Passion for Mission

125 Years in the USA: 1895-2020

Era 1: 1895-1920 | Responding to Immigrant Needs

The missionary response of hearty immigrant women religious characterizes the first 25 years of Salvatorian Sisters’ presence in the United States. The first three women, Sisters Raphaela Bohnheim, SDS, Walburga Sieghart, SDS and Agnes Weber, SDS arrived ready to roll up their sleeves and serve the largely poor, immigrant Church. Home nursing in Milwaukee, healthcare needs in small Wisconsin cities, and educating children in small-town Catholic parishes became the sisters’ ministries during these early years. These missionaries were soon joined by young women born in the USA who felt called to a community of apostolic service. Response to a need was their guiding star; creativity of ways and means enlightened the steps they took. In contrast to other religious communities who focused on one area of apostolic service, Salvatorian Sisters said “yes” to diverse needs and then sought the training necessary for the sisters to respond. This approach required much bending, both in and out of season. As their ministries evolved, the sisters grew in numbers so that by 1920, records show 313 Salvatorian Sisters serving in the USA.

Sister Carol Thresher, SDS

December 8, 1888

Foundation of the Congregation, Tivoli, Italy

Image of Tivoli, Italy

December 8, 1888

May 19, 1895

Mother Mary and the three missionary sisters have an audience with Pope Leo XIII

Pope Leo XIII

May 19, 1895 – Attending a papal audience is a distinct honor. Pilgrims from all over the world travel to St. Peter’s square in Rome, Italy just to catch a glimpse of the Pope. Before the first three Salvatorian Sisters left for the United States of America, they joined our co-founder... Read full story

June 22, 1895

Bound for the United States of America on the Westernland

Bound for the United States of America on the <it>Westernland </it>

June 22, 1895 – The three missioned sisters traveled from Rome to Antwerp, Belgium to embark on the Westernland steamer bound for the USA. They departed Antwerp on June 22 and arrived in New York, N.Y. on July 2. Out of 834 passengers, the three sisters and two Brothers of... Read full story

July 2, 1895

Welcomed in New York at The Leo House

The Leo House

July 2, 1895 – After the 11-day voyage, the three sisters arrived at the Ellis Island immigrant processing station in New York City. Before heading on to Milwaukee, Wis., the sisters stayed one night at The Leo House. As newly arrived German immigrants, there was no better place for the sisters... Read full story

July 4, 1895

First Salvatorian Sisters arrive in Milwaukee

First Salvatorian Sisters arrive in Milwaukee

July 4, 1895 – The first Salvatorian Sisters arrived in Milwaukee, Wis. to provide in-home nursing care to immigrants 119 years after our nation declared its independence. Sister Raphaela documented their experience of Independence Day festivities in the Chronicles: Now we are on the soil of our new country. Many thoughts... Read full story

July 23, 1895

Sisters begin their home-nursing ministry

Sisters begin their home-nursing ministry

  July 23, 1895 – While traveling aboard the Westernland, the first three missioned sisters became acquainted with Mrs. M. H. Wiltzius, a Milwaukee-area resident. Mrs. Wiltzius’ name was the first to appear on Sister Raphaela’s ledger that documented the many patients the sisters would care for during their time as... Read full story

November 4, 1895

The sisters find a convent to call their own

The Sisters first rented convent

November 4, 1895 – Once settled in Milwaukee, the three pioneer sisters began to search for a house of their own. The house hunt didn’t take long, and soon the sisters began renting a two-story, 12-room duplex for $30 a month. Although the move was not physically taxing, the sisters faced... Read full story

August 24, 1896

Sisters establish community in St. Nazianz, Wis.

Sisters establish community in St. Nazianz, Wis.

August 24, 1896

March 31, 1897

Salvatorian Sisters find room to grow in a generous gift of a new convent

First rent-free convent

March 31, 1897 – Since Sister Raphaela’s request for more sisters in fall 1895, eight sisters had arrived from Rome. Although the convent was not at full capacity, the two-story house was crowded. As calls for nursing and extra help increased, the sisters received a generous, unexpected gift from the Degelan... Read full story

May 27, 1900

Laying the cornerstone at St. Mary’s Convent on 35th & Center Streets

St. Mary's Convent, 1900

May 27, 1900 – To celebrate laying the cornerstone at St. Mary’s Convent, our pioneer sisters submitted an article to the German-language newspaper, Milwaukee Herold und Seebote. It ran on page 5 under “Church News.” A translation of the story appears below: An Uplifting Celebration Laying the Foundation Stone of the... Read full story

July 30, 1901

First members from the USA enter the Salvatorian Community

First sister candidates from United States

July 30, 1901 – Before a novitiate was established in Milwaukee, all Salvatorian postulants traveled to Rome to make their novitiate. Three candidates from Uniontown, Washington were the first Americans to enter the Milwaukee community: Elizabeth Kinzer (Sister Blanche), Katherine Broenneke (Sister Berchmanns), and Johanna Reichert who did not remain... Read full story

December 1, 1905

Sisters expand nursing ministry to Wausau’s Riverside (St. Mary’s) Hospital

Sisters expand nursing ministry to Wausau’s Riverside (St. Mary’s) Hospital

December 1, 1905 – After serving Milwaukee for 10 years as home nurses, the sisters felt they needed to expand their ministry. They were eager to open a hospital or clinic next to St. Mary’s Convent, but their plan did not have the support of Rome due to debt the... Read full story

December 9, 1907

Salvatorian Sisters establish USA novitiate in Milwaukee, Wis.

Novices and Candidates from about 1921

December 9, 1907 – An early group of novices and candidates from about 1921.

April 6, 1917

USA Enters World War I

USA Enters World War I

April 6, 1917 – Although World War I was being fought in Europe, people in America were directly affected by it too. The USA sent soldiers and support personnel overseas and many lost their lives. Soldiers’ families back home had to find work to support themselves, and people had to... Read full story

May 17, 1917

Sisters dedicate St. Savior’s Hospital in Portage, Wis. (now Divine Savior Healthcare)

St. Savior's Hospital, 1917

May 17, 1917 – Before expanding their hospital care in Wisconsin, Salvatorian Sisters primarily worked at St. Mary’s in Columbus, Wis. and St. Mary’s in Wausau. In 1916, Mrs. Alois Zienert of Portage, Wis. fell ill and could not find suitable care in her city. At the time, the city... Read full story

March 4, 1918

First report of the Spanish flu

First report of the Spanish flu

March 4, 1918 – As a temporary moment of peace settled after World War I, the Spanish flu began to spread throughout the world. Soldiers returning home from Europe carried the disease that would cause more than 50 million deaths worldwide. The Spanish flu caused more casualties than the Great... Read full story

April 5, 1918

St. Nazianz Fire

St. Nazianz Fire

April 5, 1918 – In 1896, Salvatorians settled in St. Nazianz, Wis., a village established by German immigrants in 1854. The villagers were proud of their heritage. They followed German customs and often spoke German. By April 1918, one year after the United States of America declared war against Germany,... Read full story

There’s a lot more to our 125-year story. Click on the link below to read how growth in Salvatorian membership enabled our sisters to expand their apostolates in an “American” Church: Era 2: 1920-1950

We acknowledge contributions of the late Sister Margaret Shekleton, SDS, who chronicled the first 90 years of our North American Province in her book Bending in Season ©1985.

Special thanks to Provincial Archivist Sister Mary Jo Stoffel, SDS for her research assistance.