In 1911 Augustinian Fr. Hugolinus Dach was worried. Times were hard, there was a worldwide depression and men often had to work far from home. Women left alone to care for their families were often beset with poverty and illness. Fr. Dach gathered a small group of women together to address this social concern: the care of families where the mother was ill or absent. This group of women became the Sisters of St. Rita, an Augustinian community of women dedicated to the support and care of families. They officially celebrated their beginning on Oct. 8, 1911 in Wurzburg, Germany.
Originally conceived of as a lay group, their commitment to St. Rita and their work made them long to be recognized as religious. They were eventually aggregated (joined) to the world wide Augustinian order in 1936 and given the rule of St. Augustine; in 1959 the community was placed under the care of the bishop of Wurzburg.
Meanwhile, in 1935 four sisters, Srs. Helen Wenzel, Amalia Weis, Dominica Kuhn, and Ambrosia Breundl were sent as missionaries to Bolivia. When their mission was over they were advised not to return to Germany as war was imminent. They found work in America working in the Novitiate for Augustinian seminarians and priests in New Hamburg, N.Y. In 1942, they were invited to Racine to do the same work for the priests of St. Rita Parish. During this time they saved and planned for a unique home that would provide affordable senior care in Racine for middle class elderly.
The sister’s dream of building a home for senior citizens became more concrete with the help of lay people, like Steven Horvath who drove Sr. Helen, the superior, and Sr. Amalia to visit parish priests to gain support; and the formation of a St. Monica’s Auxiliary Ladies. The women’s group held card parties, and helped the sisters make and sell pies, homemade bread, canned fruits and noodles to earn money to build the home.
In 1963, George Retzbeck left his house and property to the Sisters of St. Rita in Racine for their kindnesses to him, including bringing him meals. The money from the sale helped them realize their goal. In 1964 the sisters purchased the Koleske farmhouse and the adjoining property on Green Bay Road. Temporarily the farmhouse was their convent as they continued work toward the home.
Three years later in 1969 tragedy struck. In March 1969, Sr. Helen was driving home from the final meeting approving the building plans when she was struck by a car and died. With the leadership of Sr. Amalia and the lay administrator, the work continued and ground was broken in the summer of 1969. By 1971, Archbishop William E. Cousins dedicated the senior citizens home.
(Sr. Irene, administrator of the home, came from Marylake in Canada in 1974 to act as the home economist. In 1975, she was appointed assistant administrator, and was soon promoted to the home’s administrator.)