Franciscan Sisters History Lesson: What was happening in the 1880’s?

by Sister Regina Rose on September 27, 2014

Franciscan Sister Regina Rose Pearson shares her findings on the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity history of the 1980’s.

In 1880, after Mother Augustine’s term expired, Sr. Pancratia was chosen Superior General. The Sisters were overjoyed at her election but, for this humble woman, it was a cross. She gave herself wholeheartedly to the leadership of the Community, seeking strength many nights in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

The task of teacher education at this time was made more difficult because of the continuing demand for Sisters for the parish schools. Father Fessler collaborated with the Community leaders in creating an in-service plan for education, much like correspondence courses today, which would be carried out on the missions by the Sisters during the year. Father Fessler and Mother Odelia, then Mother Pancratia’s assistant, also laid plans for a new education endeavor at Holy Family Convent – Holy Family Institute, a boarding school for young ladies, patterned after St. Mary’s Institute in Milwaukee. The object of the institution was to impart to young ladies all the requisites of a thorough education in both the useful and ornamental branches of knowledge. The institute was conducted at the Convent from the early 1880’s until 1892.

At this time, the Sisters experienced a call to expand their service. During their years of work in the Manitowoc area, the Sisters had become aware of a need in the county- a facility for care of the sick. It seemed time to extend their works of mercy to the area of health care. On April 1, 1881, the twelve-bed St. Mary Hospital, staffed by three Sisters, opened its doors.

The new decade was off to a good start but suddenly the tide turned. About one o’clock in the morning during the night of August 31, 1881, a terrible thunderstorm accompanied by heavy damaging hail, raged over Manitowoc. One deadly bolt of lightning struck the east gable of the Convent, igniting wood between the ceiling and the roof. Everyone had worked desperately and mechanically all night but as morning broke, reality set in. As hard as the Sisters tried to save their beloved building, their efforts were fruitless. Mother Pancratia, on visitation of the Community missions when the fire struck, received the devastating news by telegram. Oral tradition has given her response, “Thank God. Now we can begin again, this time together.” The American built wing and the German built addition were gone. The new beginning called for magnanimous unity of every kind of human effort-spiritual, material, psychological. The future would be “ours.”


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