Fran and Leona Fritsch enjoy their apartment at Villa St. Francis on Sunday, Feb. 7. Both are in their 90s and like the location – in the Milwaukee area where they lived during their earlier years. The couple was married July 12, 1941, at the old St. Lawrence Church, Milwaukee. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)

Ask the residents what they appreciate the most about living at Villa St. Francis and you will get a variety of answers but they most frequently include carefree living, scrumptious food, social opportunities and the many amenities. Not to be forgotten, the ornate chapel open to the residents for private prayer, daily Mass, Sunday Mass, daily rosary and faith sharing groups.

For Colleen Suminski, the choice to move into Villa St. Francis last June, was a rather abrupt decision. The 84-year-old lived with her son, and a couple of times while he was away at work, she fell and was unable to get to a phone for help.

“He was worried about me and wanted me to live someplace safer,” she said. “He did a lot of research and we decided on this place because I am a Catholic and am very interested in practicing my faith as much as I can. I really enjoy the daily rosary – I pray the rosary by myself too, but you know, when two or more get together, our prayers are stronger.”

Suminski raised four children and volunteered wherever possible at her home parish, St. Paul, Milwaukee. With her faith an integral part of her life, she is grateful to live in a caring community.

“They are always there when I need anything, but never impose themselves on me,” she said. “I find that very refreshing. And as a former nurse, I know what I

Villa St. Francis

1910 W. Ohio Ave., Milwaukee, WI, 53215

Phone: (414) 649-2888

Fax: (414) 649-2880

am talking about when I say that they give us great care here.”

Built in 1990, Villa St. Francis is home to more than 100 residents seeking independent or assisted living accommodations. The community follows in the 150-year tradition of the Felician Sisters in care giving on Milwaukee’s South Side.

Suminski’s studio apartment includes a kitchen and enough cupboards and closets to hold her belongings. She has the option to cook her own meals or eat her main meal in the dining room. There is also ample visiting space to accommodate her children and grandchildren when they visit.

“I have nine grandchildren and they are all beautiful,” she said. “I love seeing them and my children whenever possible.”

While Chet Sakwinski, 89, didn’t expect to move to a retirement community, the loss of his beloved wife of 60 years helped him to realize that he needed help in his day-to-day activities.


Colleen Suminski poses in the chapel of Villa St. Francis, Milwaukee, on Sunday, Feb. 7. One of the deciding factors for Suminski in choosing to move to Villa St. Francis was the fact that at the Catholic home, she’d have daily opportunities to practice her faith. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)

At first, he moved to a senior residence near his brother’s home in South Milwaukee, but after a month moved home with his daughter. When his daughter found a job, Sakwinski looked into other living options, including the Veterans Home, but didn’t feel comfortable.

Five years ago, a friend suggested Villa St. Francis, and after walking in the door, he knew he was home. The statue of St. Francis mounted on the wall, and other Catholic sacramentals gave him comfort in knowing he had come to the right place.

“I liked it right away,” Sakwinski said. “I belonged to St. Albert’s my whole life and this place is so important to me in allowing me to practice my faith every day.”

While a variety of activities such as book clubs, arts and crafts, baking, cards, musical shows, lectures, tours, exercise and other excursions are available for residents, Sakwinski is most comfortable in the chapel.

“Mass, the rosary, and living my faith are most important to me,” he said. “Here I can do as much or as little as I want. The Catholic atmosphere is a big issue for me and so is being independent and not worrying my kids.”

According to director of pastoral care services, Sr. Barbara Marie Brylka, a Felician Franciscan Sister, while the residence provides Protestant services, the Catholic presence seems to be most popular with residents.

“Approximately 45 residents at the Villa routinely attend daily Mass, and on weekends attendance often jumps to 60 or 70,” she said. “We have clergy serving us on a rotating basis, from area parishes and Priests of the Sacred Heart in Hales Corners.”

Special services are available on holy days of obligation, and throughout Advent and Lent.

“We have a Book of Life to remember those who have died, monthly prayers and an annual service for the deceased,” explained Sr. Barbara Marie. “We also have Journey of Faith programs twice a month, and group activities that focus on faith issues among the elderly.”

Apartment styles vary from studio with no kitchenette to two-bedroom, two bath units. Married 68 years, having the extra room in the two-bedroom unit was important for Fran and Leona Fritsch, who have accumulated many things.

Both in their 90s, the Fritches didn’t expect to move from their apartment not far from their home parish, Queen of Peace, but Leona became unsteady in the kitchen.

“When we go to the doctor, our daughter goes along and drives us,” she said. “She was listening in as I told the doctor that I sometimes burn my hands when I am cooking. He said we belonged in dependent living instead of being on our own.”

On the suggestion of their daughter, the Fritches decided to look into Villa St. Francis, and like the others, the couple felt at home when they saw it.

“We felt bad about giving up our apartment and living independently,” said Leona, “but we fell right into living here and felt right at home.”

Like the others, the daily Mass, rosary and faith sharing groups are most important to the couple.

“We really enjoy that we can have our faith remain part of living here, just as it was when we lived in our apartment,” said Leona. “We also attend some discussion groups, speeches and a few other activities. There is a lot to offer in the program.”

The convenience of a beauty shop, banking center and small grocery store are important to the Fritches as it enables them to stay on campus for many of their immediate needs.

“We have everything we could ever want,” said Leona. “We can practice our faith, eat in the dining room if we want, go to the beauty shop and get a few necessities in the store. It is a wonderful place to live and they really take good care of us.”