Happy National Catholic Sisters Week!

The fact that NCSW starts on March 8th is no coincidence. NCSW was conceived in conjunction with National Women’s History Month and starts on International Women’s Day (March 8th) every year. It is our goal to celebrate and honor the contributions of women religious – both contemporary and historical – during NCSW and year-round at SisterStory.

This month, in honor of NCSW, I’d like use my column this month to highlight a catholic sister with local and historical lore in my family. Sr. Frances Allen, Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph.

You see, I was born (and raised) in Vermont, and my grandmother studied to be a nurse at the Fanny Allen Nursing School in Colchester, Vt. As a child, my grandmother would always tell me about Sr. Fanny Allen and it was only once I started working for NCSW that I realized how important she was. Let me tell you about her!

Fanny Allen was born in 1784, daughter of great Vermont revolutionary Ethan Allen. She grew up in Vermont, and studied at Middlebury Seminary (now the Emma Woodward School). When she was 21, she asked (and received) permission to study in Montreal. In Montreal, she was educated by the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame. It was during this time that she converted to Catholicism.

For her to convert to Catholicism was remarkable, given how few Catholics there were in Vermont (and in New England) at the time. What made it even more remarkable was that she also planned to become a nun. Her parents, understandably so, were shocked at this turn of events and asked that she take a year off to be sure. During this time, her parents threw lavish balls in an attempt to change Fanny’s mind. Of course, she remained strong in her convictions and after that year was up, went back to Montreal, where in 1808, she joined the novitiate of the sisters of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph.

Sr. Fanny Allen professed her final vows in 1811, making her the first nun born in New England. It was here that she became a nurse, and served in the apothecary until her death in 1819 at the age of 35.

Sr. Fanny’s contributions to the State of Vermont go beyond simply being the first New England nun. In 1894, the sisters of the Religious Hospitallers of St Joseph founded Fanny Allen Hospital and nursing school in Colchester, Vt. They named it after Fanny and build it upon land that belonged to the family. The Fanny Allen Hospital became the 4th hospital in the state, and educated hundreds of nurses from 1889 to 1955, when the nursing school closed. Fanny Allen Hospital became part of the University of Vermont Medical Center in 2008 and is still located on that same site in Colchester. The influence of Fanny Allen is still felt today all over Vermont!

This NCSW, I’d love to hear about sisters who have made historical contributions – either to your town, city, state or the nation. Please feel free to share it on our Facebook page or Tweet us @ncsweek.

For more about Fanny Allen try:



About Molly Hazelton

Molly Hazelton is the site director of National Catholic Sisters Week, headquartered at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She credits her love, respect and admiration for Catholic sisters to her grandmother, Isabel, who was educated in nursing by the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph at Fanny Allen Hospital in Colchester, Vt. Molly is also a trained librarian, so please feel free to ask her for book recommendations.