FSPA History
Since our founding in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1849 and through our relocation to Jefferson in 1864 and La Crosse in 1871, we have been responding to the needs of the people of God as we live out the Gospel.

 

Community
1849 A pastor and his assistant led a group of 12 women and men, Third Order Secular Franciscans, from their parish in Ettenbeuren, Bavaria, to Milwaukee, Wis. Arriving at the diocese on May 18, 1849, the six women in the group, with Mother Aemiliana Dirr as their leader, committed themselves to founding a religious community to spread the gospel among German immigrants, especially through educating children, caring for the disadvantaged, and, when possible, establishing perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

1860

Diverted from education to household duties at the newly built diocesan seminary in 1856, overwhelmed with physical labor, and finding themselves unable to develop a truly religious life, the founders left the community.
1864 The sisters and their newly elected leader, Mother Antonia Herb, moved the motherhouse to Jefferson, Wis. There, at St. Coletta Convent, the sisters renewed their aspirations to teach and establish perpetual adoration.
1869 The Rev. Michael Heiss, bishop of the newly formed Diocese of La Crosse, requested Mother Antonia move the motherhouse to La Crosse, Wis.
1871 The sisters moved to La Crosse and into the new motherhouse, St. Rose of Viterbo Convent.
1873 Thirty-seven sisters and one postulant formed a new community in Milwaukee. Sixty-five sisters, 12 novices, and 12 postulants continued in La Crosse.
1874 The first Maria Angelorum Chapel was dedicated on August 2.
1878 The sisters realized their goal to begin perpetual adoration on August 1. The adoration has continued without interruption ever since.
1882 Mother Antonia died and was succeeded by Mother Ludovica Keller, who led the community until 1928.
1895 FSPA purchased a farm near La Crosse to provide food for both the convent and hospital. Ultimately the property became the site for Villa St. Joseph, a center for retired and ill sisters.
1906 The new Maria Angelorum Chapel was completed, replacing the first community chapel and the second Chapel of Adoration.
1914 Construction of St. Rose Convent building was completed.
1923 Fire destroyed the original St. Rose Convent building.
1925 Restoration of St. Rose Convent’s original building was completed.
1973 Fifty-five FSPA left to form a new community — the Institute of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist.
1970-80s FSPA worked to adapt its Constitutions based on Vatican II documents, the advice of theologian and canon law consultants, and the discernment of the sisters.
1982 In July 1982 the FSPA officially accepted the first affiliate. Affiliates are Christian women and men who share in the FSPA mission and Franciscan values. Today there are more than 200 affiliates who are committed to deepening their prayer life and supporting one another as they respond to the needs of society.
1989

Pope John Paul II approved the new Constitutions, and its revision in 1999.

The FSPA Mission Effectiveness Office was established.

1997 In December the FSPA welcomed their first partners in the ministry of Perpetual Adoration. Currently there are more than 100 prayer partners, men and women, who commit to pray one hour each week before the Blessed Sacrament.
2003 FSPA celebrate 125 years of perpetual adoration.
2006 FSPA celebrate Mary of the Angels Chapel centennial
2007 Sister Lucy Slinger is named FSPA ecological advocate. She serves as a resource for FSPA congregational facilities, networks with other environmental groups and coordinates the organic garden at Villa St. Joseph.
2008 130th Anniversary of Perpetual Adoration, Aug. 1
2009 Together with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist and the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, FSPA celebrated 160 years since the common founding. Further, with the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis, Cameroon, West Africa, the congregations celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Franciscan Common Venture’s formation. They celebrated at a Peace Conference in La Crosse.
2011 FSPA affiliation program celebrates 30 years and collects 3,000 pounds of food as “Gifts of Gratitude” for area pantries.
Community Leadership

1849-1860 Mother Aemiliana Dirr (Zahler)
1860-1862 Mother Seraphine Sanders
1862-1863 Mother Crescentia Nondorf
1863-1882 Mother Antonia Herb (Zimmer)
1882-1928 Mother Ludovica Keller
1928-1940 Mother Seraphone Kraus
1940-1946 Mother Engelberta Kamp
1946-1952 Mother Rose Kreibich
1952-1964 Mother Joan Cramer
1964-1970 Mother Ann Marie Kerper
1970-1978 Sister Grace McDonald
1978-1982 Sister Lucille Winnike
1982-Nov. 1983 Sister Paula Ripple
Nov. 1983-1984 Sister Patricia Alden (Acting President)
1984-1990 Sister Patricia Alden
1990-1994 Sister Alice Kaiser
1994-2002 Sister Marla Lang
2002-2010 Sister Marlene Weisenbeck
2010-2014 Sister Linda Mershon
2014-Present Sister Karen Lueck

 

 

 

