attended in the 1940s. Sr. Francis taught at Ravenhill for 12 years before she decided to join the order Religious of the Assumption and their convent at 1001 S. 47th St., across the street from St. Francis de Sales.
You may have seen Sr. Francis sitting on the convent porch or you might have helped her across the street as she leaned on her cane.
“I make friends through that cane,” she told a reporter from The Catholic Standard and Times newspaper for an article marking her 90th birthday in 2009.
What you probably didn’t know is that after graduating from Chestnut Hill College she worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That was before she became a nun. During her long career with the Assumption Sisters, Sr. Francis worked in Paris, Osaka and Manilla, where she was instrumental in building housing for the poor. She was one of the first women to attend Gregorian University in Rome.
In recent years at the St. Francis de Sales School she became known as the “peace pilgrim,” stopping by classes and teaching students about peace through stories. Sr. Francis also had a long relationship with Saint Joseph’s University, where an outreach lecture series she started 30 years ago was named after her in 2011.
Funeral services will be held Tuesday, March 5 at 10 a.m. at St. Francis de Sales (47th and Springfield).
- Mike Lyons