FSPA originally came to La Crosse, Wisconsin, to help educate Catholic children in the area and to care for orphans. Early FSPA efforts to educate Catholic immigrant children grew exponentially. Because our sisters felt the need to upgrade their teaching skills by means of formal teacher education, St. Rose Normal School, the forerunner of Viterbo University, was established. Today, Viterbo University thrives as a Catholic, Franciscan, liberal arts university with strong fine arts and professional arts programs.
Education extends beyond the classroom. Today, the sisters minister and collaborate in traditional classrooms settings, on higher education boards, online teaching English as a second language and in parishes—just to name a few. And, through donor generosity to our ministry grant program, we’re able to fund programs that support educational efforts, including Tekla Kagera designed to strengthen the situation of girls with disabilities, in respect to their position in society, educational needs and social status.
We also use our land as an educational tool. FSPA land on St. Joseph Ridge, just outside of La Crosse, Wisconsin, serves as an educational model in the community. As future stewards of the earth, Viterbo University students help to work the garden through FSPA's agricultural internship program, bolstering their undergraduate studies for biology and sustainable management majors as well. And efforts to reduce invasive species on the property earned FSPA the 2019 Invader Crusader award. And in Hiawatha, Iowa, most of Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center's 70 acres of woods and prairie were placed in a conservation easement with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. The land will be forever protected from future development. This is a guarantee that Prairiewoods will remain as it is now — a place where woods and prairie are protected, where wildlife flourishes and where our human spirits are renewed as we experience the Divine present with us in the constantly-renewed heart of creation.