Sister Mary Frances never set out to have children.
The Catholic nun ended up with 26 of them.
"They just came along into my life," she once told me. "God had something in mind."
Sister Mary Frances had 26 sons. The Lost Boys of Sudan towered over her. They called her Mom. And "Malaik," the Dinka word for angel.
She died on Sunday. She was 83.
The one paragraph obituary noted that she was a member of the congregation of St. Joseph for 65 years.
That she was a daughter and a sister.
That the funeral Mass would be Tuesday, June 23 in the St. Joseph Worship Space, 3430 Rocky River Dr. at 7 p.m. That friends could call at The Worship Space Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 4:30 P.M. with a wake service at 4:30 p.m.
It didn’t mention her children, those 26 men, their families here and abroad, and the countless people they touched.
When she joined the Sisters of Saint Joseph, she never set out to have children. Never imagined she would spend her retirement years helping to build wells in Africa. Never imagined she'd be carried away by the Lost Boys of Sudan who ended up lost in Cleveland and found by her.
She inspired the community to save them. To donate money to pay for school, citizenship and basic needs. To write resumes and cover letters, to drive them to job interviews, teach them to use a computer and speak English. To hire them, to mentor them, to love them.
She gave them the greatest gift of all: hope.
I wrote about the Lost Boys after one was murdered at a bus stop in Cleveland back in 2006. As a boy, Majok Madut had escaped Sudan's civil war, fled the bullets of rebel soldiers, crossed raging rivers of crocodiles and walked across blazing deserts to finally find safety in America.
When he died, it was Sister Mary Frances who saw the gift in it. The night before his wake, she felt a powerful sense that something good was going to happen to the Lost Boys because of Majok. She had helped them ever since they arrived in Cleveland. She told them Majok was going to give them a wonderful gift.
Somehow she could see the holy in the horrific. His death turned a spotlight on the plight of the Lost Boys.
With her help, they became U.S. citizens. They found wives. They had children. They have pursued college degrees and careers. They build lives bigger than their dreams.
One studied to become a pilot so he could help with relief efforts and rescue other refugees. One started a project called Isaac's Wells so the people of Sudan won't have to walk miles to get drinking water.
Through it all, Sister Mary Frances never forgot the son she buried. His tombstone reads:
Beloved Son and Brother
Majok Thiik Madut
Lost Boy of Sudan
Found by God
It always comforted her to know his death ended up shining a light on them that never dimmed. She would never say it, but I hope she can now feel it:
Hers was the brightest light of all.