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What began as the dream of two sisters grew into a home for over 400 children who needed one, many of whom remain in contact and have been blessing the sisters with countless grandchildren and an extended family that reaches thousands.
“It’s a call, absolutely a call from God; it’s something that settles within you,” said Sister Francette Malecha. “We don’t always understand the call, but it’s definitely a call from God, and you know it’s something you have to do.”
“I was still in grade school, eighth grade, when I told my mom and dad I wanted to go to Mankato, which meant our provincial house, when I went before going on to our postulancy so I could enter the candidature and then spend a year as a novice and then first profession in 1959.”
Francette was professed as a School Sister of Notre Dame in 1959.
For Sister Margaret Roozen, the calling was a bit different.
“I was raised in Mankato, and I decided I wanted to enter the convent for my high school year and my dad said no, and that I needed to experience dating and all of that stuff first, so I had to wait until I graduated high school,” Margaret said. “As soon as I graduated high school, in 1960, I entered the convent, Our Lady of Good Counsel, where Francette was.”
The sisters met soon after Margaret entered.
“She entered and I was the first year professed up there before I went out on mission, and she came up as a candidate,” Francette said. “We just clicked.”
“We’ve been friends ever since I entered the convent,” Margaret added.
The sisters began their dream
“She had started a day care center, Sandcastle Childcare center in St. Paul, and I had just left my teaching career in Rogers when I asked if I could be hired to work at the day care center,” Margaret said. “We were there 14 years, and one night we were watching TV when an ad came on saying foster parents were needed for Ramsey County, so we looked at each other and said, hey, why not.”
Never did they imagine in that moment their legacy would begin, and their future would include parenting over 400 children, and becoming grandmothers of countless children.
“We became foster parents in Ramsey County for 14 years, and while we were there, we also had a dog and birds in our apartment, and noticed how the kids were always attracted to the animals,” Margaret said.
That realization of the relationship that could be made between the children and the animals, was part of what led the sisters to embark on a journey seeking out a farm for their family.
“We started thinking about animal therapy, and when it was time to leave there, we decided we wanted to find a hobby farm. So we started looking for a hobby farm, and that’s how we ended up here together,” Margaret added.
A long blessed road to home
Just as the sisters began to feel as though their goals had been accomplished for Sandcastle Childcare, they learned that their St. Paul home was set to be demolished to make room for an industrial park, and they needed to find a new home.
“We started looking around for places that needed foster care facilities, so we called up here and talked to Fern Carlson, the licensing person for Isanti County Social Services,” Margaret said. “She said, we’d love it if you’d come up here, so we started looking for somewhere we could live up here.”
After coming up to the area with just $1,800 they’d gotten from the county to relocate, in search of homes to rent, they found no success.
“I put an article in the Scotsman saying ‘two Catholic nuns looking for a place to rent,’ ” Margaret said. “A 70-year-old lady responded and said we could live with her on her farm, and another couple in Stanchfield responded but they weren’t ready to move for at least a year, which wouldn’t help us. Then Margie Soukup who lived here responded to our call.”
“We came up and saw the place, she wasn’t ready to move either, but we came up and saw the place and fell in love with it and were really interested. We thought if we could at least get up here we could find a place to rent; then she decided she would move downstairs and we could rent the upper level in July 1995,” Margaret said.
The move almost didn’t happen, due to the rush of time, but with the sisters’ help, Margie was able to make it work, and the move was still on.
“It was July 28 when we moved here with two big vans, because we took everything we could possibly think of because we didn’t know where we were going,” Francette said. “We took fencing from the houses that were going down, we dug them out and put them in the car. We took things from the neighbor’s houses, like carpeting, a breakfast nook, bricks that we made a sidewalk with here, there was so much stuff.”
In their journey, the sisters came to Isanti County with two children in tow, and because they were along, the sisters needed to be licensed in both Ramsey County as well as Isanti County, which proved to be a bit of work, according to the sisters.
In 1996 the Li’l Farm Children’s Home became a cooperation and formed a board, which began a whole new branch of support from the community and local businesses.
“Dale Wagner helped us to incorporate so we were able to purchase the property, rather than to continue to rent. We were introduced to him by Doc Gibbons, who’d befriended us,” Francette said. “We were religious, so we couldn’t own and we told them we’d have to incorporate to be able to purchase.”
Without community nothing would’ve been possible
“During our move, we put out an S.O.S. to all of our families for help,” Francette said. “We had so much help cleaning the new place up so we could be licensed.”
From even before the sisters were able to finalize their move, they’d felt the support of the community and God in all of their endeavors. Whether it was financially, emotionally, physically or spiritually, the sisters were blessed along their path.
“Our community was very, very supportive both financially and with us being here,” Francette said. “One of our sisters who worked in the public relations office requested to our council to do a fundraiser, so she did two huge fundraisers for us to begin with. Then because she went out to our Province supporters, they began their financial support.”
In the beginning the sisters couldn’t find a bank who was willing to give a loan to them as a nonprofit because, according to Margaret, at that time 9 out of 10 nonprofits defaulted.
“I told the banks, God doesn’t default,” Margaret said. “One of the banks backed all the way out, the other bank said they’d loan us the money, but we needed a $10,000 escrow, so Doc talked to the hospital foundation who gave us the funds for the escrow.”
“Then someone needed to come out and inspect the house, they found 18 things wrong with the house that we had to correct before they’d give us the loan,” Margaret added.
Everything that needed to be done was done within a short period of time, all because of the support from the community, which continued throughout the 25 years the sisters were in service until they asked supporters to stop.
“It really took a village and beyond to do this. So many people ask us how we did it alone, we didn’t, we really didn’t,” Margaret said.
