150 Years of Franciscan Sisters at Silver Lake
This year, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, based at Holy Family Convent on Silver Lake, celebrate 150 years of operation in the Manitowoc area. The community was established in 1869, and since its founding, its works of service have focused on education and health care in the surrounding community.
Their Motherhouse, Holy Family Convent on Silver Lake, was built in 1874. In 1881, a fire that started when the convent was struck by lightning left only portions of three walls intact. In a Herald Times Reporter article written in 1981, the fire is described based on eyewitness accounts. The fire reportedly “burned between the ceiling and the roof in the attic,” preventing neighbors’ notice of the fire until it broke through the roof. In the face of the destruction, the Manitowoc community rallied around the Sisters, and many people donated to help them rebuild.
Early in their years of service, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity made it their mission to provide healthcare in Manitowoc. In 1880, the community’s need for a hospital was recognized by the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, and they raised money to open St. Mary’s Hospital and worked there themselves as nurses. This hospital had only 12 beds, and some of the first patients, according to Manitowoc County: A Beacon on the Lakeshore by Ellen D. Langill, included a man who had been shot in a hunting accident and a sailor injured in a storm on the lake. Later, in 1899, the Sisters expanded their healthcare service with the opening of Holy Family Hospital. This hospital provided the most “modern” healthcare available at the time, and included modern elevators, an operating room, a dormitory for the Sisters who worked there, and a chapel. Designated in 1899 as a marine hospital, Holy Family Hospital quickly became a place where Great Lakes sailors could find medical care.
The Sisters established Holy Family Academy and Normal School at the Convent in 1885, and this became the beginning of an educational mission that still operates today. Originally established to educate the members of the Convent, the school was the forerunner to Holy Family College, founded in 1935, which sought to bring higher education to the community as the Sisters expanded their educational goals to include high school teaching positions. By 1946, graduates of the college staffed more than 100 elementary and high schools, conservatories of music and art, and nursing schools. In the early years of the college, lay women were often admitted by arrangement with the Holy Family Hospital School of Nursing, but by 1957, women were admitted on a regular basis. In the 1960s, the college saw its first admissions of male students, and by 1969, became known as Silver Lake College. The college still operates today, now known as Silver Lake College of the Holy Family, and offers a liberal arts education based in the Franciscan values that the Sisters have followed since the school’s beginnings.
Today, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity remain active throughout Wisconsin and in other states, including Michigan, Ohio, Mississippi, and Arizona.