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 71 Salvatorian Sisters serving in the USA.

Sister Carol Thresher, SDS

Foundation of the Congregation, Tivoli, Italy

December 8, 1888
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Mother Mary and the three missionary sisters have an audience with 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 Mother Mary of the Apostles (Theresa von Wuellenweber)…

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Bound for the United States of America on the Westernland

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 the Christian Schools were the only religious on board. The massive…

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Welcomed in New York at 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 to stay than The Leo House. Named after…

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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 filled our minds as we faced a future unknown…

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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 home-nursing sisters. Most of the patients were not Catholic and…

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The sisters find a convent to call their own

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 other challenges. On the first day of living…

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Sisters establish community in St. Nazianz, Wis.

August 24, 1896
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Salvatorian Sisters find room to grow in a generous gift of a new 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 family, their neighbors across the street. It was…

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

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 Convent of the Sisters of the Divine Savior As…

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First members from the USA enter the Salvatorian Community

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 with the Salvatorian Community.  After attending Holy Angels Academy…

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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 sisters had taken on in America. St. Mary’s eventually…

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Salvatorian Sisters establish USA novitiate in Milwaukee, Wisc.

December 9, 1907

An early group of novices and candidates from about 1921.

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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 ration goods that were needed for the war effort.…

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

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 of Portage was served by two physicians at two…

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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 War, as quarantine and bloodletting was the only treatment…

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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, it was common to hear public expressions of hatred toward…

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There’s a lot more to our 125-year story. Click to read how growth in Salvatorian membership enabled our sisters to expand their apostolates in an “American” Church.

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.