Go and do much good: A Salvatorian Sister from Bavaria to Milwaukee in 1895
Sister Walburga Sieghart, SDS was one of the first three Sisters of the Divine Savior to come to the United States in 1895. She was born in Bavaria on December 12, 1872, and entered our Congregation at age 18, just two years after our 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 our 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 our Congregation’s missionary spirit, and the apostolic zeal and sacrifice evoked by Father Jordan and Mother Mary. Before leaving for the United States, Sr. Walburga, Sister Raphaela Bonheim and Sister Agnes Weber received a blessing from Pope Leo XIII. “Go,” he said to the Sisters. “Go and do much good.”
When Milwaukee’s Archbishop Katzer asked for sisters to come to Milwaukee, Mother Mary chose Sr. Walburga to be one of the first pioneers of social nursing in the New World. As were many cities in America, 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 had been invited to care for the sick in their homes. They continued at this task for more than 50 years. Sr. Walburga became the image of the Sisters of the Divine Savior in Milwaukee. She was loved and respected for her self-sacrificing generosity and her warm and friendly manner.
A few stories from the Salvatorian Sisters’ chronicles, create a feeling for life in America and for the hardships our sisters encountered. “On July 4, 1895, the three Sisters arrived at the Milwaukee Depot of the Erie Line. It was nearing midnight, and the pop and bang of firecrackers could be heard. This scene that greeted them must have seemed strange and somewhat fearful. By the time they decided to strike out alone for a promised shelter with the Franciscan Sisters on Greenfield Avenue, they were approached by what the chronicles describe as a bearded man who conducted them by streetcar to their foster home with the Franciscan Sisters.”
In the chronicles of 1896 we read that Sr. Walburga had been called to care for a patient with tuberculosis, who, together with her husband and ten-year-old son had abandoned the practice of her religion. Sister 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, 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 Sister Walburga’s religious profession. Bishop John B. Grellinger of Superior, Wis. was in attendance. 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 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, our Congregation. May everything that was great in her continue to live on in us, the members.
Source: Archives of the Sisters of the Divine Savior