New Home For Sisters Of St. Francis Of Assisi

May 31, 2018

By Sheila Julson

The new Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi convent will consist of three adjoining buildings better suited to the needs of its aging members.  —Groth Design Group

Many people watched with awe and pain as the historic St. Mary’s Academy and St. Clare’s College buildings were demolished last summer. 

The complex was known as the Marian Center for Nonprofits since 1991, when St. Mary’s Academy, the all-girls Catholic high school, ceased operating.

Buildings shown in red will be demolished. Buildings that will not be demolished on the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi Campus, 3195 S. Superior St., in St. Francis, Wis.: 1.(St. Francis Chapel); 2. (Troubadour Meeting Room); 3. (Juniper Court); 4. (Canticle Court). Buildings that will be demolished: 5. (Marian Center/Loretto and Rosary Halls and Clare Wing); 6. (Power House);
7. (Motherhouse); 8. (St. Elizabeth)

The demolition makes way for a new 133,000 square-foot convent for the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, who own the property and buildings.

The new convent will consist of three adjoining buildings better suited to the needs of the aging sisters now residing in the motherhouse and in Clare Hall, another building on the convent campus.

The new convent will feature 83 rooms, private ADA-compliant bathrooms, updated health care amenities, dining facilities, and a library.

Construction of the new convent began November 2017. Sister Charlotte Roost, liaison to the new convent’s administrative team, said some snags appeared during demolition, such as cables in the basement of Rosary Hall that delayed the project for seven weeks.

“There were a lot of surprises. The sisters have been on this property for 167 years, and there were things underground that were never documented,” Roost said.

The sisters contracted with Integrity Environmental Services, for abatement, Viet & Company for the demolition, Groth Design Group for architectural services, and VJS Construction Services for the build. The convent is scheduled for completion spring of 2019.

The sisters preserved elements of the former structures including these cupolas, bricks, and the stones and lettering from a grotto. —Photo Katherine Keller

Historic elements from the former buildings, such as two cupolas, were salvaged and will be placed on the new structure. Mosaics from Rosary Hall were preserved and will be turned into art pieces, along with stained glass windows taken from the chapel and a corridor. A two-dimensional representation of Saint Francis of Assisi that is located on the exterior of the motherhouse will be preserved and placed on an exterior wall of the new convent. The motherhouse is another of the buildings in the complex scheduled for demolition. 

Two cornerstones dating from 1904, when Loretto Hall was built, and from 1930, when Rosary Hall was constructed, will also be incorporated. A grotto that featured a statue of St. Mary will be turned into a memorial honoring St. Mary’s Academy. The memorial will be near the sisters’ new urban forest on the north end of the property that once served as an athletic field.

 “We wanted to save the entire grotto, but the mortar was stronger than the stones. They would have been damaged if we tried to separate them,” Roost said, “so we had to take it down as part of the deconstruction, and we’ll use some of the larger stones as a base for the statue.”

Lettering that spelled “Knowledge and Virtue United” was also salvaged from the front of Rosary Hall. 

Designed for elderly’s special needs

The current motherhouse has four floors, which Roost said is cumbersome when transporting frail, elderly sisters in their 80s from floor to floor for various activities. “Currently, our sisters go to the basement for memory care for the day, but they live on the third floor, and they have to go to the second floor to eat,” Roost said.

Forty sisters who now occupy the motherhouse will move into the new convent, along with 45 more sisters who now reside in Clare Hall.

The oldest part of the motherhouse was built in 1861, at a time when many more young women served as nuns.

In addition to private, updated bathrooms in each bedroom, Roost emphasized the importance of a new amenity, the two-story north building with 32 beds for sisters with cognitive and mobility issues. There, all activities and dining will be on the same floor, with two nursing stations, where staff can easily monitor the sisters at all times. The building will be secure to further ensure their safety.

The central building’s two and a half stories will include a reception area, offices, a common space, library, gift shop, conference rooms, bistro, multipurpose room, and archives. The two-story south building features 48 assisted-living apartments, each with a small kitchenette and private bathroom. A shared dining room and spacious screened-in porch define its second floor.

This architectural rendering illustrates the the sisters’ dedication to creating beautiful landscapes on the convent’s campus. —Katherine Keller

The design incorporates beautiful landscaping on the private grounds that will provide year-round color. The wrought iron and concrete fence bordering the property’s east perimeter on Superior Street will be renovated. A parking lot with 82 spaces will be installed on the area of the campus where the motherhouse is currently located.

Forty sisters who now occupy the motherhouse will move into the new convent, along with 45 more sisters who now reside in Clare Hall. Clare Hall was once a dormitory for the neighboring seminary, Roost said.

In 2001, the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore merged with the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. At that time, there were 46 sisters in Baltimore. Today the seven remaining sisters will move to Milwaukee and live in the new convent.

Community Care, Inc. provides first-shift nursing staff for the sisters. The sisters themselves provide care for second and third shifts. Current staffing is adequate to meet their needs, Roost said, so at this time it’s uncertain whether additional staff will be needed in the new convent.

Capital campaign

Roost did not disclose the total cost of the project, but the sisters’ capital campaign’s goal is $18 million. They have raised $4.1 million as of May 1. Sister Ellen Carr, the contact for the capital campaign, set up a website, The sisters will be selling engraved memorial pavers. Cream City bricks from the Loretto Hall building are still available for $25 each. Roost noted that St. Mary’s alumni have been generous.

The convent’s historic grape arbor is one of the most stunning features of the old complex. It will soon benefit from restoration work. —Photo Katherine Keller

The sisters also host the annual Wine & Vine, a tasting event originally formed to fund the restoration of their historic concrete grape arbor. They reached that goal, so proceeds from Wine & Vine will now help fund the new convent. This year’s 10th annual Wine & Vine takes place Aug. 25, from 3:30 to 7pm.

Roost said it was heartbreaking to see the St. Mary’s buildings go down, and it will be just as heartbreaking to see the motherhouse razed, but the sisters are looking ahead to a new, updated space that will accommodate the sisters’ needs now and in the future.

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2 Comments on "New Home For Sisters Of St. Francis Of Assisi"

  1. Lois M. sommers Barutha SMA 1958 on Thu, 21st Jun 2018 10:06 am 

    Thank you. This was a great aeticle with photos that gave me more of an idea of how the convent will be used and how it will look. BEAUTIFUL!!!

  2. Marylin J. Schultz Banzhaf SMA 1958 on Wed, 4th Jul 2018 11:03 pm 

    The sisters are very deserving of the new residence. My heart hurt a bit seeing the St. Mary’s Academy buildings destroyed, especially the grotto, but the great memories of them as an educational institution and character building facility will live on.

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