'I just feel like it is time:' Sister Florence retiring from St. Vincent's Home

Sister Florence Kuhn, right, visits with Maxine Gengenbacher at St. Vincent Home in Quincy. After serving at the home for 22 years, Sister Florence, who will be 90 in June, is retiring to an Indiana retirement community. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Feb. 16, 2013 8:58 pm Updated: Mar. 3, 2013 1:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Sister Florence Kuhn's spiritual journey is about to reach another milepost.

The friendly face at St. Vincent's Home for the past 22 years is saying goodbye Sunday at a quiet retirement celebration.

A member of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ religious order, Sister Florence, who will turn 90 in June, soon will head to comfortable retirement surroundings in Donaldson, Ind. That's where the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ motherhouse for the American Province is located. She will join about 60 other retired nuns at the site near South Bend, Ind.

"I can't imagine how many hearts she has touched in her 22 years here," said Paula Connell, the administrator at St. Vincent's. "She makes friends wherever she goes with her calm, quiet manner. She works silently -- and accomplishes a lot."

There is an interesting contrast to Sister Florence's soft-spoken approach. Beneath her quiet demeanor lies a spirited St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan.

"She watches the Cardinals games on television whenever she can," Connell said.

Sister Florence does not try to mask her love for the St. Louis baseball team. Her eyes sparkle at the very mention of the Cardinals, and she will tell all who are willing to listen that she has followed the club since 1964. Her all-time favorite player is Lou Brock.

"I once had my picture taken with him," she said. "He was always a nice man."

Sister Florence expects she will have to expand her sports loyalty at her soon-to-be home near fabled South Bend.

"I'll have to become a Notre Dame fan," she said before breaking into her familiar smile.

By oh-so fitting coincidence, Sister Florence born less than two blocks from St. Vincent's and hoped to some day return to the hometown she left in 1941 to join the Poor Handmaids order.

Sister Florence left Quincy as a young girl on Dec. 7, 1941 -- the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor -- but she recalls that her mind was elsewhere, even though those all around her could think and talk of nothing but the start of World War II.

"I was worried about being away from home," she remembered.

Sister Florence's work and travel as a Poor Handmaid of Jesus Christ took her to a number of different sites in this area of the country, including Chicago, where she served in some of the most troubled areas of the city. She also taught first grade for many years.

"There have been a lot of ups and downs," she said. "But there has definitely been more ups than there has downs."

Throughout her more-than-70 years of service, Sister Florence has worked with the poor, the sick and the elderly. St. Vincent's has been a fitting punctuation to her career, where she loves playing cards and Scrabble with the residents. She also loves reminiscing with them.

Sister Florence has worked with people of all faiths and is quick to point out one common denominator in all such situations.

"You can pray with anyone," she said.

Debbie Hull, who works in admissions at St. Vincent's, will be sorry to se Sister Florence leave.

"She has touched many souls with love and compassion throughout the years," Hull said

In recent years, Sister Florence has lived on campus at the St. Vincent complex on North 10th. That has allowed her to be closer to the residents.

"She's right here, and that has been such a blessing," Connell said. "She's been so good with so many people. She is also older than many of our residents."

The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ have played a large role in the history of St. Vincent's Home. In 1884, the Rev. Joseph Still, who was pastor of what was St. John's Catholic Church, suggested to sisters in the order in Fort Wayne, Ind., that they come to Quincy to open a home for the elderly. A year later, that wish became a reality.

A total of 284 sisters served St. Vincent's from 1885 to 1968, when the order decided to close the home. In the coming years, the home became known as the Christian Shelter Center, Lincoln Hill Nursing Home. In 1990, the site became known as St. Vincent's Home, named for St. Vincent DePaul (1581-1660), a Catholic priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor. He is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion for his compassion, humility and generosity. DePaul was known as the "Great Apostle of Charity."

Sister Jackie Sellmeyer of the School Sisters of Notre Dame order also serves at St. Vincent. Sister Jackie has been there since 2011 and will continue in the pastoral care work she and Sister Florence have done together the past two years.

Sister Florence's final week at St. Vincent was nothing extraordinary. She interacted with the residents and provided spiritual care. And like always, she helped deliver the mail to the residents on Saturday.

Her reassuring smile quietly indicates no regrets about retiring.

"I just feel like it is time," she said.