Ministry Development
Care of Orphans
1855 The sisters assumed care and education of orphaned boys at St. Aemilian’s Orphanage for Boys, built by the Milwaukee diocese near the motherhouse.
1875 In the La Crosse diocese, care of orphans began with St. Michael’s for girls; it eventually developed into a single St. Michael’s Home for boys and girls in 1911.
1982 As the number of orphaned children lessened throughout the 20th century, St. Michael’s became a home for emotionally disturbed children. Various circumstances, including the withdrawal of state funds, forced its closure in 1982.
Education in Parochial and Diocesan Schools
1864 The sisters began staffing four elementary parochial schools, two in Jefferson and one in Cross Plains, Wis.
1870 By 1870, 12 more schools had opened in Wisconsin, and one each in Ohio and Iowa. The number continued to increase over the years until 1962 when the total number of students reached 22,628 in 90 elementary schools.
1871 FSPA became involved in secondary schools. Unlike the majority of their schools, the sisters themselves built, owned, and operated St. Rose High School, La Crosse, St. Mary’s Domestic School in Sparta, Wis., and St. Angela’s Domestic Academy in Carroll, Iowa.
1915 FSPA’s educational ministry expanded beyond Wisconsin and Iowa into the Diocese of Spokane, Wash., and, later, into Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Mississippi, and Utah where they staffed parish elementary and diocesan secondary schools.
1964 By 1964, the number of high schools peaked at 20 with enrollment of 6,847 students.
Health Care
1883 The sisters built and operated St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse, their first venture into health care and western Wisconsin’s first private hospital.
1901 FSPA opened St. Francis School of Nursing.
1905 The sisters built St. Anthony Hospital in Carroll, Iowa, at the request of the Rev. Joseph Kuemper. The St. Anthony School of Nursing soon followed.
1916 St. Mary’s Hospital was built in Sparta, Wis., with a School of Nursing added in 1921.
1926 The sisters staffed St. Joseph Home for the Aged which was built by the Diocese of La Crosse.
1941 Sisters assumed ownership and staffing of Sacred Heart Hospital, Idaho Falls, Idaho, and managed Lost Rivers Hospital, Arco, Idaho, for the county.
1956 FSPA assumed ownership and staffing of St. Joseph Memorial Hospital and Nursing Home in Hillsboro, Wis.
1982 St. Francis Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital, and related health corporations formed the Franciscan Health System.
1983 St. Joseph Hospital, Arcadia, Wis., was incorporated into the system.
1995 The Franciscan Health System merged with Skemp Clinic, becoming the Franciscan Skemp Healthcare System and part of the Mayo Health System.
2008 FSPA transferred governance of St. Joseph Community Health Services, Inc.,-Hillsboro, to the local board of directors.
2011

Franciscan Skemp Healthcare closed hospital and emergency services at Franciscan Skemp Healthcare Arcadia Campus (clinic remains open).

Franciscan Skemp Healthcare was renamed as Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare.

Home and Foreign Missions
1883 The sisters built and administered their first home mission, St. Mary’s Boarding School, on the Chippewa Indian Reservation, Odanah, Wis. The mission closed in 1969.
1928 FSPA established its first foreign mission, St. Rose on the Yangtse in China, with a catechumenate and clinic. The Communist takeover in 1949 forced the sisters’ return to the United States.
1948 The sisters accepted their second home mission at an elementary school in Holy Child Jesus Parish for Blacks in Canton, Miss., administered by the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity. The mission expanded to include a secondary school in the parish in 1950. Although the sisters withdrew in 1988, several sisters served in Camden, Miss., until 1998.
1962 The sisters staffed a clinic and school in Madre del Salvador Parish in Santa Ana, El Salvador, Central America. They continued working at various sites in the country until 1981.
Today Sisters continue to serve in foreign ministries including: Guam, Mexico and Canada
Higher Education
1890 The St. Rose Normal School, which educated members of the community to become teachers, received accreditation.
1934 St. Rose Normal School was accredited by the University of Wisconsin as St. Rose Junior College.
1937 St. Rose Junior College changed its name to Viterbo College.
1939 Viterbo College was accredited by the University of Wisconsin to award a bachelor of science degree.
1943 Viterbo College expanded to admit lay women.
1944 The St. Rose College of Music became a department of Viterbo College.
1954 Viterbo College was fully accredited by the North Central Association, National Association of Schools of Music, and the National Council for the Accrediting of Teacher Education.
1971 Viterbo College became co-educational.
2000

Viterbo College attained university status and became Viterbo University.

2011 Viterbo University opened a state-of-the-art nursing center. The 68,770 square-foot School of Nursing more than doubled the amount of space available in the former Brophy Nursing Center, which housed the program for nearly 40 years.

 

Viterbo University celebrated 40 years of Fine Arts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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