Remembering pioneer Sister Walburga Sieghart

Left to right: Sisters Seraphine Hald, Jerome Schmerbeck, and Walburga Sieghart

November 10, 1970 – Sister Walburga Sieghart, SDS was one of the first three Sisters of the Divine Savior to come to the USA in 1895. She was born in Bavaria on December 12, 1872, and entered the Congregation at age 18, just two years after its founding on December 8, 1888. Sr. Walburga experienced all the joys and graces that come to persons who take on the work of God, but she also shared in the suffering and poverty of the early years of the Congregation.

Like any other venture, the Salvatorian Apostolate in North America was built on the strength of its early pioneer members. Sr. Walburga was just 23, a young sister three years professed. She stands as a link with the very first stirrings of the Congregation’s missionary spirit, and the apostolic zeal and sacrifice evoked by co-founders Father Francis Mary of the Cross Jordan and Mother Mary of the Apostles von Wuellenweber. When Milwaukee’s Archbishop William Katzer asked for sisters to come to Milwaukee, Mother Mary chose Sr. Walburga to be one of the first pioneers of home nursing in the New World. Like many cities in the USA, Milwaukee was experiencing a great influx of immigrants from Europe. German, Polish and Irish immigrants settled in Milwaukee in large numbers. Sr. Walburga and her companions were invited to care for the sick in their homes, and they continued this work for more than 50 years. Sr. Walburga became the image of Sisters of the Divine Savior in Milwaukee. She was loved and respected for her self-sacrificing generosity and her warm and friendly manner.

In the chronicles of 1896 we read that Sr. Walburga had been called to care for a woman with tuberculosis. The woman, together with her husband and 10-year-old son had abandoned the practice of her religion. Sr. Walburga convinced the dying woman to see the parish priest and persuaded the father to send his son to a Catholic school. For thirteen weeks the patient lingered on, ministered to by Sr. Walburga, and then died peacefully in her arms.

Miss Frances Stockhausen, a patient at St. Mary’s Nursing Home, recalls the days when Sr. Walburga carried her up the steep steps to their flat. “Sister was loved by everyone,” she says. “She was not only a nurse; she stayed with us at the bedside of the dying, did the housework and took care of us children. At various times, she nursed my Grandma Hames, who came from Luxembourg, and my two school-teacher aunts, Anna and Cecilia.”

On January 25, 1967, the Sisters of the Divine Savior marked the 75th anniversary of Sr. Walburga’s religious profession. Auxiliary Bishop John B. Grellinger of Green Bay, Wis. was in attendance. He came to know Sr. Walburga as a child when she cared for his family in their home. His words speak a powerful message:

This frail little frame of a lady grown old is an institution all by herself – an institution with long and intimate memories. Anyone who lived under the same roof with her in times of sorrow, came to think of the initials SDS as standing primarily for the resolute and sympathetic soul ever ready to share the privations and miseries which crowded around the sick beds at which she kept loving vigil. If those memories were recorded, they would not only serve as a fairly thorough account of the establishment of the Salvatorian Sisters in Milwaukee, but they would also attest to the close family ties which sprang up between the early Sisters and the families they served in the old days of home nursing.

Sr. Walburga died at 98 years of age on November 10, 1970 at St. Mary’s Nursing Home in Milwaukee. We pray that nothing of her life be lost, but that it will be of benefit to the world, the Church, and our Congregation. May everything that was great in her continue to live on in us, the members. (Source: written by Sister Carol Jean Zais, SDS for Salvatorian Pioneers project of the Joint Ongoing Formation Committee)




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