NAZIANZ — After 119 years, the Salvatorian Sisters are preparing to bid farewell to this tiny village in Manitowoc County.
Three members of the Salvatorian Sisters (also known as the Sisters of the Divine Savior) arrived here on Aug. 24, 1896, and ever since then the sisters have served this community in a variety of ways.
But the last two Salvatorian Sisters to call St. Nazianz home — Sr. Rita Faust, 91, and Sr. Jane Barman, 87 — are moving to Portage on Aug. 31, ending the group’s continuous presence here.
“The motto of St. Nazianz is ‘Our Heritage is Strong,’ and the Salvatorian Sisters are a big part of that great heritage we have,” said Salvatorian Fr. Patrick Nelson, administrator of St. Gregory Parish. “Not having them here will leave a big gap. It’ll be a big loss for our community. But their impact will always be remembered. They’ve done so much for our community.”
On Saturday afternoon, more than 100 community members expressed their gratitude to the sisters by attending a special Mass at St. Gregory Church, followed by a potluck dinner at the adjacent St. Gregory School.
A Sun Prairie native, Sr. Jane has been a member of the Salvatorians for 64 years, including the past 24 years in the St. Nazianz area. Meanwhile, Sr. Rita has been with the Salvatorians for 74 years, the last 18 of which were spent serving this community.
“We got a card (recently) thanking us for what we did here and that they’re sorry to see us go,” Sr. Jane said. “And I got a phone call the other day from a woman in Manitowoc saying, ‘Oh, I’m so sad to see you go.’”
Sr. Jane and Sr. Rita volunteered in Diocese of Green Bay programs, helped with Bible studies, tutored at St. Gregory School, assisted at the food pantry, visited nursing homes, worked at the parish festival, helped with the Caring Hearts and Hands program and assisted with Meals on Wheels, among many other activities.
Perhaps their most enjoyable activity, however, was working in the Salvatorian Mission Warehouse in New Holstein. They also helped raise money for the warehouse by selling cancelled stamps.
When asked what she’ll miss most, Sr. Jane said, “The country and the friends … and going to the post office and meeting people.”
Added Sr. Rita: “I think we’ll have to make all new friends — and we have pretty many here.”
Sr. Jane and Sr. Rita have been the only Salvatorian Sisters in the village on a daily basis since a devastating storm tore through St. Nazianz in 2000 and badly damaged the convent in which they were living (in 2002 they moved to their current residence on Fourth Avenue). The Salvatorian Sisters had been living in that convent on the south side of the village ever since those first three sisters arrived in 1896.
Prior to Saturday’s special Mass, the new residents of that former convent, the monks of Holy Resurrection Monastery, hosted more than 30 Salvatorian Sisters who drove from Milwaukee, Portage, Mt. Calvary, Bear Creek and New Holstein.
Among the honored guests at that “Remembering Ritual” ceremony was Sr. Beverly Heitke, the sisters’ new provincial leader. She said the sisters’ 119-year presence in St. Nazianz could be summed up in a few words: competent care, collaboration, compassion and church service.
Many of the sisters in attendance had previously spent time in the building when it was a convent.
The first sisters arrived in St. Nazianz in 1896, primarily to assist in caring for the Oschwald sisters. One of the sisters in attendance Saturday, Sr. Margaret Bosch, fondly recalled meeting the last Oschwald Sister in the 1940s.
The Salvatorian Sisters’ early ministries included home nursing care, teaching and sewing church linens and vestments. Within three years, the sisters were also providing kitchen and laundry services for the nearby Salvatorian Seminary.
By 1912, sisters were cultivating farmland and tending to cows, pigs and chickens. When Salvatorian priests started giving retreats in 1924, the sisters provided room and board for their guests. Later, they extended room and board to young women who worked in the Salvatorian priests’ printing office. The sisters also began baking altar breads and by 1947 were supplying hosts to 100 parishes in Wisconsin, Michigan, Alabama and Pennsylvania. The sisters continued their altar bread apostolate until 1992. At its peak in the 1960s, they were packing 7 million altar bread hosts annually, while also tending a large garden, apple orchard and vineyard.
“There has been a long history we want to hold in our hearts and hands,” Sr. Carol Thresher told everyone gathered inside the monastery’s dining room prior to Mass on Saturday.
The sisters began their presence in St. Nazianz to help care for elderly sisters, and that’s part of the reason they’re leaving now. Although Sr. Jane and Sr. Rita are sharp and mobile, they said it behooves them to move to Portage, where they’ll be living with two younger Salvatorian Sisters (ages 77 and 60) who can assist them as needed.
“We’re going to Portage to find a new life,” Sr. Jane said. “We’ll find something to do. We’ll have a hospital there and a nursing home and a wellness center, so we’ll be able to volunteer.”
Sr. Rita said she’s sad to leave, especially since her biological sister, Sr. Phyllis Faust, is one of the 63 Salvatorian Sisters buried on the grounds of St. Gregory Church. Sr. Phyllis was the last of the Salvatorian Sisters who served in St. Nazianz to be buried here.
“It’s a sad ending, but we want them to know how much we love all that they have done for us,” Fr. Patrick Nelson said. “The fruits of their work will live on. They won’t be forgotten.”