Time capsule discovery uncovers treasures hidden since 1873

By Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass | January 13, 2016

Sisters replace damaged cornerstone with new one; add new time capsule

MANITOWOC — For an archivist, it doesn’t get much better than the discovery of a 142-year-old time capsule.

Four months after workers stumbled upon a time capsule in a cornerstone of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity motherhouse, community archivist Sr. Caritas Strodthoff can’t stop smiling.

Sr. Caritas Strodthoff, archivist for the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, holds a copper time capsule box and some of its contents that were discovered in an 1873 cornerstone at the motherhouse. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)
Sr. Caritas Strodthoff, archivist for the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, holds a copper time capsule box and some of its contents that were discovered in an 1873 cornerstone at the motherhouse. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)

“Everyone is still talking about it,” she said enthusiastically. “It’s amazing. No one knew it was in there. We can’t find anything in our archives ever written about it, so this totally took us by surprise.”

On Sept. 18, Quality Restoration of Manitowoc was removing the limestone cornerstone with the intent of refurbishing the 1873 numerals. That’s when they noticed a corroded copper box — measuring about 3 inches wide by 5 inches long by 2 inches high — lodged in the bottom of the cornerstone.

Inside the time capsule were 16 coins, three pieces of fractional currency and the remains of several sheets of folded up and deteriorated paper featuring words in German and an illustration showing two men and a building, possibly the U.S. Capitol. The words legible in German were “Mit Approbation des hochwurdigsten Erzbischoflichen,” which Sr. Caritas said translates to, “With approval of the Most Reverend Archbishop.”

“I loved researching the coins and money we found,” Sr. Caritas said. “I just wish we knew why they chose those coins at that time. Like, why were some Canadian coins included? We have no idea. It’s a mystery.”

The time capsule and its contents were displayed in the motherhouse’s Heritage Room before Christmas before they were temporarily moved to Sr. Caritas’ office to make room for Nativity displays and holiday-related decorations.

The original 1873 cornerstone, which is split in half, remains on display in the Heritage Room. That cornerstone was laid by Fr. Joseph Fessler on July 20, 1873, in front of a crowd estimated at about 4,000 people, according to a newspaper story from that time period.

On Dec. 10, a new 1873 cornerstone, cut by Valders Stone & Marble, was placed by Quality Restoration personnel into the cavity left by the original cornerstone. And, just like the original cornerstone, a copper time capsule was nestled into a groove cut on the bottom part of that stone. The new time capsule measures 11 inches long by 7 inches wide by 4 inches high — roughly the size of a shoebox.

The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity carefully chose items to squeeze into the new time capsule:

  • Lists of living and deceased members of the FSCC community.
  • A copy of the FSCC rules and constitutions.
  • Eight quarters, representing the states where the FSCC currently have missions or individual sisters serving: Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Mississippi, Arizona, Hawaii and Florida.
  • A list of the FSCC community members from 1873, as well as the places they were serving at that time.
  • Mementos from 2015, including a prayer card for the Year of Consecrated Life; Wake the World website promotion card; a card featuring a painting of the Holy Family created by Sr. Mariella Erdmann for the Diocese of Green Bay; a guide/keepsake from Francis Festival in Philadelphia, at which four of the FSCC sisters were present as volunteer helpers; a Pope Francis token from the World Meeting of Families.
  • Photo of the San Damiano Cross painted by Sr. Mariella Erdmann placed in St. Rita’s Chapel (and a photo close-up of it showing some of the Foundresses and Mother Superiors of the congregation).
  • Pilgrimage bag.
  • Ceramic tile with the words “Pax et Bonum” (Peace and Good).
  • “Star of Hope” book, which honored the community’s first 125 years of formation and service.
  • Seven-decade black rosary.
  • Two wooden clothes hangers from the Clarks Mills House, which are designed to honor the poverty, simplicity and faith with which the FSCC Foundresses first lived in the early days in Clarks Mills.
  • Sheets of profession songs.
  • A green tatted doily made by Sr. Donna Marie Kessler, the previous FSCC archivist, whose book on the history of the community, “A Star Shone in the Convent Sky,” was published after her death.
  • And a list of the items and explanations for their inclusion in the time capsule.

Sr. Caritas protected the items in the time capsule by placing acid-free paper between objects and plastic sleeves over small, flat items. Coins were placed in individual bags.

On Dec. 2, a special blessing service was held for the new cornerstone and time capsule. Eight days later, 14 sisters were in attendance as the new cornerstone and time capsule were placed into the building.

“To me, if I were to open that time capsule in 50 years or 100 years, it would be interesting material,” Sr. Caritas said. “I wish I could see the looks on their faces years from now when other people find this time capsule.”

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