FSPA History


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, Wisconsin. 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.

We celebrate Founders' Day annually on May 28, the day Bishop Henni formally received the group into the diocese.

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.

The sisters and their newly elected leader, Mother Antonia Herb, moved the motherhouse to Jefferson, Wisconsin. There, at St. Coletta Convent, the sisters renewed their aspirations to teach and establish perpetual adoration.

The Reverend Michael Heiss, bishop of the newly formed Diocese of La Crosse, requested Mother Antonia move the motherhouse to La Crosse, Wisconsin.

The sisters moved to La Crosse and into the new motherhouse, St. Rose of Viterbo Convent.

Thirty-seven sisters and one postulant formed a new community in Milwaukee. Sixty-five sisters, 12 novices, and 12 postulants continued in La Crosse.

First Maria Angelorum Chapel was dedicated on August 2.

The sisters realized their goal to begin perpetual adoration on August 1. The adoration has continued without interruption ever since.

Mother Antonia died and was succeeded by Mother Ludovica Keller, who led the community until 1928.

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.

The new Maria Angelorum Chapel was completed, replacing the first community chapel and the second Chapel of Adoration.

Construction of St. Rose Convent building was completed.

Fire destroyed the original St. Rose Convent building.

Restoration of St. Rose Convent’s original building was completed.

Fifty-five FSPA left to form a new community — Institute of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist.

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.

In July 1982, 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.

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

The FSPA Mission Effectiveness Office was established.

In December, FSPA welcomed their first partners in the ministry of perpetual adoration. Currently, there are more than 150 prayer partners, men, and women, who commit to pray one hour each week before the Blessed Sacrament.

FSPA celebrated 125 years of perpetual adoration.

FSPA celebrated Mary of the Angels Chapel centennial

Sister Lucy Slinger was 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.

130th Anniversary of Perpetual Adoration, Aug. 1

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.

FSPA affiliation program celebrated 30 years and collects 3,000 pounds of food as “Gifts of Gratitude” for area pantries.

FSPA celebrated 135 years of perpetual adoration with a community-wide hour of prayer hosted inside Mary of the Angels Chapel. Over 300 guests filled the chapel.

FSPA recognized 165 years since founding.

FSPA declared A Revolution of Goodness, celebrates 140 years of continuous prayer

St. Rose Complex Renovation project announced

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted unanimously to move forward the canonization of Sister Thea Bowman

FSPA celebrates "170 years: a journey of blessings," recognizing 170 years since its founding in 1849.

For 141 years, perpetual adoration inside the Adoration Chapel was 24/7. Starting February 27, 2020, adoration inside the chapel is 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. As the tradition—and enduring promise—of perpetual adoration reminds us, God is present in our lives at any location and at all times.

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 - 2018 Sister Karen Lueck
2018 - 2022 Sister Eileen McKenzie

Ministry Development

Care of Orphans

The sisters assumed care and education of orphaned boys at St. Aemiliana’s Orphanage for Boys, built by the Milwaukee diocese near the motherhouse.

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.

As the number of orphaned children lessened throughout the 20th century, St. Michael’s became a home for children with behavioral health challenges. Various circumstances, including the withdrawal of state funds, forced its closure in 1982.

Education in Parochial and Diocesan Schools

The sisters began staffing four elementary parochial schools, two in Jefferson and one in Cross Plains, Wisconsin.

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.

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, Wisconsin, and St. Angela’s Domestic Academy in Carroll, Iowa.

FSPA’s educational ministry expanded beyond Wisconsin and Iowa into the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, and, later, into Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Mississippi, and Utah where they staffed parish elementary and diocesan secondary schools.

By 1964, the number of high schools peaked at 20 with an enrollment of 6,847 students.

Health Care

The sisters built and operated St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse, their first venture into health care and western Wisconsin’s first private hospital.

FSPA opened St. Francis School of Nursing.

The sisters built St. Anthony Hospital in Carroll, Iowa, at the request of the Reverend Joseph Kuemper. The St. Anthony School of Nursing soon followed.

St. Mary’s Hospital was built in Sparta, Wisconsin, with a School of Nursing added in 1921.

The sisters staffed St. Joseph Home for the Aged which was built by the Diocese of La Crosse.

Sisters assumed ownership and staffing of Sacred Heart Hospital, Idaho Falls, Idaho, and managed Lost Rivers Hospital, Arco, Idaho, for the county.

FSPA assumed ownership and staffing of St. Joseph Memorial Hospital and Nursing Home in Hillsboro, Wisconsin.

St. Francis Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital, and related health corporations formed the Franciscan Health System.

St. Joseph Hospital, Arcadia, Wisconsin, was incorporated into the system.

The Franciscan Health System merged with Skemp Clinic, becoming the Franciscan Skemp Healthcare System and part of the Mayo Health System.

FSPA transferred governance of St. Joseph Community Health Services, Inc.,-Hillsboro, to the local board of directors.

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.

FSPA transfers complete oversight of Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare to Mayo Clinic and St. Anthony Regional Hospital & Nursing Home to St. Anthony's Ministries.

FSPA and affiliates work together to bring integrative therapies to the La Crosse, Wisconsin-area. 

Home and Foreign Missions

The sisters built and administered their first home mission, St. Mary’s Boarding School, on the Chippewa Indian Reservation, Odanah, Wisconsin. The mission closed in 1969.

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.

The sisters accepted their second home mission at an elementary school in Holy Child Jesus Parish for Blacks in Canton, Mississippi, administered by 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, Mississippi, until 1998.

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.

Sisters continue to serve in foreign ministries including Guam, Mexico, and Canada

Higher Education

The St. Rose Normal School, which educated members of the community to become teachers, received accreditation.

St. Rose Normal School was accredited by the University of Wisconsin as St. Rose Junior College.

St. Rose Junior College changed its name to Viterbo College.

Viterbo College was accredited by the University of Wisconsin to award a bachelor of science degree.

Viterbo College expanded to admit laywomen.

The St. Rose College of Music became a department of Viterbo College.

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.

Viterbo College became co-educational.

Viterbo College attained university status and became Viterbo University.

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.

Viterbo University celebrates 125 years of academic excellence.

FSPA transfers complete oversight of Viterbo University to Viterbo Ministries.

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