“It wasn’t long after we opened our doors that we were full,” Francette said. “We were full constantly, all the time.”
“We were licensed for 10 in the beginning with room for up to 15, before they lowered the limit to six children a few years ago,” Margaret said.
The children that came into the home were from a variety of walks of lives, with stories that would forever change the lives of the sisters.
“They came to us because of abuse of every type or drugs; it would always be one of the two,” Francette said. “They would be here for anything for a 72-hour hold in an emergency placement to sometimes years. We had some for four years. We never knew how long the children would be here, or even when they were coming. We had children from preemies to the oldest being 18.”
“It took a lot of compassion, and there was a lot of disbelief when we got children, not believing that this could be happening to children; it was horrifying,” Francette added.
Li’l Farms’ last chapter
“Our halls have been empty for the past month here,” Margaret said. “I feel we were very privileged to be able to do this for the children and families.”
“So many of our children come back to us to visit, they call us and send us pictures of their children, their graduations, their weddings. We love to get updates and stay in contact with all of them. This is their home, and we are their family. We are thankful that we could be there for them, and we still are,” Margaret added.
“It’s almost an exception at the board meeting when we don’t get an update on who among the past children cared for has gotten married, or has had another milestone in their life,” said board member Clark Joslin. “It’s like home here. The children treat it like any child would, coming home to see the folks. The sisters have maintained a very loving and close relationship with many of their children, and they will be missed.”
With the intention of retirement, which came a bit sooner than planned, the sisters made the request to the county to stop requesting they take children, and with the continued support of the community, the sisters are moving forward with retirement.
“The board, for many years, at least eight, wanted us to find sisters to take our place. There are no sisters to take our place,” Francette said.
“It’s been discussed for several years what the transition would be, because no one can work forever,” Joslin said. “So we were thinking of what models might work, and of course we’d love to duplicate this, but you can’t duplicate what these sisters have done. This was unique to them, it was their calling, their ministry, their vision, and they made all of this happen with the help of God, of course, and the community.”
“Without them we can’t continue the same model, and while we tried, and even had some interns come out, it wasn’t in the cards for them to do what sister Francette and Margaret have done,” Joslin said.
On June 30 the sisters will close the door for the last time, and drive out of the driveway of Li’l Farm, the place they’ve called home for the past 25 years, where they’ve helped to raise more than 400 children, as they head back to their home at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mankato.
“To move on, it was the Spirit who helped us through this company. We had no idea what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. It was scary for the board to, I know that, but we can’t continue forever,” Francette said.
“We are going to enjoy a nice retirement,” Margaret said. “We’re retiring so now we can volunteer.”
“I am going to begin my work on writing the history of Li’l Farm,” Francette said.
Their story lives on, family created through Sister’s work
For the Horton family, it was adoption that blessed their family with not only two children, but over the years four children, all with the help of Sister Francette and Sister Margaret.
“Our first adoption was through Ramsey County; Christina Rose was 4 years old and Joshua John was 3 years old,” said Cindy Horton. “This was the first time we met Sister Francette and Sister Margaret. Both ladies were very attentive with the children. Our visits with the children along with the sisters were great; they opened their home to us and made us feel very welcome.”
“On June 12, 1990, Sister Francette and Sister Margaret drove into our driveway in Rock Creek with these two little children to bring them to their new forever home. Harlan and I were so excited. We heard a knock on the door and there they all stood, biggest smiles we had ever seen in our lives,” Horton added.
Not only did the sisters nurture the family throughout the introduction time, they also brought the children right up to the doorstep of their new home and continue to be a part of their lives even now 30 years later.
“Throughout our adjustment period, the sisters always were there. Any questions we had, either medical or history of the children, they knew. Sister Francette and Sister Margaret stayed in contact with us. They attended birthday parties, baptisms, graduations, marriages and other life events. Both sisters were part of our family,” Horton said.
Ten years after the adoption of their first two children, the Hortons were blessed with two more from the sisters, this time from Li’l Farm in Isanti County.
“Sister Francette and Sister Margaret moved to Li’l Farm to continue their journey with helping children. What a blessing. Harlan and I were at Li’l Farm one day and fell in love with two foster boys, Rico August, 6 years old, and Michael Elvin, 4 years old. I remember telling the sisters if the boys go up for adoption to please let us know,” Horton said.
“One day I stopped at their home and Sister Margaret told me the boys were going up for adoption. I hurried home to give Harlan the news and to get our home study up to date. Long story short, we became the proud parents of these wonderful boys. On Aug. 16, 2000, Sister Francette and Sister Margaret came driving in the end of the driveway with these two boys. Harlan, Christina, Joshua and I were anxiously waiting their arrival. Our family was complete,” Horton added.
The connection between the family and the sisters, as well as their desire to stay in contact was not only a blessing for the family, but for the children as well, according to Horton.
“Bringing the children to our home personally was a great way for the children to make the transition from their home with Sister Francette and Sister Margaret to their new home with Harlan and I,” Horton said. “This transition let the children know it was going to be OK. It gave the children a chance to adjust to us and say goodbye to them. But this was not a final goodbye. The children would call them and then meet up with them at our home or theirs once they felt comfortable in their new home.”
As the children grew up, they kept in contact with the sisters and kept them a part of their lives.
“All of our children are adults with their own families now,” Horton said. “Sister Francette and Sister Margaret remain in each one of their lives, which we are forever grateful for. The love these ladies show to these children is unending. Each child that received care from them are the most blessed children around. The continual support they provide throughout the years means so much to the children and us. Anytime we had a question, they were just a phone call away.”