This collection forms a representative sample of materials documenting the founding, work, and primary residences of the Sisters
of the Holy Family of the San Francisco Bay Area in California. Includes work of Sisters in the Central Valley during the
Great Depression and work with special needs religious education in the 1950s to 1970s. Materials date from 1820 to 2013,
with the bulk of materials ranging from 1880 to 1980.
The Sisters of the Holy Family were established in San Francisco in 1872 by a young woman named Elizabeth “Lizzie” Armer.
Born in 1850 in Sydney, Australia, Lizzie moved with her family to San Francisco while still a young child and was adopted
by the wealthy San Francisco banker Richard Tobin and his family. In 1872, at the age of twenty-two, Lizzie Armer approached a local priest named Father Prendergast and expressed her desire
to join a community of women religious. Prendergast, with the support of Archbishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany, urged Lizzie to
form a new community of Sisters with a focus on charitable work for families in need: the Sisters of the Holy Family of San
Francisco (SHF). Between 1872 and 1878, Lizzie, now Mother Dolores Armer, and her loyal supporter, Sister Teresa O’Connor,
worked to establish the Holy Family Sisters as a unique order of women religious in the San Francisco Archdiocese. By the first decades of the 20th century, membership in SHF had expanded significantly and the Holy Family Sisters began to
spread out their operations further afield in California. Residential houses serving as sub-convents were established in San
Jose, Oakland and Los Angeles; soon SHF also moved into Nevada and the Hawaiian Islands, eventually also reaching Utah and
Alaska. From their new houses, SHF Sisters continued their ministries, focused primarily on child care, Catholic summer schools,
and other assistance for low-income and often marginalized communities such as migrant agricultural workers. Despite the 1906 Earthquake and Fire—during which Sisters of the Holy Family looked after children in impromptu schools held
in the tent camps—in the early 1900s the Sisters continued to expand their day homes and Sunday classes in San Francisco and
San Mateo parish churches, as well as continuing home visits to the needy. By the year 1918, SHF was caring for nearly 2,000
children in Bay Area communities, including two successful day homes still-extant to this day: St. Elizabeth’s established
in 1907 in San Jose and St. Vincent’s, Oakland, in 1911. From the 1920s to the 1980s, SHF Sisters worked in Fresno Sunday schools and summer-time “vacation schools,” including teaching
and organizing musical performances for children at the Catholic Chinese community’s kindergarten at St. Genevieve’s Church.
Fresno was selected as the locus to represent the missionary work of SHF in California because of its unique and diverse communities
of immigrants and migrant agricultural workers throughout the 20th century. In 1950, Sister Miriam pioneered a program she called “Holy Innocents” for special needs children in San Francisco. At the
time, educational religious programs for children with developmental disabilities were virtually unknown. Several Holy Family
Sisters who started out with the Holy Innocents program continued on to work on special needs religious education. Sister
John Minetta worked as the Supervisor of Special Education for the Los Angeles Archdiocese and in the 1980s Sister Aurora
Perez expanded the Special Religious Education program into the Diocese of Oakland. Although they were established in 1872, the constitutions and rules of SHF were not officially confirmed by Rome until over
seventy years later in 1945. In the late 1870s, Archbishop Alemany and Mother Dolores had outlined a set of specific constitutions
to regulate work and life for SHF. Archbishop Hanna determined that the constitutions were not adequate to be presented
to Rome in 1926; changes were also made to the habit at this time. Following revisions, the constitutions were sent to the
Vatican for approval by the Holy See in 1928, a process that took until 1945. Only a few decades later, after the Second
Vatican Council, members of the SHF community finally wrote their own rules to govern their life—this process lasted through
the 1980s and required the services of a canon lawyer.