Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Mother Francine Cardew, F.S.E., '67

Mother Francine Cardew of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist is a legend in Portland first for founding the Franciscan Montessori Earth School (with her friend and colleague Mother Mary Michael Costello) in 1977, and then for brilliantly and creatively leading it to stability and success against epic odds. A K-12 school founded on both the work of educator Maria Montessori and Catholicism as reflected through particularly Fran­cis­can spirituality? Impossible… but more than three decades after its founding in Southeast Portland, FMES, now K-8, welcomes 300 students a year from Oregon and Washington, exceeds Oregon educational benchmarks, and has drawn national attention for its ­environmentally responsible curriculum and practice. Mother Francine, still teaching a world religions class at the upper level, also still greets every child every morning, as she has done since the first day the school opened. Thousands of her students have gone on to creative careers in many fields alumni include physicians, attorneys, musicians, artists, engineers, journalists, educators, social workers, police officers, an actor, a professional golfer, an NFL referee, and an adventurer who has circumnavigated the globe alone. But above all, as Mother Francine dearly loves to say, the School has helped shape young men and women who are confident, creative, attentive to holiness, and alert to ways they can bring their gifts to bear on a world that needs energy and creativity desperately.

Born in North Dakota, Mother Francine entered the Franciscan Sisters in 1956, helped found a new religious community (Connecti­cut’s Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, in 1973), and an Oregon home for the community (the Life Education Center at Bridal Veil, in 1975), taught elementary school in Oregon and Washington, started a Catholic school, studied at George­town University and the Univer­sity of Portland, and was named ­associate superintendent of elementary education for the Archdiocese of Portland in 1974. But it was a visit one day to the Sisters of Providence Montessori School that changed everything, she says she realized how much she missed teaching children, and soon she and Mother Michael, with the blessing of their community, had started the Franciscan Montessori Earth School, with 17 kindergarten and first- graders, in leased space at St. Rose of Lima parish. The School subsequently moved to All Saints Church, St. Anthony’s Church (where the children and teachers had to tiptoe whenever the church hosted a weekday wedding or funeral), the old Thompson School in Parkrose, and finally its permanent home, on S.E. Clinton Street. Until 2008 Mother Francine served as Head of School (officially) and Everything Else (unofficially). That year she ­finally changed hats, to working as an admissions and fundraising agent-at-large, although she still greets every child every morning carpooling to the school with her fellow Sisters, who live in community in a lovely house in the woods in the Columbia Gorge.”

“I found a perfect marriage between the Montessori education and my spirituality,” Mother Francine has said. “Respect, reverence, wonder, confidence in the gifts God gave you those are the virtues we seek to awaken in our students, and those are the pillars of Franciscan spirituality and Catholicism itself.”

Thousands of FMES alumni, and thousands of the men and women who admire University alumna Mother Francine Cardew for her grace and bony courage, join us today in celebrating the honorary doctorate of ­public service she most certainly deserves.