Bay Settlement Sisters have strong ties to shrine

By | February 17, 2011

Within a year, the reported debt of $1,000 was paid off.


Sr. Carlotta Ullmer, left, Sr. Clairann Peplinski and Sr. Jeanne Jarvis, members of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross in Bay Settlement, view photos from the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help that are on display in the Heritage Room at the Bay Settlement motherhouse. All three served at the shrine, which was entrusted to their community’s care from 1902 to 1992. (Rick Evans | For The Compass)

Our Lady of Good Help

Sr. Pauline stayed at the chapel until her death in 1926. In 1933, the sisters had the 1885 school/convent remodeled into a Crippled Children’s Home.

Sr. Jeanne Jarvis, 89, was one of the teachers at that home, serving from 1943 to 1951. She taught all grade levels for the 18 children who were there at the time. She said they ranged in age from 5 to 24 and came from as far away as Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. They had various health issues, including cerebral palsy, spastic muscular dystrophy and Down syndrome.

“It was one of the rewarding and inspiring ministries I had, even if I didn’t want to go there (at first),” Sr. Jeanne said, adding that she “came to love the children and the chapel very much.”

During the summers, Sr. Jeanne took classes and was away from the chapel. One of the sisters who spent summers there helping the children was Sr. Carlotta Ullmer, 91. She called her role “a grand nursemaid” and said the 12 to 15 children under her care required most of her attention, so she didn’t interact with many of the people coming to visit the shrine itself.

However, in 1991, Sr. Carlotta was one of the sisters assigned to the House of Prayer. (In 1970, the Bay Settlement Sisters converted the chapel into a House of Prayer that served various purposes, including retreats for other Christian faiths and Bible study classes. It was closed at the end of 1991.)

“The last year I was there,” Sr. Carlotta told The Compass, “I was more aware (of the faithful visitors to the shrine). There was someone (visiting) there all day. Even into the night, when I locked the doors at 9 p.m., they were still praying.”

Sr. Clairann Peplinski served at the House of Prayer from 1972 to 1990 and also remembers the devotion of people who visited. It was her second tour at the chapel. From 1954 to 1968, she had served as a teacher at what was then her community’s pre-novitiate high school, located at the chapel. (In 1953, the sisters closed the Crippled Children’s School.) She also saw the devotion of people who knew about the shrine’s history.

“When we were there, we did not publicize the place,” Sr. Clairann said. “Local people came and other people heard by hearsay. It was always very quiet and very prayerful.”

She added that people would come in to pray as soon as the sisters opened the chapel each day at 6 a.m.

In May and August, the numbers would increase dramatically — for the traditional prayers for peace on the last Monday in May and for Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption.

Sr. Clairann and Sr. Jeanne remember the feast day processions — led by girls carrying the statue of Mary and a priest with the Blessed Sacrament — circling the entire five acres of the chapel’s grounds.

“Sometimes, after the girls would go all the way around,” said Sr. Clairann, “they would come back to the chapel and the end of the procession hadn’t even started yet.”

Besides the processions, there were Masses on these festal occasions. On each Aug. 15, Sr. Carlotta remembered, there were Masses every hour, starting at 7 a.m. Since people were not permitted to eat prior to Mass, if they were receiving Communion, many were hungry by the end of Mass. So the sisters would put up stands and sell breakfast and lunch.

“We sold coffee and rolls and hamburgers,” Sr. Carlotta said. “People would be standing, three and four deep, trying to give their order.”

All three sisters said they believe the feast day processions attracted more people in earlier days than in more recent years. Many people would walk from miles away, they all said, as a form of devotion. Sr. Jeanne recalled that, when Mexican immigrants arrived in the area about a dozen years ago and learned of the shrine, men would walk there from Green Bay, along Nicolet Drive, as a sign of devotion.

Inside the chapel, all three sisters remembered people praying in front of the altar and circling it on their knees in petition.

The chapel’s crypt holds many crutches, canes and braces. Each of the three sisters remembers being told they had been left by those who were healed, but none of them recalls any first-person accounts of healings while they were there.

Sr. Clairann added that the upstairs chapel had also been filled with crutches and canes along the wall. They have since been removed.

“We never followed through on those (reported healings) while I was there,” Sr. Clairann said. “We just took their word.”

However, Sr. Jeanne remembers her own family coming to the chapel when she was a girl to pray for healing.

“My father had broken the tip of his tail bone, when we first moved to Green Bay from Michigan,” she said. Her mother heard of the chapel, by word of mouth, and brought the family to pray for his health. Sr. Jeanne, who was about 3 at the time, remembers “old Model Ts and horses lining the dirt driveway and people moving around the altar on their knees.”

Whether or not the prayers helped, Sr. Jeanne can’t say, but her father got better. “He only walked with a little limp,” she said.

In 1992, the sisters turned the chapel over to the care of the Green Bay Diocese and the House of Prayer was closed. It was remodeled into a monastery for cloistered Carmelite sisters, who resided there for 10 years. A new monastery for the Carmelites was built in rural Denmark in 2002.

When the Bay Settlement Sisters left, they were required to “clear everything out,” Sr. Clairann recalled.

“At the last gathering we had at the closing of the chapel,” she said “we had things left that we thought people might like to have as mementoes. So Sr. Germaine wrapped them up with very nice bows. People got a number and I read the history of the shrine. When a date would come up, whoever had that number would come up and choose a gift.

The gifts were small pictures, vases, maybe a crucifix, Sr. Clairann said. And then, she said, the sisters left. “I took out the last box of mouse traps,” she said.

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