Sister Fran Wilhelm, OSU: “The night I entered, I knew I was where I belonged.”

Sister Fran Wilhelm (right) and staff assistant Sister Rosemary Keough are pictured in the front yard of the Centro Latino facility at 524 Locust Street in Owensboro.

Update: Sister Fran completed her ministry to Centro Latino in 2018. She now visits the Ursuline Sisters in Saint Joseph Villa at the Motherhouse.

Seven-year-old Maylín Roblero’s face lights up, she breaks into a big smile and quickly runs into the outstretched arms of the visitor walking into her home. Her mother, Antonia Gabriel, waits to report on the progress of her first grader.

Jacquelin Galindo-Hidalgo smiles and clings tightly to the visitor to her home. It appears she simply doesn’t want to share the visitor with her younger sisters, Gisela and Elsa Ruby.

Moments later, after escaping the clutches of young Jacquelin, the visitor sits between the watchful eyes and attentive ears of Yonivel and Alejandro Galindo at their kitchen table as she works on a doctor’s appointment schedule for six-month-old Elsa Ruby.

The visitor who brightens so many Hispanic homes in Owensboro and the Daviess County area – and assists those in the homes – is Sister Fran Wilhelm, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph and director of Centro Latino, a center for local Hispanics she founded in 1993. Visiting homes to help schedule doctors’ appointments is just one of a litany of services offered by Centro Latino.

Sister Fran holds six-month-old Elsa Ruby Galindo-Hidalgo as she visits with Yonivel Hidalgo and older daughters Jacquelin (left) and Giselsa.

Sister Fran’s journey to this Hispanic ministry was a long and interesting journey, one that included stops in Texas, South America, and California, and ministries in music and the Charismatic Renewal.

She is a native of Waterflow, New Mexico, the middle of five children born to Frank and Lucille Wilhelm, four daughters and one son. Frank Wilhelm was a farmer who later became a butcher and a carpenter. “My father was very versatile,” says Sister Fran. “He was very good at everything he did. When he was farming, we moved around frequently looking for a farm that could produce better.”

Those moves took her into a number of different schools in a number of different states as she was growing up.

Alejandro and Yonivel Galindo listen as Sister Fran discusses a doctor’s appointment schedule for their six-month old daughter Elsa Ruby.

Sister Fran began her education in the prime (kindergarten) at Sacred Heart Academy in Waterflow, taught by the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. Unfortunately, it only lasted half of a year. Her father took over a farm in Nazareth, Texas, and moved his family there. She completed kindergarten, first, and the first half of the second grade at Nazareth – taught by the Benedictine Sisters – but then moved again, this time to a “tiny little place called Jumbo, Texas, so small, it wasn’t even on the maps,” Sister Fran describes. At Jumbo she attended a two-room public school for one year, completing the second grade and the first half of the third. Another move followed

The family moved farther out in the country, six miles from Hereford, Texas. Going to school meant a six-mile trip each day to St. Anthony School in Hereford, and classes taught by the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament. She made these long trips for two years – completing the second half of the third grade, fourth grade and first half of the fifth. The family then moved closer to Hereford and finally planted its roots. Sister Fran completed grade school without moving again and went on to the public high school at Hereford four years without moving.

During those years in public high school, Sister Fran and her Catholic classmates attended weekly religious ed classes from the Franciscan Sisters at St. Anthony Parish.