Flooding, snowstorms, a flu outbreak, even a fire—any of those might have slowed a group of Wisconsin nuns who say none of it has kept their order from praying nonstop for hundreds of thousands of people over the last 137 years. The La Crosse-based Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration claim to have been praying night and day for the ill and the suffering longer than anyone in the United States—since 11am on Aug. 1, 1878. The tradition of perpetual Eucharistic adoration—uninterrupted praying before what is believed to be the body of Christ—dates to 1226 in France, according to Sister Marlene Weisenbeck. Catholic orders around the world have done it since then. It grew in popularity in 19th century and again under Pope John Paul II, said Father Steven Avella, a history professor at Marquette University.
In La Crosse, the nuns estimate they've prayed for hundreds of thousands of people, including 150,000 in the last decade. Some 180 lay people known as "prayer partners" help the 100 sisters since the order started asking for community help in 1997, when the number of nuns began dwindling. Nowadays, the sisters usually take night shifts and lay people cover the day, according to Sister Maria Friedman, who schedules two people for every hour; there's even a bed on campus where lay people can sleep. Since the nuns began, they've prayed through a fire in an adjacent building in 1923, a flood in La Crosse in 1965, the flu and many storms. Sister Hennessey compiles the requests for each day from paper slips people leave in person, phone calls, emails, and online forms. Click for more on the fascinating story. (Read more nuns stories.)