Show me a sign: cultivating beauty through generations

For more than 160 years the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration have cultivated beauty through their leadership, encouragement and support of the fine arts. Many women with natural ability for the arts joined the community and offered their talents to the students and others they encountered in schools and parishes. Along with the required core courses, FSPA taught music, art, drama and appreciation for literature—creating lessons without the aid of text books. The arts have a way of inspiring a love for learning and creating communities committed to the flourishing of each generation—communities committed to collaboration rather than competition. In an effort to provide a common curriculum for music, FSPA published the “St. Rose Hymnal” and taught generations of students four-part harmony. There seemed to be nothing that would stop the community from glorifying God through the arts. 

A story from our past reminds us today what commitment and dedication to the arts require. The sisters lived very simply, but the cost of mission and food was more than the fledgling community could afford. One day, a sister returned with the small necessities for the dinner table and a painting she purchased at the market. As they sat down for their meal she shared with them the importance of food for the soul—even in the direst of circumstances—that arts provide. The painting was hung in the chapel to glorify God and to inspire each sister. 

As the community grew in size, the need for a larger chapel arose. Mother Antonia promised to God to build one as glorious as means would allow. Coin by coin, sisters joined in the effort to build the chapel by sending in all they could; sacrificing for the good of the whole community. The greater La Crosse community pulled together to donate to the sisters who so diligently served the city in schools, parishes and the hospital. With initial funding, local and international artisans came to La Crosse to contribute their skills. Splendor touched every chapel surface, floor to ceiling.Beauty flowed from the hearts of many as sisters created the paintings that still grace the walls of St. Rose Convent today. Sister artists were selected to stay at St. Rose to create them. An art room was provided. Countless prayers intertwined with the magnificence of each scene upon the canvas. 

FSPA’s love of the arts was already flourishing on the adjacent Viterbo University campus. Discussions about the construction of a building that would provide a home for a variety of arts began. Diversity of majors grew as the arts attracted more students. Sisters Marie Leon LaCroix, Carlene Unser and Cyrilla Barr, along with FSPA administration, sought to construct the Fine Arts Center (and later the Sister Marie Leon LaCroix Black Box Theatre) for not only Viterbo, but for the city of La Crosse. The scale and magnitude of the project brought its fair share of criticism, but the sisters saw a need and had the courage to continue despite financial challenges. This was nothing new for FSPA as they once again turned to God and area civic community partners. Today, the theatres serve as home to the La Crosse Symphony, traveling Broadway touring companies and Viterbo student-led performances. Theatre majors gain on-the-job training for futures dedicated to inspiring and entertaining others. Dreams can come true! Lifting voices, paint brushes and pens in the name of God is in the very lifeblood of FSPA. May God bless us with new members who also have dreams of cultivating beauty in their ministries. 

 Viterbo University Fine Arts Center


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