Sisters from each of the School Sisters of St. Francis’ five global provinces and regions participated in the April 28 celebration of the congregation’s 150th anniversary at the Milwaukee Motherhouse. (Photo courtesy of School Sisters of St. Francis)

The School Sisters of St. Francis marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of their congregation with a Eucharistic Liturgy in their historic St. Joseph Chapel at the Milwaukee motherhouse. Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki presided at the Eucharist and preached the homily.

The congregation was founded April 28, 1874, in Campbellsport by German immigrants Emma Franziska (Mother Alexia) Hoell, Paulina (Mother Alfons) Schmid and Helena (Sr. Clara) Seiter. Facing religious persecution under the German Empire, the women chose to leave their 10-member community in Schwarzach, where they had ministered at an orphanage.

When they arrived in Wisconsin, the three foundresses took vows to establish a new Franciscan religious community of women to care for people in need. Their first missions were to staff Catholic schools and teach the children of newly arrived immigrant families.

“We are grateful for so many years, filled with so many blessings,” said Sr. Deborah Fumagalli, President of the School Sisters of St. Francis, in her welcome message to the more than 300 people in attendance at the Mass. She noted that the foundresses showed remarkable courage in following their religious vocation.

“They arrived in America without knowing the English language, or even their destination,” Sr. Deborah noted. “But they put their faith and trust in God. Thousands of women responded to our foundresses’ invitation. They ministered in places as familiar as Earling, Iowa, and Chicago, and as far away as the Caroline Islands and China’s Shantung Province.”

Sr. Deborah pointed out the many obstacles and challenges the congregation has navigated in the past century and a half, including world wars, multiple pandemics and enormous changes in the life of the Catholic Church.

“At each step in our congregation’s history, the Holy Spirit has inspired and challenged our sisters to discern the will of God in the needs of the times in order to create just and humane societies as witnesses to God’s love,” she said. “Today, we serve in Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru, the United States, Germany, Switzerland, India and Tanzania. How blessed we are to gather in this place and give thanks for so much sacred service, made possible by our foundresses’ dreams and prayers.”

In his homily, Archbishop Listecki noted that a bishop in Germany described one of the foundresses as having “a shameless confidence in God.”

“Was he trying to criticize her? It’s a tremendous compliment!” Archbishop Listecki said. “You couldn’t ask for anything better than a total surrender to God, and you see, in her confidence in God, what has been created. Her life was already reflecting that great sense of unity with God, and that would permeate everything that would be done: the schools, the caring for the poor, the hospitals, in different places throughout the whole world.”

Sisters from all five of the congregation’s worldwide provinces and regions participated in the liturgy — in the processions, readings, prayers of the faithful, presentation of the gifts and music. Indian sisters also participated in an “Arathi” ceremony at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer to symbolize the offering of the whole world, and of each individual, to be in union with Christ’s Body and Blood. A candle, incense and flowers were used to express this prayer of adoration to God.

The importance of liturgical music to the life of the congregation was evident throughout the Mass. At the start of the liturgy, the Chapel Singers led the congregation in the singing of a litany to the Holy Spirit that was composed by Milwaukee liturgical musician Jeffrey Honore especially for the congregation’s sesquicentennial. Sr. Theophane Hytrek’s “Canticle of the Creatures” was sung by the Chapel Singers at the closing of the Mass, and Sr. Mary Jane Wagner, the Director of Music Ministry, performed Sr. Mary Hueller’s “Tribute” as an organ solo postlude.

Following the liturgy, the community welcomed everyone in attendance to a festive reception.

A video recording of the Mass is available for viewing on the sisters’ channel on the Ustream online platform: