Treasured Memories: The Gift of El Pomar
By S. Georgia Kitt
The gift of her El Pomar estate in 1944 by Julie Penrose provided the Sisters of Charity with a new ministry and opportunities to nurture the spirituality of women in the West. The El Pomar Retreat Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado was the first women’s retreat center west of the Mississippi River, and through the years was home to many Sisters of Charity dedicating their service to the ministry.
One of those women was S. Rose Francis Soltis. S. Rose Francis was born in 1901 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania to immigrant parents from Austria. With the death of a parent at an early age, S. Rose Francis was sent to live with relatives in Pueblo, Colorado where she met the Sisters of Charity. Her schooling opportunities were intermittent since she had to help support the family by doing housework for families in the area. In 1920, at age 18, S. Rose Francis sought to enter the Sisters of Charity. Her early years found her providing housekeeping services in Detroit, Michigan and Cincinnati and Cleveland in Ohio (30 years). In 1951 she was asked to go West to St. Mary-Corwin Hospital in Pueblo, Colorado as the sacristan and the next year as laundry manager at Penrose Hospital (15 years) before serving as sacristan at El Pomar. In her retirement S. Rose Francis chose to live at St. Elizabeth Residence, also in Colorado Springs, where she maintained the beautiful grounds, sharing her expertise as a gardener.
S. Barbara Counts remembers S. Rose Francis as a simple woman who loved the earth: “She had the hands of a farmer yet was quiet and humble. She was the ‘Angel of El Pomar,’ a real sweetheart. She added a calmly presence to the retreat house.”
S. Barbara Muth came to know S. Rose Francis while the director of St. Elizabeth Residence in Colorado Springs in 1985. “She loved to tend the flowers, giving special attention to those visible from the chapel windows. She was the first Sister of Charity to be cremated when she died; it was her wish,” S. Barb stated.
“S. Rose Francis truly reflected her name, in her love for nature, in caring for bushes and flowers on the grounds around the residence,” S. Sally Duffy shared. “I could watch the squirrels come right up to her and eat out of her hand. In the winter she would be outside sweeping the snow with a broom on the sidewalk to the entrance of St. Elizabeth Residence. Raking leaves and pine needles was an annual event in the fall for her. S. Rose Francis once walked me over to the statue of Saints Anne and Joachim asking me in a compelling way to paint the statue by their Feast Day. Needless to say the statue was painted by their Feast Day on July 26! S. Rose Francis placed flowers in front of the statue to celebrate. She was a woman of amazing strength and she truly knew her need of God. Rose Francis befriended and cherished nature as of God,” S. Sally recalled.
S. Pat Malarkey remembers S. Rose Francis as a ‘behind the scenes’ person and a very hard worker. She recalls, “She did a lot of the work outside. My favorite memory was watching the raccoons come up to Rose Francis and eat out of her hand. Outdoors, in nature, was certainly her favorite place to be, like St. Francis.”
Other Sisters, when remembering S. Rose Francis, also said she brought the spirit of Francis of Assisi to their consciousness. S. Jeanne Roach commented, “Her name definitely reflected her ‘close to the earth’ spirit. She moved quietly, but with purpose.” S. Peggy Deneweth recalled, “S. Rose Francis reverenced nature’s beauty each day, doing what she could to enhance it a bit further.” And S. Donna Bryant added, “S. Rose Francis’ quiet manner could be observed in her respect for the mountains and her desire to be near them. Her prayer often took her to the mountains. I smile as I remember her.”