Anna Maria Boll Bachmann, who was born in Bavaria, immigrated to the United States and settled in Philadelphia. In 1851, when her husband Anthony was killed in an accident in a stone quarry, she found herself a widow with three young children and a fourth on the way. To support herself, she and her sister opened a small hostel for immigrant women. In time, they conceived the idea of joining a religious community. Their confessor, a Redemptorist priest, encouraged them in the direction of the Third Order Franciscans and wrote to Bishop John Neumann, then in Rome, on their behalf. This overture was well timed. Bishop Neumann had been seeking help from the pope in securing German Dominican sisters to help in his diocese. But the pope had encouraged him instead to start a local Franciscan community. Thus, on his return, he provided instruction to Anna, her sister, and another woman who had joined them, and accepted them into religious life. In 1855, the Franciscan Sisters of Philadelphia was established, with Anna, now Mother Mary Francis, as superior.
The sisters supported themselves by sewing and alms, while initially caring for immigrant women. Eventually, Bishop Neumann steered them into wider ministries: a school, an orphanage, and even a hospital for the sick poor. The latter undertaking followed their work in caring for the poor during an outbreak of smallpox, when no other hospital in the city would accept patients with contagious diseases.
Mother Mary Francis died of tuberculosis on June 30, 1863.