Mother Francine Margaret Cardew — a founding member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in Bridal Veil and co-founder of the Franciscan Montessori Earth School — died Tuesday, April 16, after a battle against a rare form of cancer. She was 79.

Services already have been held. She’ll be buried in the cemetery on the grounds of the Sisters’ home in Bridal Veil.

“Her spirit will live on,” said Sister Kathleen Ann Cietlak, who lived with Cardew in community with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in Bridal Veil for more than 30 years, and took over for Cardew as head of the school in 2008. “It is a great loss, but it’s also a great peace that there’s no more pain.”

Cardew was born Oct. 4, 1933, in Marmarth, N.D., and at the age of 9 moved with her family to Seattle. She didn’t run off to the nunnery because no man would marry her, she told The Outlook in a 2008 interview. In fact, she broke off an engagement while in college to pursue her vocation.

“The calling was stronger than that,” she said, noting that her former fiance waited two years for her and eventually married someone else.

In 1952, she followed in the footsteps of her favorite aunt and became a nun, entering the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, Wis.

She began her life-long mission as an elementary school teacher in Plum City, Wis. From there she went on to teach and serve as an administrator for Catholic schools in Spokane, Wash., Salem, Ore., and Bozeman, Mont., before becoming director of elementary education for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, B.C., and Portland.

In 1973, she became a founding member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, which took an overgrown, abandoned villa in Bridal Veil and turned it into a stunning mansion fit for a community of sisters complete with gardens and grounds so breath-taking, they’d make a believer out of an atheist.

Local historian Sharon Nesbit recalled hearing Cardew’s story about the first time she and the other sisters checked the place out.

“I just can’t shake the image of Mother Francine in her brown habit climbing over all those trees in the driveway,” she said with a laugh.

Cardew held a bachelor’s degree in English, a master’s in education and an honorary doctorate from the University of Portland for her accomplishments in the field of education.

In 1977, Cardew and Mother Mary Michael Costello founded the Montessori Earth School in Southeast Portland. The school started with 17 students and now boasts about 290. She was named Montessori Principal of the Year in 2003 and Oregon’s Principal of the Year in 1993 by Oregon Associated Industries.

Cardew was known as a charismatic teacher with a twinkling sense of mischief, a fondness for coffee and a profound love for children and animals.

She once named a chicken Tutu after South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nesbit said. And for her silver jubilee, marking her first quarter century as a nun, Cardew asked for a goat to grace the order’s grounds at Bridal Veil.

“So she got a goat,” Nesbit said. “She loved that darn goat.”

Cietlak recalled how the order eventually acquired about eight goats and if a kid fell ill, Cardew would nurse it back to health. She even had a special box in her room for the sick goats to sleep in.

Cardew also was a dog lover. After her beloved pet died, she vowed not to get another one — until a terrier poodle crossed her path. The dog was one of 100 from California that were set to be euthanized at a pound. When the dog was let out, it walked right by Cardew and Cietlak, and went straight to a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

She named the dog Chance, as in last chance. The dog remained her loyal companion, sleeping with her on her bed and giving her comfort while she fought cancer, Cietlak said.

“She had a wonderful heart,” Cietlak said. “She was prayerful and loving and dedicated to making the world a better place. Whatever she touched, she touched with love.”

A 4-year-old pre-school student summed it up in a sympathy card he dictated to his father. “I am sorry Mother Francine died,” the card reads. “I will be peace for her.”

Cardew is survived by her Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist; her biological siblings, brother Robert Barrett of Seattle, and sisters Colleen Barrett and Margaret Barrett, also of Seattle; the Franciscan Brothers of the Eucharist, the Franciscan Lay Apprentices; and the staff and students of the school she founded.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Mother Francine Scholarship Fund, for students who can’t afford the private school’s tuition, in care of the school at 14750 S.E. Clinton St., Portland.

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