A Helping Hand

Sister Fran Wilhelm starts each day with the rising sun. A cup of tea, a morning prayer, and a full day of work begins for the 84-year-old to whom age is but a number.

A member of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, Sister Fran has dedicated her life to helping the Owensboro area’s growing Latino community. “Many of the adults can speak only the most basic of English phrases,” she says. That is where Sister Fran comes in.

“She has made it easy for life to us in this community,” Augustina Morales says as the nun visits her small apartment. “Without her, so many would be lost.”

Acting as a translator is only one way Sister Fran helps. There is a high demand for cheap labor, but it is often abused. She and others who work at Centro Latino help people find jobs and make sure they are treated fairly.

“It is very disappointing,” Sister Fran says in a faint voice. “But there are those people that feel they can take advantage of these people and pay them little and sometimes even nothing.”

Sister Fran’s heart holds a special place for the Latino community, because she spent nine years working as a nun in South America. 

When she came to Owensboro in 2008, she saw the living conditions many families were forced to deal with she was stunned. “My first time I went with Father Shonis to visit a Mexican family living in a one-room house and was shocked to see that all eight of them slept side by side on the living room floor,” she said. “It was then that I decided I could do something about it.”

Since then, the Centro Latino has grown to serve more than 500 families in five counties, providing all kinds of assistance, from transportation to doctors’ offices to marriage counseling.

“What is important is that we could help make life easier for these people,” Sister Fran says. “It still will be hard, but now its not impossible.”